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For the 2024 Big Game, brands go omnichannel and fans stream

Hands reaching out to catch a football with a screen embedded in the side.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Shutterstock / The Current

For almost 60 years now, the Super Bowl has been, well, the Super Bowl of ad campaigns. Year in, year out, it’s the main event. There’s no better way to put your brand front and center in American culture.

Throughout most of the game’s history, though, advertisers were confined to its native medium: broadcast television. Make no mistake, linear TV is still the biggest game in town. Last year’s game was the most-watched telecast in American history, reaching 115.1 million viewers, per Nielsen. That’s why Ad Age reports a 30-second spot will cost roughly $7 million this year. It doesn’t get any bigger than this in U.S. advertising.

Except, these days, it does. Modern marketers are thinking about more than just the TV set. They’re thinking omnichannel. They’re thinking multiple devices, streaming tie-ins, built-in QR codes, first-party data plays. They’re thinking about the many opportunities to engage with consumers before, during, and after kickoff.

Why? Because now more than ever, they can.

“The opportunities to extend creative ideas beyond the Big Game are limitless,” says Caroline Grayson, managing director of VCCP U.S. “Following Coinbase’s QR code stunt [in 2022], and with more and more advertising putting an emphasis on first party data, we should expect to see more brands aim for some form of engagement or consumer action through second screens, QR codes, and URLs.”

Going omnichannel

Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, where the San Francisco 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 11, presents a uniquely catalytic moment for brands​​​​ beyond the broadcast.

Paramount — this year’s rights owner of the Super Bowl — is airing the game on CBS and Nickelodeon but will also stream it on Paramount+ for the first time. The Super Bowl units have been sold as one package across CBS, Paramount+, and Nickelodeon (except some categories prohibited on Nick), making all campaigns omnichannel in nature.

Paramount’s debut Super Bowl spot — about its free ad-supported streaming (FAST) platform, Pluto TV — is a perfect example of a true omnichannel campaign. Not only is the 60-second ad running during the broadcast of Super Bowl LVIII, but it will continue to run across linear, connected TV (CTV), radio, streaming audio, out-of-home, digital display, and social media. The spot, which introduces a brand refresh, features rows of “couch potatoes” growing strong from Pluto TV’s assortment of free ad-supported content. “This country was raised on TV — TV that was easy. TV that was free. Pluto TV is TV the way it was supposed to be.”

Danone will lean into CTV this year with regional spots for its Oikos and Silk brands, running them on Paramount+ and NFL apps on Super Bowl Sunday as well as across social media. Celebrities carry both ads. For Silk’s Super Bowl debut, Jeremy Renner gets his groove back thanks to the almond milk, while actor Martin Lawrence shows his strength to former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe in the Oikos spot.

Linda Bethea, head of marketing at Danone, describes the approach as a unique way to reach younger audiences. “Gen Z is a multiscreen generation, and our digital playbook for the game allows us to reach younger viewers who not only have varied media consumption habits, but more health-driven food habits as well,” says Bethea. “This digital-first strategy also allows our investment to go further, so that we can extend the reach of our campaigns beyond just game day.”

Across other digital efforts, DoorDash might just have the most ambitious digital sweepstakes this year, enticing viewers to collect the promo code they see from its 30-second ad on game day and enter to win every product advertised during the Big Game at a microsite. This approach not only increases the engagement around the ad but delivers first-party data directly from football fans.

Bud Light, likely aiming to make up for lost fans after its controversial year, has added a digital out-of-home play along with its Big Game ad. For the week leading up to the Big Game, the beer brand is showing a flashy ad on Vegas’ new LED Sphere.

Meanwhile, beer giant Molson Coors is offering passengers virtual seats on the Coors Light Chill Train, driving brand interest through a digital sweepstakes. And the real estate company Opendoor is promoting a different kind of halftime show this year: An Atlanta-area homeowner will try to sell their house through the platform during the break.

Another route is social media, especially TikTok. E.l.f. Cosmetics cast TikTok creator Benito Skinner along with several “Suits” stars in its teaser. For its Super Bowl debut, Nerds is partnering with star Addison Rae to reach her over 88 million TikTok followers.

@addisonre Guess who I’m coaching…?! :mirror_ball::man_dancing::man_dancing::notes::candy:  tune in to find out!! @Nerds Candy 2.11 #ad ♬ original sound - Addison Rae

Social media continues to be a popular approach to tease Big Game commercials. Pringles, for instance, challenged fans to guess which celebrity mustache will star in their Big Game ad on Instagram. Turns out it’s Chris Pratt, and not Travis Kelce.

Big brands (and humor) are back

Some major themes to expect on Sunday include: a move toward humor, celebrities, and — likely thanks to the uptick in female viewership from the budding relationship between Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and pop sensation Taylor Swift — a larger presence from health-and-beauty companies.

And in a year that’s featured all manner of brands eager to showcase their use of artificial intelligence, Grayson expects AI to be a running theme, as well as more “mind-bending TV-as-stunt executions” like the spot run by the FAST channel Tubi last year.

This year also marks the return to the Big Game for major brands, including PepsiCo, Volkswagen, Dove, State Farm, Reese’s, and Oreo, and Super Bowl debuts for e.l.f. Cosmetics, NYX, Lindt, Etsy, Kawasaki, and of course, Nerds, according to Ad Age.

Streaming to hit new highs

As brands look to innovate on their campaigns, increasing numbers of viewers are watching the game in new ways. This year, executives believe it to be a significant opportunity to introduce potential subscribers to Paramount+.

Sara Grimaldi, VP of audience impact and intelligence at Paramount, projects that “more than one-third” of Super Bowl viewers could be tuning in via streaming. She noted that Paramount+ had scored its most-streamed regular-season NFL game ever this season, and expects those numbers to keep growing as more consumers go cordless.

The expectation is warranted. Fox reported an average of 7 million streaming viewers tuning in last year, an 18 percent jump from the year prior. What’s more, that’s almost certainly an undercount of actual viewers, based on two factors: lumping multichannel video programming distributor viewers into the linear TV crowd, and not applying a co-viewing multiple to account for streaming viewers watching with friends and family.

Games leading up to the Super Bowl have also reaped from streaming. On Jan. 13, NBCUniversal’s streaming platform, Peacock, had approximately 23 million viewers watch the NFL wildcard game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins, “the most streamed event ever in the U.S.” Did it help that the camera kept cutting away to Taylor Swift cheering on Travis Kelce? Probably.

Whereas consumers typically engage with advertising more passively — and thus, likely sparingly — the Super Bowl is one of the few instances in which consumers may actively seek out brands’ messaging. That’s because they know what to expect: high-production-value spots that work to entertain on top of pitching a brand.

“While the media landscape has changed, consumer interest in this moment hasn’t,” says Grayson. “It’s the ultimate showcase of creativity and entertainment value and a celebration of what we do.”