redpepper Reacts: Brands Take the Bench

Our experts weigh in on big brands that made big statements by sitting out the Big Game.

Advertising by not advertising seemed to be a common theme this year as brands leaned heavily into selling their values. Two big examples were Super Bowl regulars Budweiser and Planters, who both opted to donate their ad dollars but took two different approaches. We weighed in on which approach came off better: Bud's highly publicized absence despite an AB-heavy ad lineup or Planters' quiet move to take a seat in the nosebleeds.

Every little bit helps when it comes to COVID-19 donations. That said, I think Planters made the better move to not air any in-game ads. When I read that Planters would be donating the price of an ad spot and saw no ads from any of their brands in the Super Bowl, it seemed like a genuine attempt to do something positive that happens to benefit their brand as a side effect.

When Anheuser-Busch makes a big statement that Budweiser would be sitting the big game out to prioritize the "Bigger Picture," yet you still see multiple game-time AB ads, it doesn’t feel quite the same. An ad for any AB beer is kind of an ad for all AB beers. It’s great that they're donating, but when you think about how much was still spent on their other brands, it’s an immediate reminder of their real priorities.

Spencer Watson, Jr. Designer

Even though Budweiser is part of the Anheuser-Busch portfolio, the two are separate brands. Budweiser has always had a strong voice as an independent brand, and it's a different voice than Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer, or any other AB product, so it feels natural for them to take their own stance when it comes to the Super Bowl.

I'd be interested to know how much they saved in media and production costs as compared to how much they donated, though.

Matt Weber, Sr. Producer

After last year's stunt to kill off and then revive Mr. Peanut, Planters had set themselves up for a successful spot in this year's ad game if they had decided to go through with it. To me, this makes the decision to refrain in the name of lending a hand all the more sincere—giving up an opportunity for the greater good sends a much better message than using tough circumstances as the opportunity to profit.

Plus, I respect the low profile that Planters chose to keep throughout their decision. Cleverly framing the donation as Mr. Peanut's idea resulting from a "new perspective after a near-death experience" was a smart tie-in back to their last Super Bowl ad that kept their creativity top of mind.

Carrie Polen, Sales & Marketing Coordinator

It’s always bold to sit out of such a big cultural event, but if the reasoning is authentic, then it usually works out for the brand. When you look at Budweiser, it just raises the question of why all the other AB brands didn't also see a "Bigger Picture." With all the PR Bud's absence garnered, it's just not the best look.

As for Planters, the “acts of substance” comment plays off their mission as a whole, so it felt more authentic. That said, I didn’t know they weren’t a part of the festivities until someone told me, so this may have faired better for Budweiser's business in the end.

Taylor McFerran, Marketing Strategist

I was happy to see that some of the biggest brands in the game, Budweiser included, were opting to lend a hand to COVID-19 relief efforts this year. That's why I was confused when I saw a Bud Light ad. Yes, the AB brands are independent of each other, but they are closely associated in the minds of consumers. So sure, it was a workaround, but something about it didn't feel right—it felt like we got duped. And it made all the talk about the "Bigger Picture" feel very surface-level.

Even though Planters also announced their intention to donate, their subtlety went a long way in showing sincerity.

Jesse Spear, Marketing Manager

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