While the Super Bowl will be held in 2021, this year’s game will have a very 2020-esque feel to it. As of early January, the plan is to limit seating capacity at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to just 20%, so The Weeknd will likely be playing his halftime show to a smaller crowd than his typical tour stops.
Beyond reduced in-person attendance, how we watch the game will continue to shift toward bigger and more connected television screens. According to the NPD Group, sales of TVs 65 inches and larger were up 27% through Cyber Monday week vs. 2019, while 70-inch and above TVs increased by 82% during the same timeframe. Further, Strategy Analytics predicts that connected TV device sales in 2020 overall will finish 7% higher than in 2019. Both trends are indicative of consumer desire for increased access to as much content as possible on the largest screen in the home, which still mostly reside in the living room where multiple members of households gather.
Speaking of the living room, it will most certainly be the most popular place to watch the game this year, more than any time in the recent past. According to Nielsen data, 12 million people watched the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls outside their homes at bars, restaurants or at other people’s homes. This amounts to about 10% of overall viewership. Younger people skew even higher for out-of-home viewing, which boosted the 18-to 34-year-old audience by 19% in 2019, according to Fox data. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging here in the US, many of those bars and restaurants will be closed during this year’s game, while parties will likely be limited to close friends and family members.
And that context around whom we view the game is perhaps the most important for marketers to consider. Consumer psychologists refer to “reference groups”, or groups of people who have influence over our purchase behavior when trying to understand why people buy certain products over alternatives. A primary group is one in which there are face-to-face interactions, such as a family. A secondary group could be colleagues or members of the same social club. Since primary groups have been determined to exert far more influence over purchase behavior than secondary groups, logic would follow that 2020 has increased the influence of these primary groups even further as we’ve spent more time with them at home than any year in recent memory
All of this leads to several thoughts on marketing strategy. Although Super Bowl commercial inventory is “virtually sold out” according to ViacomCBS, addressable over-the-top (OTT) and connected TV (CTV) provide great alternatives, with the added bonus of available household targeting for increased relevancy. With television’s inherently “lean back” experience, the viewer may be inclined to recline and passively absorb the messaging on the big screen. CTV/OTT with household targeting allows marketers to build a bridge for the most relevant viewers to connect with brands via their mobile device, which can be accomplished by tactics such as embedding QR codes into a TV ad. A simple scan with a smartphone camera can open an entirely interactive experience around your product, complete with additional video content, shoppable features and store locators.
And then there’s content. While sports fans are no doubt focused on player stats, Vegas odds, and the action on the field, Google Trends data revealed that Super Bowl Sunday during 2019 yielded nearly as many searches about football rules, recipes for buffalo wings, and Roman numerals as the game itself. The old Super Bowl adage that many people are “just watching for the commercials” creates the perfect opportunity to provide entertaining interactive digital video content with recipe and party ideas, gamified content around football (ie. 10k social shares during the Super Bowl gets all followers a free giveaway), or localized offers for nearby small businesses or franchises that might only loosely relate to the game itself (ie. two football-shaped pizzas for $10).
On the data front, household targeting layered with first- and third-party data further enhances the ability of marketers to personalize the experience for viewers based on the content, device, and messaging they are likely to respond to. So, while a good Super Bowl commercial carries plenty of weight in terms of brand awareness, following one up with a more targeted approach ensures additional reach to those most likely to act. And those brands who choose to stay on the sidelines for the Super Bowl can still deliver an impactful experience around game time using this approach.
As 2021 kicks off with one of our favorite unofficial holidays, our collective reliance on home entertainment will persist, and brands have the unique opportunity to engage with a captive audience via household targeting through OTT/CTV. Focusing on a holistic omnichannel marketing approach with lean-forward, engaging messaging that runs across all devices has not only been proven to be more successful in driving purchase intent than standalone TV ads, it’s how most people consume media these days. And for as much change as we’ve witnessed in the last year, the one constant in a winning marketing playbook is letting the consumer play quarterback with their media choices and providing them with great experiences all season long.
As vice president of Account Planning, Jim Johnson is responsible for leveraging VDX.tv’s consumer research and insights to develop holistic digital marketing strategies aimed at guiding clients toward their desired outcomes. Prior to joining VDX.tv (formerly Exponential), Jim worked as a media planner with Carat on brands including Reebok, VH1, RadioShack and Motorola. He also has worked at Boston University as an event planner and financial advisor, roles he held while simultaneously earning an M.S. in Advertising from the College of Communication.