Super Bowl advertisers bump up their game this year

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Whether it’s beer, cars or snack chips, the usual suspects are lining up to make the 50th Super Bowl more than a game to remember — at least when it comes to the ads.

With the Super Bowl now almost two week away, advertisers are starting to give a peek at what they’ve got planned. They have a lot at stake as they prepare to use a giant chunk of their marketing budgets for what is perennially most expensive promotion opportunity of the year. Creative directors are angling to make an impact — whether it’s through a laugh or a pull of the heartstrings.

“It’s brand strategy, pure and simple,” says Erika Napolitano, a branding consultant for RHW Media in Chicago. “It’s emotional, entertaining and most of all — and more than any other ad buy you make for the year — it has to have a clear message.”

That’s because so much is at stake: When the NFL championship airs on CBS on Feb. 7,  advertisers will vie for the attention of an audience that last year had a viewership of 114 million, making it one of the most watched telecasts ever.

With so many eyes on the screen, companies are willing to pay millions of dollars for 30 mere seconds of air time.

The average rate for a 30-second Super Bowl ad has risen by 76% during the past decade — reaching $4.4 million in 2015, according to Kantar Media. It’s the priciest commercial time on TV.

“The demand for the Super Bowl has been extraordinary,” CBS CEO Les Moonves said during a UBS conference last month, without disclosing specific price tags for this year’s ad inventory.  “We’ve sold most of the spots for very, very high prices.”

A wide range of companies will appear during the commercial breaks of this year’s game.  Most haven’t revealed their strategy or the actual ad, but some are giving sneak peeks.

One of the Super Bowl’s most familiar advertisers is among the first to reveal details on some of the ads it plans to air.  Anheuser Busch, the Super Bowl’s exclusive beer sponsor for the 28th straight year, scooped up three and a half minutes of air time to run five ads for four brands:  Bud Light, Budweiser, Shock Top and Michelob Ultra.

“For us this is extremely important because we use the Super Bowl to make statements about our brands, to kick off the year with a vengeance,” Jorn Socquet, Anheuser Busch’s vice president of marketing, said during a media preview Thursday.

Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdales will once again make an appearance.  Michelob ULTRA’s 30-second ad will be its first in the Big Game since 2010. Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer will bring plenty of laughs to a “Bud Light Party” in an ad supporting that brand. And Shock Top, an unfiltered wheat beer, will feature comic T.J. Miller as its “unfiltered spokesperson’’  in a spot that will mark its Super Bowl debut.

Video still of Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen in a Bud Light ad © Anheuser Busch Video still of Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen in a Bud Light ad

Sweet snacks and soft drinks will also be advertised, with Skittles and Butterfinger in the Big Game, as well as Mountain Dew’s Kickstart beverage. Doritos will get air time too.

Skittles’  ad will star rocker Steven Tyler, and marks the first time a celebrity has been part of Skittles’ “Taste the Rainbow’’ ad campaign.

Healthier fare, such as the avocados from Mexico, will also be on the small screen.

And, as usual, a bevy of car companies will be represented — more than nine so far. Among the brands planning one spot or more include Acura, Audi, Buick, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mini and Toyota. Some, like Buick, are first timers.

All will be watching closely to see if they get their money’s worth.

“The Super Bowl has become the Ad Bowl,” Napoletano says. “Ads have become a culture in and of themselves.”

Charisse Jones

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