Coca-Cola pulls out of Super Bowl

Coca-Cola is pulling back from the Super Bowl after an 11-year run, opting to run a commercial just before kickoff of the CBS broadcast on of the game on February 3, but not in the event itself.

CBS is seeking between $5.1 million and $5.3 million for commercial packages that air in the game itself. Ads that run pre-game can cost anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars to a few million, depending on their proximity to the start of the annual pigskin contest.

Coca-Cola intends to run a 60-second commercial just before kickoff that burnishes themes of diversity and inclusion, says Stuart Kronauge,  senior vice president of marketing for Coca-Cola North America and president of its sparking beverages business unit. “We have a long history of using the country’s biggest advertising stage to share a message of unity and positivity, especially at times when our nation feels divided,” he said in a statement. “This year, we decided to place our ad just before the national anthem as Americans come together in their living rooms to remind everyone that ‘together is beautiful.”

The new commercial, crafted by the independent ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, will feature original animated characters reminding viewers that the company’s flagship drink is for all consumers. It’s inspired by a 1975 quote from artist Andy Warhol, which will be used as  the closing line in the commercial: “We all have different hearts and hands; heads holding various views. Don’t you see? Different is beautiful. And, together is beautiful, too.”

Coca-Cola has employed a similar strategy in the recent past. Last year, during NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LII, the beverage giant ran a spot  featuring people from different races, nationalities and geographic regions. In one scene, a person in a wheelchair and a helmet takes part in a daredevil athletic competition. A poem read during the commercial played up the fact that anyone might enjoy a Coca-Cola: “We all have different looks and loves / likes and dislikes, too. / But there’s a Coke for we and us / and there’s a Coke for you.” In 2014, Coca-Cola got attention for running a Super Bowl commercial with children singing “America the Beautiful” in many languages. The spot included people from various walks of life. Some wore cowboy hats. Some wore hijabs. The commercial is believed to be the first Super Bowl ad to show same-sex parents.

Interestingly, the company ran the same ad in 2017 during Fox’s pre-game coverage before its broadcast of Super Bowl LI.

Many of America’s biggest marketers have in recent years widened their depictions of consumers, taking pains to include in their commercials people from all different walks of life. Ads from Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and General Mills in recent years have focused on marriages between people of different races; children from all sorts of different backgrounds; and people who must overcome a physical impediments like a missing limb. The commercials reflect the influence of younger consumers, who have already fostered massive shifts in attitudes about race and sexuality. Commercials, which typically function as a sort of lagging indicator, not a leading one, as advertisers try to follow their customers’ tastes – are simply trying to keep pace. 

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While Coca-Cola will still have a presence around the game, it will not pay the out-of-orbit prices required for Super Bowl entry, and in doing so, might take itself out of consideration when critics sift through this year’s Super Bowl ad roster.

In doing so, Coca-Cola brings to an end – for now – an era of dazzling Super Bowl commercials. Working hand in hand with Wieden, Coca-Cola has, to borrow one of its slogans, added life to the game. In 2008, the beverage company ran a dazzling spot showing Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon characters (Underdog and Stewie from “Family Guy”) chasing after a balloon version of a bottle of Coke — only to be outmaneuvered by Charlie Brown. Recognizing more Super Bowl viewers were using smartphones during the game, Coca-Cola in 2013 ran a feed on social media of its famous animated polar bears commenting on all the Super Bowl commercials.

More companies have recognized the power of the half-hour of program time leading up to the Super Bowl broadcast. Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut typically makes strong use of pre-game time, the better to convince consumers to order pizza before they get too involved with the football games itself. Ford Motor Co,. has run a Super Bowl pre-game ad featuring actor James Franco.

This isn’t the first time Coca-Cola has tamped down its Super Bowl ad spend. The soda giant took an eight-year break from the game after 1998. In a different era, a Coca-Cola ad featuring former Pittsburgh Steeler defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene throwing a jersey to a young football fan became a classic thanks in part to its appearance during Super Bowl XIV in 1980 (even though the commercial had aired previously on TV).

Coca-Cola will have to hope its pre-game message is interesting enough to resound throughout Super Bowl LIII. Its main competitor, PepsiCo, is a sponsor of the Super Bowl halftime show and plans to run ads for a variety of soft drinks. One commercial for buble sparking water will feature crooner Michael Buble.

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