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What would you do with $6 million? Quantifying the social impact of a Super Bowl ad

This article originally ran in Sustainable Brands.

Reaching 100 million people at once comes at a high cost--but the sticker price of a Super Bowl ad comes with deeper implications, both for brands and society.

In 2021, a 30-second spot cost advertisers $5.6 million. Most opt for this length, but a few will go longer-form and run ads up to 60 seconds long; so for the purposes of this article, we’re rounding up to $6 million. While seven figures may be just a line item on a brand budget, it is a literally life-changing amount for individuals, communities, and NGOs.

This year, as we prepare for a Super Bowl unlike any other, we asked: What if that money was used for good?

This question is particularly weighty given that some ads will focus on the impacts of COVID-19. A few will seek to inspire and uplift; others will highlight the investments the brand has made in response to COVID-19. While the former route feels icky (nice sentiment, but what did you do to help?) and the latter is good storytelling (yet self-serving), we believe the most authentic approach is to not advertise at all.

Some brands, including Super Bowl ad legend Budweiser and iconic American brand Coca-Cola, have made this choice. They’re not missing out on the buzz, either--Bud and Coke’s forthcoming absence has garnered media coverage, and the brands still created ads to run online (and likely on-air in the weeks post-game).

Budweiser won’t just be sitting on the sidelines for the first time in 37 years. The brand is donating to a vaccine awareness ad campaign run by the Ad Council. (It’s worth noting that parent company AB InBev is still running Super Bowl ads for its other brands.) Coca-Cola’s absence is less about doing good, and more about cost-cutting. Brand reps say they’re investing “in the right resources during these unprecedented times.” And fellow beverage giant PepsiCo, which has a ‘performance with purpose’ ethos, cut its primetime order to focus on its sponsorship of the halftime show.

Altogether, this year’s ad buy has generated an estimated $400 million for networks. Imagine if the brands contributing to that total had put their $6 million toward..

Addressing Social Issues

Supporting Employees & Communities

  • Companies could increase their employee gift matching to nonprofits. Microsoft alone could fund an additional 400 employees with its $15,000 annual gift match.

  • Companies could help deliver hundreds of millions of vaccine doses.

  • Small businesses could get back on their feet through grants and low-interest loans, reigniting local economies and getting more people back to work.

  • Restaurant industry employees could support themselves and their families while continuing to face extended unemployment.

Catalyzing Innovation

Social entrepreneurs or companies could:

  • Create an app and distribution system to help combat food waste and provide meals to millions of people across the country.

  • Develop a social robot to help children cope with autism, similar to My Special Aflac Duck.

  • Create a digital platform to inspire civic engagement among all stakeholder groups, across a spectrum including voting, employment, volunteering and donating, activism, and more.

These are just a few ways that $6 million could be used for good. Every nonprofit, foundation, or authentic purpose-driven company could find worthy ways to invest that amount of money. So while this year we’re still asking “what if,” we hope that next year we’ll see more impact and less ads--or at the least, ads about impact and investments made. Ultimately, we understand that broadcasters/networks, the NFL, and brands need to generate a profit--but no actor is immune in this dynamic. All have a responsibility to balance purpose and profits, and we believe they’re not doing enough (the rising cost of a Super Bowl ad has far outstripped inflation, indicating that even a mere balancing of economics could funnel more money toward good causes.)

Viewers, you’re not immune either. With the time we spend watching the Super Bowl, we could find a new nonprofit to support; share important policies or petitions; raise awareness for issues relevant to our communities; help a neighbor; virtually volunteer; and so much more.

Can you imagine the potential impact of 100 million people spending even 1 hour for good? We can. And we hope this dream becomes a reality.


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