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SPORTS SALVE

The priciest Super Bowl ads ever envision a post-pandemic world  

Actor Zendaya in the Super Bowl ad for Squarespace.
Squarespace
Actor Zendaya in the Super Bowl ad for Squarespace.
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While popular television shows like HBO’s Billions and Curb Your Enthusiasm have integrated the covid-19 pandemic into their plot lines, Super Bowl advertisers have largely moved on. 

Planned NFL Super Bowl LVI commercials for Planet Fitness, starring Lindsey Lohan, Sam’s Club, starring Kevin Hart, Bud Light, starring Guy Fieri, and Nissan, featuring Eugene Levy, all feature large crowds of consumers and partygoers mixing without masks like it’s 2019, according to early looks at the advertisements.

The post-crisis framing is in line with the fatigue many consumers, vaccinated and masked or not, are expressing as the pandemic enters its third year. 

Are we back to normal yet?

Roughly 21% of consumers believe the world will never return to life the way it was before covid-19, while 39% think things are at least a year away from returning to normal, according to the latest data (pdf) from Resonate, which tracks consumer sentiment. But 24% think things are less than a year away from normal—and 16% believe life has returned to normal already.

The back-to-normal sentiment also has penetrated the premium pricing for Super Bowl advertisements. In the last few years, the average 30-second spot during the broadcast cost about $5 million. This year the rates hit a new record, with several commercial spots going for $7 million, and available slots for the program are now sold out. 

This may become NBCUniversal’s biggest sports day ever

Another aspect that will make this year’s Super Bowl special is the fact that it will be played during the Beijing Olympics. The confluence of programming marks the first time a network—in this case, NBC—has aired the Olympics and the Super Bowl on the same day.

The reason for the schedule clash has to do with the NFL’s newly expanded schedule, which pushed the Super Bowl to the second Sunday of February instead of the first, ending a programming tradition that began back in 2002.  

The programming overlap could ultimately help the Olympics by drawing in some Super Bowl viewers, a twist that could boost the Beijing event’s poor ratings.

The Super Bowl as the first major signal that post-pandemic life has begun

Despite the challenges of the last couple of years, it looks like NBCUniversal may be on track to beat the advertising sales of $920 million it pulled in during the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Compared with last year’s football championship game, which saw major advertisers pull out, the recent easing of pandemic fears, reflected in the new ad spots, could make Super Bowl LVI one of NBCUniversal’s most successful. 

“It’s a return back to a more comedic tone,” NBC’s sports advertising vice president Dan Lovinger said of the mostly pandemic-free messaging for Super Bowl LVI. “You’re going to see a slightly lighter tone.  And I think the country’s ready for it.”

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