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Super Bowl LV winner: corporate responsibility

Budweiser meets a challenging moment with vaccine PSAs. Here’s what we can learn.
<i>By <strong>Tyler Tullis</strong></i>

By Tyler Tullis

Senior Director of Communications Strategy

February 2, 2021
Everything is different during the pandemic, including Super Bowl ads. Some heavyweight advertisers will be absent from the commercial breaks. Coke, Audi, Hyundai and Avocados from Mexico are among those riding the bench.

But at one least brand — Budweiser — will show up in new way.

We won’t see the Budweiser Clydesdales on Sunday. Or donkeys. Or puppies. Rather than paying for football airtime, Budweiser committed $1 million in ad inventory to vaccine awareness and education work by the Ad Council, a nonprofit that makes PSAs, and to COVID Collaborative, a coalition of public health experts and others. Others having joined the move including Bank of America, Facebook, General Motors, The Humana Foundation, NBCUniversal, Walgreens and Walmart. As the vaccine becomes more available throughout the year, Budweiser and other brands will continue leaning into vaccine awareness efforts.

Last year we talked a lot about brands who embraced corporate responsibility as an opportunity to speak up on issues that aligned with their values or took action to support movements such as diversity and inclusion, environmental stewardship and more. We’ll miss Budweiser’s puppies this year, but here are a few takeaways from their decision to meet a challenging moment for all brands to consider.

  1. Focus and prioritize your message. Marketers have been challenged to strike the right tone in their messaging, at all phases of this global crisis — seeking to connect with customers … while also demonstrating an awareness of the devastation … while also entertaining viewers … while also maybe appealing to their emotions … while also linking their message to their brand … while also issuing calls to action. It’s a lot. Too much to include in every communication. But whatever message you feel is most appropriate for your audience through any platform, gut-check it for tone. There’s room and need for hope and humor, but don’t stray too far from where your audience is at and what matters to them.
  2. In nontraditional times, buck tradition. This will be the first Super Bowl since 1983 without a Budweiser commercial. Fitting, considering the year of firsts we’ve all endured. As the pandemic forces us to engage with the circumstances, scrutinize the status quo and choose something better. Sometimes this could mean changing message or tone, sometimes it will mean changing platform or channels, other times it could mean investing into the community — even (or especially) at the grassroots level. A little investment can build a lot of goodwill.
  3. Find different paths to brand storytelling.  News outlets have reported we’ll hear from Budweiser on Monday, when they will release an online video celebrating Americans’ perseverance and the arrival of vaccines. A video celebrating Americans’ strength is on-point for a brand that’s about heritage, patriotism, optimism and celebration. The brand also has leveraged its move through media coverage — further linking Budweiser to a sense of hope and progress. Look for ways to create a brand story out of the ways in which you live brand values. Tell that story in your owned media channels in a humble context, and integrate it into the rest of your marketing outputs.
  4. Recognize your opportunity. Sometimes the best way to connect with customers is to make a meaningful difference in the real world. Even if it doesn’t have a ton to do with selling beer. Consider, for better or worse, the public still trusts businesses and brands considerably more than in government and media. There’s an expectation from consumers that brands use their power and influence — driven by ethics — to improve communities. It’s never been easy to put a definitive ROI on the value of goodwill built with customers and communities, but being seen making a positive difference in the world is set to build affinity long past this pandemic.
And for those of us sports fans who are, ahem, mostly in front of the Super Bowl for the snacks and the ads: Don’t worry. There will still be plenty of ads to watch, including spots for Bud Light and Michelob.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for the messages that could help turn the tide during this pandemic — for everyone’s sake.

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