With the Covid-19 pandemic casting a pall over sporting events, brand marketing surrounding Sunday’s Super Bowl game between the Kansas Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be notably different than in years past, with much of the usual on-site hype moving online —  as well as a number of big-name advertisers opting out of spending the $5 million-plus for 30 seconds of air-time. A seasoned sports marketer, as well as a fan, MWWPR president Bret Werner spoke with PRovoke about how brands are adjusting their activities in line with this year’s scaled-back event while still leveraging opportunity to reach consumers.

How does brand marketing leading up to the Super Bowl look different this year?

It’s turning into the Zoom Super Bowl, to no surprise. In normal circumstances, thousands of media are on site. All the radio station go live. It’s podcasts, it’s digital and platforms, there are press conferences. And then you have brands launching promotions or endeavors. You’ll see Super Bowl commercials unveiled. It’s a big deal. This year, interviews are still being done across the country, they are just being done virtually. And you would hope that we would see a lot more digital content, because regardless of how many people are on site at a Super Bowl there are at least 100 million fans going to tune into the game that are eager for content, so you have to reach them wherever they are.

Do you see that switch to more off-site activity as unique to this year or something we’ll see more of in the future, even after the Covid crisis?

Like much of what we have seen with the pandemic, it has sped up things that were inevitable: more digital, more content and making sure you are in the right media to reach your target audience. There may be less on-site activation and more digital work in the future. But that doesn’t mean on-site activation doesn’t have value and is going away. There may just be a different balance. Brands are figuring out how they can still do this and I think we will see this evolution in the back half of the year. Brand confidence is building, and they are going to be more apt to try some new things. There will be a page taken from the playbooks for any live event moving forward: how do we do this most effectively and get the greatest reach and return?

Will being off-site, or being digital, diminish the impact of brands Super Bowl efforts?

If it’s a live event, if it’s the Olympics, the Oscars, the Super Bowl, the lead-in to those events is an opportunity because people want to talk about it, they want to embrace it, they want to be part of the excitement – and they will continue to be. The opportunity around the Super Bowl isn’t what happens during kickoff. It’s how you lean into that conversation authentically in the two weeks leading up to the game.

Yet we’re seeing perennial Super Bowl advertisers — big brands like Budweiser, Coke and Pepsi — are sitting this year out, in part because of the mood of the country.

There is no doubt all communications have to be measured now because it's during a pandemic. You could see where a brand would sit out because they don’t think it’s the right time. There are questions around how we communicate in this time, Or they might be finding other more effective ways to reach their audience. But I will say this: there are very few platforms that have the reach of the Super Bowl and there is an inherent PR value that comes with being associated with it, somehow, someway. That’s not going to change.

What should we expect to see from the brands that are participating?

Cause related initiatives. The NFL is doing a great job, inviting 7,500 frontline health care professionals to the game. DoorDash is leaning into its cause-related program where it will donate $1 for orders placed on February 7 and 8 to charity. Our society values brands that operate and add value to our society.  And humor always wins. We could all use a few laughs.