Super Bowl viewers support social justice ads, study says

Dive Brief:

  • Sixty percent of U.S. adults will tune into the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, and 60% of those said it’s appropriate for brands to support social justice in ads during the big game, market researcher Morning Consult found in a survey. Additionally, 77% would approve of ads urging U.S. consumers to wear masks during the pandemic.
  • While most likely viewers of the Super Bowl said social justice messaging is appropriate, 54% also considered ads that get “political” as inappropriate. People who don’t plan to watch the game tended to be more disapproving of social justice messaging, with 45% saying it is inappropriate and 39% describing it as appropriate, the survey found.
  • The findings indicate that while most Americans plan to watch the Super Bowl in February, and many are open to seeing advertising that supports causes, viewers still want to be entertained, with 63% of likely Super Bowl viewers saying that funny ads are their favorites.

Dive Insight:

It’s too early to tell whether this month’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will affect people’s plans to gather to watch the game, though 70% said they don’t plan to attend a Super Bowl party, according to Morning Consult’s Dec. 10-13 survey. Despite potential changes to watch parties and additional uncertainty around when the game will be held, it is likely that, as in the past, viewers will pay close attention to the ads. However, Morning Consult’s survey raises the question of whether Super Bowl LV ads will focus more on social issues in a reflection of how marketing evolved during 2020.

As the most-watched live event on television, the Super Bowl historically has been a way for marketers to reach a mass audience with campaigns that often help to set the tone for entire year. However, the pandemic and protests against racism and police violence this year led many advertisers to quickly change their tone, often by emphasizing their commitments to helping people and supporting social causes. Research also shows that consumers increasingly expect brands to take a stand on social issues. It remains to be seen whether this approach will be extended to Super Bowl ads as well. What consumers aren’t interested in, however, are ads that take a political stand, per the research.

When it comes to messaging about causes, likely Super Bowl viewers expressed the most support for ads that show how brands support military veterans. Other popular causes include thanking health care and essential workers for their efforts to help people during pandemic and urging people to wear masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Likely viewers also tended to be amenable to ads that call for national unity, thank law enforcement, urge COVID-19 vaccination and support Black Lives Matter. In addressing social issues, marketers need to be cautious about setting the right tone to avoid appearing insincere or alienating viewers with ads that are too political, as Morning Consult’s research suggests.

The Super Bowl is currently scheduled for Feb. 7 and this year’s host network CBS had sold about 80% of its ad inventory for the big game as of early December, with marketers such as Avocados From Mexico and Procter & Gamble’s Olay brand saying they won’t return for the upcoming game. Snack and beverage brands have tended to re-commit to the Super Bowl as they see higher sales among homebound consumers, while movie studios that face uncertainty about theater openings appear to be more cautious, according to Marketing Dive’s ad tracker.

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