Many perennial Super Bowl advertisers sat out this year’s game, some for financial reasons and some to demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Budweiser, for example, chose to divert the money that would have gone into a big game spot towards promoting COVID-19 vaccination efforts. 

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Americans surveyed before the game overwhelmingly supported Budweiser’s decision, with 83% in favor. This support can also be seen in Budweiser’s brand equity, which increased by 3% (from 47.5% to 50.8%) in the week following their announcement. Between the week before the Super Bowl and the following two days, AB InBev also enjoyed a boost in consumers who viewed the brand as “socially conscious,” seeing a 2% increase in this description overall and a 4% increase for the Bud Light brand in “socially conscious.” Michelob Ultra, who ran a Super Bowl ad as usual, saw less than a 1% increase in the same metric.

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Coca-Cola also opted out of advertising, but did not release a rationale or plan like Budweiser, simply stating that they wanted to “invest in the right resources during these difficult times.” Coke’s brand equity did not enjoy the same boost as Budweiser, staying nearly flat with a 0.3% drop. While Budweiser’s success demonstrates that sitting out was an effective PR tool for advertisers, the comparison with Coke suggests that an opt-out must be well-planned and communicated to match a Super Bowl spot’s impact.

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Abhish Raghavan

Author Abhish Raghavan

Abhish leads the brand strategy and customer insights practice for Harris. With an extensive background in data analytics as well as primary qualitative and quantitative market research, he has developed strategies and thought leadership for a number of leading Fortune 500 companies globally. Prior to joining Harris last year, Abhish was an SVP at BAV Consulting, a WPP Company.

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