Many football fans are making bets on whether the Cincinnati Bengals or the Los Angeles Rams will win Super Bowl VLI, but advertisers are spending millions on another big gamble: Whether viewers are ready for their vision of the future.
The annual NFL championship is always an advertising blitz for beer, snacks and cars, but this year’s match features some of the year’s buzziest industries. Cryptocurrency companies, electric vehicle manufacturers and a range of other industries are spending millions of dollars to capture the attention of football fans during the rare occasion when people actually care about the ads. Meanwhile, the medical startup Hologic and e-commerce platform Rakuten were among the many brands to make their Super Bowl debut and return advertisers such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile again pushed promises of 5G.
According to broadcaster NBCUniversal, more than 30 new brands bought ads during Super Bowl LVI with new advertisers accounting for 40% of all the ads that’ll be shown—the majority of the newcomers being either tech, travel and auto brands. Several 30-second slots of air time even sold for a record $7 million. The question now, as always, will be which ads will resonate, which will be remembered, and which will actually move the needle after being seen by the more than 100 million people expected to watch tonight’s game?
Although cryptocurrency companies have spent massive amounts of money this past year sponsoring on a variety of sports teams and stadiums, this is the first time the emerging asset class will appear during the biggest TV moment of the year. FTX, Crypto.com and eToro all teased out plans to buy airtime ahead of the game, but a surprise came in the first quarter when Coinbase aired a previously unannounced ad featuring a QR code bouncing around like a the old-school DVD screen saver that when scanned linked to the exchange platform’s website for a crypto giveaway.
“At Coinbase we have a goal of introducing a billion people to the cryptoeconomy,” Coinbase CMO Kate Rouch said in a statement after the ad debuted. “Crypto is about access for everyone, not old models of winner takes all, stoking fear or ‘FOMO’. We believe the best way to learn about crypto is to actually try it. That’s why we’re launching our biggest giveaway ever, whereby all new customers will start their crypto journey with some Bitcoin in their account to get started. In other words: less talk, more Bitcoin.”
Later in the game, FTX’s commercial starring Larry David looks at past innovations across time—wheels, forks, light bulbs, rockets, and portable music—arguing crypto could be just as historic. And right after half-time, Crypto.com debuted a new ad that features NBA star LeBron James telling a younger version of himself from 2003 that the future will have cordless headphones, movies streamed through phones and electric cars.
“It’s interesting to see those debates whether or not it’s like those dot-com bubble period,” said Linli Xu, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “If the goal is to bring awareness, then I think it’s a smart strategy, but if they want to promote actually people using cryptocurrency, they probably want to focus more on educating the consumers about the safety, potential fraud and things like that. We know advertising content matters in terms of effectiveness.”
Tom Morton, global chief strategy officer at the advertising agency R/GA, says crypto brands have more work to do at the Super Bowl than other advertisers if they want to drive mainstream adoption and become as big as traditional financial firms.
“They need to legitimize the category,” Morton said. “They need to go mainstream in front of a big audience at a time when more than 80% of Americans have heard about crypto but less than 20% have bought in…So we’ll see Coinbase putting a rocket under customer sign up, others competing for name recognition, and some aiming to be the adult in the room. The biggest lever for crypto is still FOMO, and that’s what FTX pulled with Larry David.”
This year, electric vehicles are back again as the EV race continues to heat up. Last year, General Motors ran a Super Bowl spot featuring Will Ferrell and Awkwafina and is back again with a new “Austin Powers”-themed campaign with actor Mike Myers reprising his role as Dr. Evil, but this time climate change is the biggest enemy. This year, BMW cast Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek as retired Greek gods struggling to enjoy retirement on earth until the electric iX arrives to help charge them up, and Nissan has “Schitt’s Creek” stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara for its ads. Elsewhere in the game, Toyota, Kia and Polestar are also running EV-themed commercials.
“We know that a large majority of the first movers and the younger population is very in line with the purpose and the vision and they’re very concerned with climate change overall,” said GM Global Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl. “Our part, our role in the that is to get to an all-electric world.”
It’s not just car brands that are trying to take advantage of the Super Bowl: The Barcelona-based EV charging company Wallbox is also debuting campaign in hopes of tapping into the moment less than a year after going public public on the New York Stock Exchange. (Rather than starring a celebrity, Wallbox’s humorous ad features a real-life lighting strike survivor.)
“The Super Bowl is the biggest televised event and basically everyone considering buying a car from now on will at least be considering an EV,” said Wallbox Chief Marketing Officer Barbara Calixto. “Just like the Super Bowl is the audience for car manufacturers, it is also now the audience for our products as well. We felt like what a better time than right now to make our debut.”
Beyond the tech brands themselves, a variety of Super Bowl LVI’s advertisers are also utilizing another popular tech trend from the past year: non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Kia’s turning “Robo Dog”—the star of the crar brand’s Super Bowl ad—into an NFT to raise money for The Petfinder Foundation. To promote the new zero-carb beer Bud Light Next, Bud Light created a collection of 12,722 NFTs that have already sold out. (Each cost $399 and came with a pair of physical glasses in collaboration with Nouns DAO.) Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser brand is also giving people a chance to win a Heritage Can NFT to those who tweet about the giveaway. And even the Puppy Bowl is selling digital dog NFTs to raise money for Ariana Grande’s animal rescue.
This will be the first Super Bowl since NFTs began gaining traction just a few weeks after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs last year. In fact, the NFL and Ticketmaster are even turning each Super Bowl ticket into an NFT after already distributing 250,000 during regular season and at least 100,000 more during the playoffs.
While some NFL stars like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodges and Odell Beckham Jr. have been promoting cryptocurrencies, legendary quarterback Eli Manning has spent part of this month promoting “edible” NFTs as part of his partnership with Frank’s RedHot sauce. (Manning and his brother Peyton Manning released their own NFT collection last year.)
“As you’re eating your chicken wings, if you scan a picture of your chicken wings bone, you can earn what’s called Bone Coins,” Manning said on The Today Show earlier this month. “Whoever earned the most Bone Coins get win this NFT. It’s a real-life NFT, it’s a digital one and also an edible NFT that you can eat.”
Even crypto-related brands that aren’t buying Super Bowl spots are getting publicity from the Big Game’s crypto-craze: companies working on Super Bowl-related NFTs include the blockchain platform Tezos and Dapper Labs, the company behind popular NFTs like Cryptokitties and NBA Top Shot. (There was also speculation about whether the popular NFT collection Bored Ape Yacht Club might show up during Halftime show since two of this year’s performers—Eminem and Snoop Dogg—both own one.)
Marketing in and around the game also highlights the metaverse—a term invented in the 1990s by the sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson but that became ubiquitous last year during the rise of Web3 topics ranging from cryptocurrencies NFTs to virtual and augmented reality. During the 2022 Halftime Show, Pespi partnered with Verizon and Snapchat on an AR experience so people at home could get a front-row view from home.
Tech and marketing crowds spent 2021 discussing “the metaverse” when talking about platforms like Fortnite, Roblox and The Sandbox. However, the word quickly floated to the top of the cultural discourse after becoming associated with Facebook when the social network rebranded as Meta in October. Meta will also have a Super Bowl ad of its own this year to promote its Quest virtual reality headsets.
Instead of running an actual Super Bowl ad, Miller Lite built a virtual bar inside of the 3D virtual world Decentraland. The beer brand’s virtual bar has been open since Feb. 7—it’s stocked with virtual beer, virtual darts and billiards and even a virtual photo both—but the new “ad” debuted today inside of the bar. And for those who don’t want to settle for digital suds, Miller Lite’s also giving away real beer to digital patrons.
The commercial—which is shown on TV screens inside the digital bar—jokes about appealing to the masses with the usual Super Bowl commercial components: horses, dogs, robots, explosions, overly dramatic music and a “culturally relevant pop star.” (At the end of the 60-second spot, the avatar star says the “metaverse is just like real life, but with worse graphics.”)
“It’s a self-aware kind of reflection on the Super Bowl and the metaverse,” Ari Weiss, chief creative officer of DDB Worldwide, which created Miller Lite’s virtual bar, said of the beer brand’s Decentraland experience. “We’re kind of saying all of the things that everyone is thinking but nobody says. And we know young people always appreciate that kind of candor in these marketing moments.”
What will be remembered after the game is yet to be determined, but the 2022 ads at least show what some of the most influential brands hope will happen in the years to come. And yet, a new Salesforce commercial starring Matthew McConaughey—which features people walking down a street wearing VR headsets—wonders whether too much attention is spent on lofty initiatives instead of on the real word and Earth itself.
“Time to build more trust, time to make more space for all of us,” he McConaughey says in the ad. “So while others look to the metaverse and Mars, let’s stay here and and restore ours.”