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Why Counterprogramming the Super Bowl was the Winning Move


With another Super Bowl in the books, it was indeed a different game this year in many ways as predicted. From the cardboard fans, to a restrained half time show and concerns around yet another super spreader event — consumer sentiment was very different. By now you’ve probably read the speculation about the winners and losers of the Super Bowl ads — which ranged from inspirational to nostalgic. Brands found it hard to strike the right tone, something not even celebrity actors could transcend.

Perhaps the real winners of the game were the brands like Coke, Pepsi and Hyundai that were among those sitting out of this year’s event on TV. Among them, Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, reallocated the money it would have spent on the high price point of a TV ad, to instead promote the coronavirus vaccination. Its alternative Super Bowl spot, called ‘Bigger Picture’, ran on YouTube and showed citizens overcoming pandemic challenges.

It was a savvy move, to be sure. A campaign tangentially aligned to the Super Bowl that garnered early headlines for the brand, yes. Yet it also highlighted public health and underlined a growing trend for purpose and usefulness in advertising.

It’s true that more brands are finding ways to tap into the big game without an in-game ad, opting for cost-effective, insightful connections over reach. Brands have already found success in shifting their Super Bowl campaign to digital, using a counterprogramming strategy in years past. But it doesn’t have to stop there. It’s a missed opportunity not to take the time to optimize their campaign further to make sure they win the hearts and minds of the event’s captive audience. If they want to win the internet, they should build anticipation and be ready to adjust messaging on the fly based on multiple outcomes during the game.

With a finite time to make an impact, digital allows brands like Budweiser the chance to really battle test their messaging. Advertisers can create different variants in advance of the game and quickly shift budget to the best performing one to run during the game. Not only will this set you up for success, it will help ensure that you don’t end up appearing tone deaf among the shifting mood of the audience. This year more than ever, the most important thing is to be memorable and for the right reasons, whatever the channel.

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