Inside the Art of Launching a New Product in the Super Bowl

From General Motors to PepsiCo, here's how brands use their Big Game ads to spotlight their latest products

mc hammer and a guy with cheetle on his hand
Cheetos is highlighting its new product, Cheetos Popcorn, in its Super Bowl spot. Cheetos
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Cheetos Popcorn, Pop-Tarts Pretzel, Coke Energy, Mtn Dew Zero Sugar and Bud Light Seltzer all have two things in common: They’re all new additions to a brand’s product lineup, and they’re all focal points of ads airing during the Super Bowl.

This Sunday, several brands will be putting their latest offerings on display in Super Bowl ads, a time-honored tradition when it comes to advertising in the Big Game. It makes sense. In a world with more video content options than ever (including ad-free alternatives like Netflix), opportunities to run commercials in front of a large television audience are slimmer than ever—and events where audiences are actively interested in watching the ads are even fewer still. As sales expert John Livesay put it, “The Super Bowl is one of the few situations that are left where people watch TV in real time in a group setting.”

With an audience of over 100 million and spots costing up to $5.6 million for just 30 seconds, the Super Bowl offers brands what will likely be their biggest opportunity all year to make a splash—and with that, brands are putting their newest products front and center in hopes that some of the buzz around the Big Game will rub off on them.

“All brands are striving to have an emotional connection with people,” Livesay said. “If the game is particularly exciting, and people are cheering it on, and then they see your new product, then that same energy and excitement they’ve had from the game transfers over.”

For Cheetos, which calls its release of Cheetos Popcorn its “biggest innovation in years,” and Coca-Cola Energy, the first energy drink released under the Coca-Cola brand, the Super Bowl provides the perfect launch pad to create a campaign (or perhaps a viral moment) around their new products.

“Many of these brands are using the Super Bowl not as the end in itself, but a means to an end,” said Deb Gabor, CEO and founder of brand strategy agency Sol Marketing. “When brands use the Super Bowl as a platform versus just like a single point in time, they’re seeing that as a great advantage either to start off a longer-lasting product launch campaign or be the centerpiece in a campaign.”

As Jaideep Kibe, vp of the Coca-Cola brand, put it, “There’s no better way than to show up on one of the biggest culture moments and stages in the country.”

The announcement of a new product has served as a catalyst for several brands to get back into the game after several years without running an ad in the Super Bowl (Cheetos’ last Big Game ad was in 2009) or run an ad in the game for the first time. (Pop-Tarts has never advertised in the game before.)

And for food and beverage products, the Super Bowl’s status as a major snacking event helps justify the expense—there are few other moments where people across the country are near exclusively eating chips, dip and the like. (Though automotive brands get in the game, too—General Motors and Hyundai are highlighting new features or products in their spots, too.)

“The Super Bowl being the snacking event, I’d say, globally, of the year, there’s no other event I can think of where we get so many eyeballs on a new innovation,” said Philipp Schaffer, senior director of marketing at Pop-Tarts. “So, to get food into people’s mouth, it made all the sense in the world to introduce this innovation at the Super Bowl.”

Not all Super Bowl launches are a success. There is a risk of entering such a crowded space. With so many products launching on one night, at one event, there’s a chance of getting lost in the shuffle. Look at the 1993 launch of Crystal Pepsi, Pepsi’s clear soda, which was pulled from shelves after less than a year. (Thanks, also, in large part to Coca-Cola’s rival product, Tab Clear.)

“The challenge is to do something that’s going to break through, and at the same time not be so crazy that it defines you in a way that it wouldn’t have in a normal week,” said marketing consultant Brian Tierney.

And therein lies the challenge of launching a product at the Super Bowl. There may be a colossal, built-in audience, but if you don’t capture their attention, the success of not just a Super Bowl ad, but an entire product, could falter.

As Allen Adamson, CEO of Metaforce and adjunct professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, said, “Every major marketer is doing their best to break through, throwing the kitchen sink at whatever it takes to get noticed.”


@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.
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