The Hershey Company doesn’t usually have much to do with Super Bowl advertising. The chocolate maker hasn’t placed a commercial in the game since 2008, when it pitched Ice Breakers gum to the event’s massive audience.
But the company realized almost a year ago that a spot in this weekend’s Super Bowl LIV would be too sweet to ignore.
The candy giant bought pricey ad time from Fox last March, says Jill Baskin, Hershey’s chief marketing officer, because executives knew they were about to reintroduce one of the company’s lesser-known products, the Take5 candy bar, and add some pizzazz by reminding customers it had Reese’s peanut butter inside of It. The Super Bowl, says Baskin in an interview, “would be a great way to get a lot of awareness of that very quickly.”
A lot of other companies in a similar line of business agree.
When Hershey’s gets to Super Bowl LIV this Sunday, it will have to contend with many other food, beverage and consumer-products companies taking the field. Viewers watching Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl LIV may well think they are gazing at a middle aisle in their local Kroger’s, Shop-Rite or Winn-Dixie.
“Yeah, I think this year there’s going to be more competition than ever,” says Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Beverages North America.
Hershey will have to reckon with a commercial for Snickers, a chocolate bar made by rival Mars Wrigley, and ads for snacks from Kellogg’s Pringles and Pop-Tarts. Frito-Lay, part of PepsiCo, intends to give a spotlight to what it calls “Cheetle” the fine orange powder that is the natural by-product of eating Cheetos. Anheuser-Busch is getting into a sideline business with the introduction of Bud Light Seltzer. Pepsi’s SodaStream will ask viewers to consider making their own sparkling beverages. Coca-Cola will be on hand after sitting on the sidelines in 2019. And Procter & Gamble, one of the nation’s most influential advertisers, intends to enter the fray by pitching Olay beauty products; Tide detergent; and Old Spice men’s grooming products. One of its commercials will feature seven different supermarket staples from its product portfolio.
The ad roster will also be stocked with Sabra humus, Doritos, Mtn Dew, and Planters nuts. Even Walmart, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, will add to the frenzy by running a commercial showing how its staffers can bring groceries out to the car.
Ever since the now-defunct Pets.com sock puppet got up and strolled across the screen during a commercial break in 2000’s Super Bowl XXXIV, the Big Game has been recognized as a haven for Big Tech: new smartphones from Samsung; crazy commercials from start-ups like GoDaddy and SalesGenie; and, more recently, trailers from streaming-video hubs like Netflix and Amazon. Many of those advertisers will continue to appear.
Food manufacturers have been making a steady comeback in the Super Bowl commercial game, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending, after tamping down bigger outlays in the 1980s and 1990s. In last year’s game, food marketers contributed $23 million, representing a 6% share of that year’s total investment in Super Bowl TV ads. Meanwhile, some car companies, often the biggest category in Super Bowl sponsorship, have been driving away from the event. In 2019, just five car companies ran ads, according to Kantar, marking a 17% share of game investment – the smallest share since 2010.
Marketing executives believe more consumer-packaged goods and food and beverages are flocking to the Super Bowl to chase consumers enamored with new flavors and healthier eating.
“Everyone is chasing changing consumer needs and tastes,” says Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing of Bud Light. “There is a lot of innovation in this area and it’s the most amazing marketing platform that any marketing company can have. The Super Bowl is the biggest point to introduce a new product or a new category within a product.” Besides, says Hershey’s Baskin, snacks remain one of the few growth categories at supermarkets,.
Indeed, Pop-Tarts has ambled on to the ad field to launch “a new product – Pop-Tarts Pretzel – which is our first sweet and salty snack,” says Phil Schaffer, senior director of marketing, Pop-Tarts. “We couldn’t think of a better opportunity to unveil the two new flavors than the Big Game, one of the biggest snacking occasions of the year.”
One factor in the rise of the supermarket at the Super Bowl: Procter & Gamble. The maker of Pampers, Olay, Crest and Old Spice has played a bigger role in the game since 2017, when it began running multiple commercials in the event, rather than just a single spot. In addition to airing commercials in 2020 for Tide and Secret, P&G said Thursday it would ask consumers to help it craft a storyline for a fourth-quarter commercial that will feature an array of celebrities and products.
The old-school consumer-goods companies bring with them attention to marketing discipline that a digital upstart may lack. At Mars, maker of Snickers, “we do a big 360-degree campaign around the ads,” says Hank Izzo, vice president of U.S. marketing for Mars Wrigley. The ad roster “is crowded, so how do you tease everybody up to the game, entice them to make sure they look for your ad at the game, and then, post game, it’s really about continuing the campaign.” Izzo says Snickers debuted its famous Super Bowl ad featuring actor Betty White a decade ago and notes consumers still remember it.
These companies also enjoy tight relationships with supermarkets and convenience stores, and news of a Super Bowl ad often rallies those outlets to help push the product. “The name of the game is really how do you expand the excitement outside of just this Sunday?” Izzo asks.
While some food and beverage companies are known on Madison Avenue for their conservative demeanor, the Super Bowl often gives them a chance to cut loose. Pringles gave creative staffers at cable’s Adult Swim a high degree of latitude to come up with an animated Super Bowl ad featuring characters from the fan-favorite series “Rick and Morty.” Giving up creative control “made us a bit nervous at first,” notes Gareth Maguire, senior director of marketing for Pringles, but “we’re continually looking for ways to cut through and tap into the next generation of Pringles lovers in a cluttered media environment.”
There’s good reason to try to turn the Super Bowl into a Supermarket Bowl. “This is such a critical time of the year for us, “ says Rachel Ferdinando, chief marketing officer for Pepsi’s Frito-Lay North America.” “This is a huge moment for us, an important moment. We are in more baskets than at any other point of the year.” Now all these advertisers have to do is get viewers to go from watching the commercials to paying for the products appearing in them at the checkout line.