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Companies Skip Super Bowl Ads; Fear Ticking Off Half the Country

'They’re saying, ‘Let’s wait until this s—storm clears.’'...

Several of the companies known for their hit Super Bowl commercials have decided to sit this year’s game out over concerns about political polarization.

Budweiser, Pepsi Co., Coca-Cola, and other major corporations have backed out of advertising during this year’s broadcast and have decided to give money to coronavirus relief funds instead.

The decision was largely driven by the fact that advertisers aren’t sure how to strike the right tone as the country struggles with the pandemic, social unrest, and political division, the New York Post reported.

“There is trepidation around Super Bowl advertising this year,” said Bill Oberlander, co-founder and executive creative of ad agency Oberlander. “For the Super Bowl, you generally go big or go home. I think brands are going home rather than spending tens of millions of dollars and not getting it right. They’re saying, ‘Let’s wait until this s—storm clears.’”

Many advertisers are worried that someone will be offended by their ads no matter what the ad shows, said Rob Schwartz, the CEO of ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day.

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“There’s a lot of discussion about risk mitigation,” he said. “What that tends to do is that it makes things very bland and not effective or it forces you to look at universal topics like hope or humor.”

Oberlander agreed: “The country is so divided and split right down the middle that I don’t think that there’s a commercial that will appease both sides.”

Budweiser said it plans to sponsor programs that will bring “critical awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Pepsi said it is focusing primarily on its halftime show, and Coca-Cola executives said the company is taking a step back to “ensure we are investing in the right resource during these unprecedented times.”

Thirty-second ad spots for the game reportedly go for about $5.5 million a piece.

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The brands that do plan on advertising during the Super Bowl struggled about which tone to take.

Some have argued the moment calls for a bit of humor, but others said the situation is too dire.

“You can’t pretend like everything’s OK,” actress Rashida Jones, who stars in Budweiser’s new COVID-19 vaccination ad, said. “People can sense when brands are exploiting a moment.”

Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth College, predicted the silly ads will fall flat.

“We have a pandemic that is casting a pall over just about everything,” he explained. “It’s hard to feel the exuberance and excitement people normally would.”

The companies moving forward with their ads face logistical challenges, too.

Super Bowl ads are usually developed months in advance and shot in the fall, meaning that ads airing in two weeks were shot under costly pandemic conditions and without any idea how the presidential election would turn out.

That further complicates the already delicate process of striking a tone that acknowledges what’s happening with the world, managing to either entertain or tug at viewer heartstrings, and finding a way to tie it all back to their brand.

“It’s a tough year to do an ad,” Argenti said. “It will be a good year for creative companies who figure out how to thread that needle.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report).

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