With funny frogs, adorable puppies and its iconic Clydesdale horses, Budweiser has become synonymous with Super Bowl advertising over the past four decades, producing some of the most memorable commercials in the history of television's marquee live event.
This year, however, the brand is taking a pass.
Budweiser announced Monday morning that it is foregoing its annual Super Bowl commercial slot for the first time in 37 years, joining fellow juggernauts Coke, Hyundai and Pepsi in skipping this year's Super Bowl broadcast amid the financial uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The beer brand said in a news release that instead of paying to air a Super Bowl ad, it will instead be "reallocating the media investment" to raise awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the year, in partnership with the Ad Council.
"Like everyone else, we are eager to get people back together, reopen restaurants and bars, and be able to gather to cheers with friends and family," Budweiser vice president of marketing Monica Rustgi said in a statement. "To do this, and to bring consumers back into neighborhood bars and restaurants that were hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic, we’re stepping in to support critical awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine."
Budweiser will forego commercial time during Super Bowl 2021 broadcast. (Photo: UNKNOWN)
According to the news release, Budweiser plans to donate some of its advertising airtime throughout 2021 to the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative, a coalition of experts in health, education and the economy. Clarissa Dickinson, a spokesperson for Budweiser, said she was unable to provide an exact financial value of the donated time but called it "a multi-million dollar commitment."
CBS, which owns the television rights for Super Bowl 55, has sought $5.5 million for a 30-second spot during this year's broadcast, according to multiple reports.
Though Budweiser is skipping this year's television broadcast, it will still run a 90-second ad titled "Bigger Picture" on digital platforms before and during the Super Bowl. The commercial is narrated by actress Rashida Jones.
Bud Light, another Anheuser-Busch brand, is still expected to air an ad during the game.
The absence of Budweiser — and fellow Super Bowl regulars Coke, Hyundai and Pepsi — will leave this year's broadcast without several of the perennial contenders in USA TODAY's Ad Meter, which ranks Super Bowl commercials by consumer rating. Budweiser has a record eight Ad Meter titles since 1989, while the other three companies have combined for six wins during that span.
All four companies framed the move as a matter of strategy and resource allocation amid the pandemic, which has led to job losses and budget cuts across industries.
A Coca-Cola spokesperson told CNBC earlier this month that the company would not air a Super Bowl ad to "ensure we are investing in the right resources during these unprecedented times," while a Hyundai spokesperson told Ad Age that "this was a decision based on marketing priorities."
Pepsi, meanwhile, said it is simply prioritizing its sponsored halftime show.
"Instead of buying a traditional 30-second in-game Super Bowl ad, we decided to double down on the 12 minutes Pepsi already has in the middle of the game — the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show," vice president of marketing Todd Kaplan said in a statement.
Kimberly Whitler, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, said she is not surprised that some brands are choosing not to run Super Bowl commercials this year.
Whitler believes the events of 2020, including the COVID-19 pandemic and presidential election, have created an abnormal degree of uncertainty this year — not just in terms of finances, but also in terms of messaging. Super Bowl ads are usually planned and produced several months in advance, she noted, and striking the right tone can often feel like "a high-wire act."
"If you are too somber, funny, or incendiary — or if you don’t strike the 'right' chord for the moment — the backlash can be significant," Whitler wrote in an email. "Everything is magnified. Press – good and bad — is amplified. The risk is simply greater."
The absence of well-known brands has opened the door for first-time advertisers. Vroom, a platform for buying and selling used cars online, and DoorDash, a food delivery service, are among the companies that will air a Super Bowl ad for the first time this year.
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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