Super Bowl Places Super Pressure on Fox, Snickers and Budweiser

Super Bowl LI
Photos: Rex/Shutterstock; Illustraiton: Variety

The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons won’t be the only parties under pressure at Super Bowl LI.

The stakes are high for Fox, which is seeking more than $5 million for a 30-second spot in the Feb. 5 title game. And Madison Avenue is eager to show that it can dazzle consumers with ads stuffed with celebrity appearances, clever stunts, and compelling themes.

“There are very few moments like the Super Bowl — it’s an event that transcends sport and has become an integral moment in pop culture,” says David Lee, chief creative officer at Squarespace, a web-services company that will advertise in the pigskin classic for the third time. “We wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.”

Fox no doubt hopes for the outsize ratings that have accompanied Super Bowl broadcasts for the last several years. CBS’ airing of Super Bowl 50 in 2016 attracted an average of 111.9 million live viewers, according to Nielsen, making it the third most-watched TV broadcast in history.

This year’s broadcast faces special challenges. As the season’s declining NFL ratings showed, a portion of viewers who were once drawn by buffalo wings and beer are turning away from football to mull over politics or simply stare at mobile screens. Advertisers, meanwhile, face a divided consumer base that may not be in the mood for the dour, cause-related commercials that have had a heavy presence in the Super Bowl ad roster in the past several years.

Who will feel the squeeze most?

21st Century Fox

Can the Murdoch-controlled media behemoth score more than the $445 million CBS took in for last year’s Super Bowl? CBS wrung out 7% more in pre-game, in-game, and post-game advertising than NBC did for its Super Bowl broadcast the prior year, according to Kantar Media, a tracker of ad spending.

You’d think the Super Bowl would sell out quickly, but in recent years, price hikes and complex advertising deals have spurred advertisers to be more deliberate. At press time, Fox had a handful of ad slots left to sell, buyers say. A Fox Networks Group spokesman declined to comment.

Snickers and Hyundai

Readying a Super Bowl commercial is a harrowing process. Brands need millions of dollars to secure the ad time and hundreds of thousands more for production, special effects, and/or celebrity contracts. This year, two advertisers are taking on even greater challenges.

Snickers, the Mars Inc.-owned candy brand, and automaker Hyundai have both vowed to test new stunts. Snickers intends to air a live ad featuring actor Adam Driver in the first spot of the third quarter. Hyundai, meanwhile, will film an ad during the game that will be shown in Fox’s post-show rundown. The concept is aimed at convincing consumers that they simply can’t miss these anything-can-happen spots. The real-time concepts borrow a page from a gambit tested in last year’s Grammys broadcast, when Target sponsored a live music video featuring Gwen Stefani.

Anheuser Busch

The company that brews Super Bowl mainstays Bud Light and Budweiser says it will offer up “back to basics” ads that play upon simple messages, staying away from the frat-boy humor and celebrity antics that have fueled its spots for decades. Viewers will see the famous Clydesdale horses, but anyone looking for another spot with Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer is likely to be disappointed.

Bill O’Reilly 

The veteran Fox News commentator will interview President Trump for pre-game programming. O’Reilly’s challenge will be to probe for information while not getting too wonky or contentious for a football-focused audience. He has experience in this venue, having previously interviewed President Obama on two Super Bowl Sundays.