The Times Herald (Norristown, PA)

Budweiser joins brands in sitting out Super Bowl

- By Mae Anderson and Dee-Ann Durbin

NEW YORK » For the first time since 1983, when AnheuserBu­sch used all of its ad time to introduce a beer called Bud Light, the beer giant isn’t advertisin­g its iconic Budweiser brand during the Super Bowl. Instead, it’s donating the money it would have spent on the ad to coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n awareness efforts.

Anheuser-Busch still has four minutes of advertisin­g during the game for its other brands including Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer. Those are some of its hottest sellers, particular­ly among younger viewers.

But the decision to not do an anthemic Budweiser ad — which over nearly four decades has made American icons of frogs chirping “Budweiser,” guys screaming “Whassup!”, and of course the Budweiser Clydesdale­s — showcases the caution with which some advertiser­s are approachin­g the first COVID-era Super Bowl.

“We have a pandemic that is casting a pall over just about everything,” said Paul Argenti, Dartmouth College professor of corporate communicat­ion. “It’s hard to feel the exuberance and excitement people normally would.”

The Anheuser-Busch move follows a similar announceme­nt from PepsiCo., which won’t advertisin­g its biggest brand, Pepsi, in order to focus on its sponsorshi­p of the the halftime show. (It will be advertisin­g Mountain Dew and Frito-Lay products). Other veteran Super Bowl advertiser­s like Coke, Audi and Avocados from Mexico are sitting out the game altogether.

These big-brand absences are just one more way Super Bowl LV will look very different from previous years. Attendance at the game will be limited to 22,000 people, about a third of the more than 65,890 capacity of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. And Super Bowl parties will be more likely to be smaller affairs with pods or families.

“I think the advertiser­s are correctly picking up on this being a riskier year for the Super Bowl,” said Charles Taylor, marketing professor at Villanova University. “With COVID and economic uncertaint­y, people aren’t necessaril­y in the best mood to begin with. There’s a risk associated with messages that are potentiall­y too light . ... At the same time, there’s risk associated with doing anything too somber.”

The pandemic has cut sharply into sales for many Super Bowl advertiser­s. With pricey ads costing an estimated $5.5 million for 30 seconds during the Feb. 7 broadcast on CBS, some may have decided it’s not worth it this year.

Coca-Cola, for example, has been hard hit since half of its sales come from stadiums, movie theaters and other usually crowded places that have been closed during the pandemic. It announced layoffs in December, and said it said it wouldn’t advertise this year to ensure it’s “investing in the right resources during these unpreceden­ted times.”

To fill the void, newcomers like the TikTok rival Triller, online freelance marketplac­e Fiverr and online car seller Vroom are rushing in to take their place. Returning brands include M&M’s, Pringles, Toyota and others.

Companies that are running ads this year face a number of challenges. Super Bowl ads are usually developed months in advance and shot in the fall, meaning that ads airing in two weeks were shot under costly pandemic conditions and without any idea how the presidenti­al election would turn out. That further complicate­s the already delicate process of striking a tone that acknowledg­es what’s happening with the world, managing to either entertain or tug at viewer heartstrin­gs, and finding a way to tie it all back to their brand.

“It’s a tough year to do an ad,” Argenti said. “It will be a good year for creative companies who figure out how to thread that needle.”

Monica Rustgi, Budweiser’s vice president of marketing, said the brand is still calculatin­g how much it will spend on vaccine awareness. But she said it will be a “multi-million dollar” commitment that includes donating airtime throughout this year for the nonprofit Ad Council and COVID Collaborat­ive’s COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative.

Budweiser will still have a marketing presence around the big game. Starting Monday, the brand will air an ad that celebrates resilience during the pandemic, including a socially distanced birthday parade and athletes in Black Lives Matter jerseys. The ad, narrated by actress and director Rashida Jones, ends with health care workers getting vaccinated and talks about Budweiser’s donation.

In the era of social media and digital advertisin­g, brands aren’t limited to running ads during one event, since consumers can see them online, everywhere from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube, Budweiser’s Rustgi said. Budweiser’s Super Bowl step-back also won’t be long-term, she said.

 ?? BUDWEISER VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? An advertisem­ent Budweiser is running before the Super Bowl shows health care workers getting vaccinated.
BUDWEISER VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS An advertisem­ent Budweiser is running before the Super Bowl shows health care workers getting vaccinated.

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