The Super Bowl has long served as a prominent front for the long-running soda war between Coca-Cola and Pepsi. This year, the beverage giants will fight that battle somewhere else.
Coca-Cola said Friday it would not run ads in CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl LV, citing a “difficult choice” made to “ensure we are investing in the right resources during these unprecedented times.” Coke’s announcement follows a similar one made by rival Pepsi, which has opted to focus on its annual halftime show rather than run commercials for its flagship drink (Its parent company, PepsiCo, will run a commercial for its Mountain Dew soda along with various snacks from Frito-Lay).
Coke declined to make executives available for additional comment. The company spent $10 million in commercials placed in Fox’s 2020 broadcast of Super Bowl LIV, according to data from Kantar, a tracker of ad spending.
In December, the company said it would lay off 2,200 employees, or 17% of its global workforce, as it worked to trim the number of brands it operates. Coke has already stopped offering Tab, Odwalla juices and Zico coconut water. Like many other industries, the soda business has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which has scuttled many occasions — large parties, attending live sports events, and in-theater movie runs — where sugary beverages are often consumed.
The beverage companies’ decisions to put their drinks on the sidelines will no doubt spark more questions about the financial underpinnings of the Super Bowl during a time of economic flux. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many advertisers to cut their budgets and reallocate spending. Pepsi in the past tamped down Super Bowl activity during another crisis moment. In 2010, as the nation worked its way back from a severe recession, Pepsi decided not to run ads for any of its beverages, ending a streak of 23 years of hyping the drinks during the Big Game.
CBS, which is seeking around $5.5 million for Super Bowl TV advertising packages, has yet to declare a sell-out of its in-game commercial inventory. Last year’s game generated an estimated $435 million in ad spending, according to Kantar – a new record.
Coca-Cola last sat out of the Big Game in 2019, opting to run a commercial just before kickoff of the broadcast, but not in the event itself. By doing so, the soda-maker ended an 11-year streak of making Super Bowl ad appearances.
Coke has over the past two decades become a Super Bowl stalwart. Working hand in hand with ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, Coca-Cola has, to borrow one of its slogans, added life to the game.
In 2008, the beverage company ran a dazzling spot showing Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon characters (Underdog and Stewie from “Family Guy”) chasing after a balloon version of a bottle of Coke — only to be outmaneuvered by Charlie Brown. Recognizing more Super Bowl viewers were using smartphones during the game, Coca-Cola in 2013 ran a feed on social media of its famous animated polar bears commenting on all the Super Bowl commercials. During a previous Super Bowl run (the soda giant took an eight-year break from the game after 1998), Coke tugged on heartstrings with a commercial featuring former Pittsburgh Steeler defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene throwing a jersey to a young football fan. The ad’s appearance in Super Bowl XIV in 1980 helped helped make it a classic,(even though the commercial had aired previously on TV.