Procter & Gamble Wants to Clean Up With Super Bowl Ads

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

Super Bowl ads typically tell viewers what kind of beer to drink, what kind of candy to eat and what sort of car to drive. This year, they will also suggest how to keep tidy after the event is over.

Procter & Gamble, one of the nation’s biggest manufacturers of consumer products like Pampers, Crest, and Dawn, is adding quite the clean-up crew to the Super Bowl ad roster. Fans who watch Super Bowl LI this Sunday will see spots for the company’s Tide detergent, Febreze air freshener and Mr. Clean cleaning products.

For the Cincinnati company, the presence is oversized: Super Bowl LI will mark the only time Procter & Gamble has run more than a single national ad in the Big Game since first dipping its toe into Super Bowl ad waters in 2004. And the move makes Procter one of the event’s bigger sponsors this year, on par with Pepsi or Fiat Chrysler.

Why is the maker of Bounty backing what might be called a triple-ply presence? Its move is emblematic of what media buyers and TV sales executives say has been a pronounced shift of ad spending in the last year.

Consumer packaged goods companies –historically some of the biggest ad spenders on TV – have in recent years earmarked some of that money for digital outlets in a bid to keep pace with consumers testing out emerging venues like streaming video or mobile tablets.  Over the last year, however, the sector has reversed course, and returned some of the money to TV. Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer, has in recent months been quite public about his desire to prioritize reach, or getting its marketing messages in front of masses of consumers. TV often provides a good means of attaining that goal.

The Super Bowl ad ranks contain fewer makers of pharmaceuticals and automobiles, noted Bruce Lefkowitz, executive vice president of ad sales for Fox Networks Group, in an interview. But he said he has noticed a surge of interest from consumer-packaged goods companies.

“They are starting to see the scale and attention they get at the Super Bowl are unsurpassed, and it comes on the heels of last year’s upfront, when you saw a migration by consumer packaged goods companies from the digital world back into television,” he said. In the “upfront,” TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming program season.

P&G has advertised Tide in past Super Bowls, but Mr. Clean and Febreze are making their debut. Tide, which has gained notice in previous editions of the gridiron classic with a 2008 ad featuring a talking stain, is expected to run an ad centered around football player Rob Gronkowski and actor Jeffrey Tambor. Febreze will highlight its new “OdorClear” technology which tackles  odors in the air and  surfaces. Mr. Clean will turn its bald-headed mascot into something of a romantic foil.

Despite its decades of TV advertising, Procter is a relatively young Super Bowl sponsor. It first aligned itself with the Super Bowl in 2004, when it held an internal contest among six of its brands to see which one should get a Super Bowl commercial. The winner that year was Charmin. Since that time, P&G has taken to the football championship four other times. It placed Gillette on the field in 2006; ran ads for Tide in 2008 and 2013; and launched a commercial for Always in 2015.