How to ‘win’ with Super Bowl ads in a bristling political climate

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Still image from this year's Super Bowl spot by Avocados From Mexico. © Avocados From Mexcio
Still image from this year's Super Bowl spot by Avocados From Mexico. © Avocados From Mexcio

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An astronomical amount of money pours out of food and beverage companies into Super Bowl spots each year. This year, from coin toss till the end of play, there are nine food and beverage companies (excluding the foodservice sector advertisers KFC and Wendy’s) that will advertise during one of the most watched events in the US.

According to a list of Super Bowl LI advertisers​ compiled by Ad Age, Avocados From Mexico​ is returning for the third year in a row with a 30-second ad, airtime which network channel Fox is selling for around $5 million, Forbes reports​.

Food and Beverage Advertisers in Super Bowl LI

The food and beverage brands that have bought spots this year, according to Ad Age, are:

  1. Anheuser-Busch InBev
  2. Avocados From Mexico
  3. Bai Brands (Dr Pepper Snapple Group)
  4. Fiji Water
  5. King's Hawaiian
  6. Lifewtr (PepsiCo)
  7. Skittles (Mars Inc.'s Wrigley)
  8. Snickers (Mars Inc.)
  9. Wonderful Pistachios

“Looking at the positive results from AFM’s participation in the past two Super Bowls, the investment continues to make a lot of sense for the brand,”​ Kevin Hamilton, director of brand marketing for Avocados From Mexico told FoodNavigator-USA.

“Last year, our campaign generated more than 2.5 billion impressions across earned and paid media in two weeks, representing 70% growth compared to our inaugural Super Bowl campaign,”​ he added. In 2015, the company also announced that, owing to its Super Bowl buzz, imports of Mexican avocados were up by record numbers​.

Playing it safe in the current political climate

Timely events that turn an ad into a reflection of the current year’s zeitgeist has stirred controversy in the past—think Coca-Cola’s 2014 Super Bowl spot​, where patriotic song “America the Beautiful” is sung in various languages.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are brands that go down the surreal route for shock value, like Mountain Dew’s ‘Puppy Monkey Baby’​ and Bai Brands’ ‘horse whisperer’​ ads last year.

Both routes have split opinions into ‘love it or hate it,’ but political statements tend to generate more divisive ones. “Given some of the emotions around politics and the new president, I anticipate that most brands will play it safe in terms of their creative content,” ​Derek Rucker, a professor of advertising strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“We might see one or two venture into some rocky waters, and it will be interesting to see if they try to relate to the current political climate in a successful manner,” ​he added.

An immigration story

From the food and beverage commercials that have been released so far, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s ad​ seems to be the one walking on eggshells. A year was spent to plan, produce, and shoot the ad, telling a romanticized story of founder Adolphus Busch’s immigration from Germany to the US in the mid-1800s.

Fortuitously, the minute-long ad’s airing this coming Sunday comes at a time when President Trump’s Mexican border wall executive order and temporary ban on immigration from a selection of Muslim-majority countries are salient in public consciousness.

Media headlines around Super Bowl advertising are now abuzz with the stir in comment sections and editorial pieces caused by the ad. “This is a story about our heritage and the uncompromising commitment that goes into brewing our beer. It’s an idea we’ve been developing along with our creative agency for nearly a year,”​ vice president of marketing at Anheuser-Busch InBev Marcel Marcondes said in an official statement.

Meanwhile, the ad by Avocados From Mexico, a company that represents Mexican avocado producers, chose a different—perhaps ‘safer’—current theme to play on, despite an abundance of material and jabs that can be done around President Trump’s icy relationship with Mexico​.

“Our messages correlates with a recent public health announcement from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration which deemed avocados healthy, since they contribute predominantly good fats to diets like mono and polyunsaturated fat,”​ Hamilton said. The humorous ad​, with a cameo by comedian Jon Lovitz, plays on the idea that the healthiness of fats, originally kept secret from society, has been leaked by an underground group too keen to share things on social media.

How do you define the success of a Super Bowl ad?

There’s a different standard of success across brands that advertise during the Super Bowl. “For some brands, success might be generating brand awareness (e.g., a new product launch). For other brands, it might be the equity that is built by the spots and consumer loyalty. And, for the brands, it may solely boil down to how much product is moved (i.e., sales),”​ Rucker said.

For Avocados From Mexico, success in the past year was measured by purchase consideration. Last year, we partnered with Nielsen, and based on their 360 Ad Effectiveness Scorecard, we experienced a 21% uptick in momentum, and significant increases in awareness and purchase consideration,”​ Hamilton said.

This year, the company also featured a social media component in its ad, #AvoSecrets​, where consumers can engage with a secret phone that belongs to one of the members of the secret society in the ad. With luck, consumers may stumble into an interaction with a high profile celebrity or Instagram influencer recruited as a brand ambassador.

Rucker said that today, multi-platform engagement is a big part of a Super Bowl ad. “Buying a Super Bowl spot isn’t just about the 30-seconds of air time,”​ he said. “It often is, and arguably should be, about using the Super Bowl as part of an integrated communication in social, retail, [and so on].”

Social media has been an important part of generating buzz​ as food and beverage companies compete to be on game day menus. “Interestingly, this year seems a little quiet in terms of pre-game buzz​,​ he added. “But I suspect this has to do with all the news around the presidential inauguration and ensuing events.” 

Is there a 'golden rule' to meet expectations with a Super Bowl ad?


"Brands might use the event to send a signal to distribution channels of their importance and expected consumer demand. The venue can also be important when you have a strong new branding initiative or a new product as it gets the word out to a large number of people in a very efficient manner.

"So, no one golden rule, but certainly some brand objectives are met by this event better than others."

Derek D. Rucker, Professor of Marketing, Co-chair of Faculty Research, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

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