Money Better Spent: Experiential Activations at the Super Bowl
This year, a single 30-second Super Bowl ad cost $5.6 million. Companies choose to spend that money on, essentially, one of three styles of Super Bowl commercials:
The first earnestly desired to become a meme, such as a certain monocle-wearing, top-hatted baby legume.
The second featured celebrities because, well, celebrities. They stained their shirts, popped out of carpets, withered away before our eyes, and infuriatingly ate “mmus.”
The third was just games of Mad Libs that, perhaps accidentally, were made into commercials. (Fictional character) Arya Stark singing (music genre) show tunes while trying to avoid (noun) traffic. (Fictional character) Walter White recreating a famous (movie genre) horror film while carrying a (noun) soda.
Interestingly, feedback on these Super Bowl commercials has been overwhelmingly mixed. For every article that claims a commercial to be successful, there’s another that labels it a failure. The reason for the dissonance may be because many of these ads felt like they desperately wanted to go viral instead of making a connection with a viewer.
However, some companies decided their marketing dollars could be better spent than purchasing a big game ad. Instead, they hit the scene in Miami (host city for the 2020 Super Bowl) with experiential activations.
On Super Bowl Sunday, fans arrive at the stadium pretty early, players and coaches get there even earlier, and stadium staff arrives before all of them. However, no one got to the stadium on Sunday before Denise Ammon and three of her friends. That’s because, as the winner of the fourth annual Super Bowl Sleepover contest, Ammon spent the night there.
Courtyard Marriott converted a luxury suite at Hard Rock Stadium (site of the 2020 Super Bowl) partially into a replica of a Courtyard room. While there were still two rows of stadium-style seats and giant windows looking onto the field, the suite was modified to include two king-size beds, cozy bed-side tables, and warm reading lamps.
Participants entered the Super Bowl Sleepover contest by submitting a picture or story about a “game-changing friendship.” Ammon, an emergency room doctor, was selected due to her tale of time spent in residency. Told by college counselors that she wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, Ammon’s friends and co-residents rallied to her in support. She credits her current success to their tireless friendship, and they remain in touch even while serving as emergency room doctors across the country.
In addition to watching the big game from the suite, Ammon and her friends were given access to an exclusive Super Bowl LIV celebration featuring a live performance by The Chainsmokers and mingled with various former and current NFL stars.
In its first year as an NFL sponsor, Lowe’s decided to celebrate in a big way. The brand built an entire village of 32 “houses” for the Super Bowl Experience located inside the Miami Beach Convention Center. Each structure cleverly represented one of the 32 current NFL teams. In addition to featuring the team’s logos and colors, the buildings all attempted to capture the essence of the team’s name or home city. For example, Chicago’s “Da Bear Cave” looked like an opening in a rocky hillside, while Tampa Bay’s “The Captain’s Quarters” resembled an 18th-century pirate ship, and New York’s “The G Train” was a subway car.
The structures were initially constructed in Charlotte, NC, using 6 tons of hardwood and 200 gallons of paint. It took six tractor-trailers to transport the structures to Miami.
Additionally, a team of 200 volunteers from Lowe’s, the nonprofit organization Rebuilding Together, and local organizations joined Frank Gore, a running back for the Buffalo Bills and Miami native, in providing repairs to damaged Miami-area homes.
As the sponsor of the NFL Shop at the Super Bowl Experience, Visa provided visitors a chance to get their picture taken with famous football players. The only catch, there were no players present at the activation. Instead, the Visa Everywhere Experience allowed visitors to step inside an augmented reality photo booth and pose with for a picture with a virtual football player, including New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
Barkley also stepped out of the virtual world to appear in reality. Three days before the big game, Barkley paid a visit to the Cheeseburger Baby, a women-owned burger restaurant. While there, he demonstrated Visa’s contactless payment options and handed out contactless cards so the surprised customers could pay for their meals. Barkley then jumped on a Miami-Dade Transit bus, where he showed riders how to use Visa’s tap-to-pay feature.
If you lived in or around the Miami area on Super Bowl weekend, Pizza Hut was hard to miss. In fact, you didn’t want to miss the brand because the pizza chain deployed a fleet of branded trucks, scooters, and bikes – their mission: to deliver nearly 30,000 free slices of pizza.
Residents of popular Miami areas, including Little Havana, the University of Miami, and Wynwood, who spotted a branded vehicle were rewarded with a free slice. The brand and its nonprofit partner First Book donated $54,000 in grants to educators in the Greater Miami area to end education inequality. Pizza Hut also sponsored the MVP Award, which was presented to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson at the NFL Honor event the night before the Super Bowl.
(It’s fair to note that, while Pizza Hut did not air an ad during the Super Bowl, it did run spots during the pregame.)
In the days before the Super Bowl, Volvo launched a contest that asked people to design a custom car. Volvo pledged to give away $1 million in cars for its Volvo Safety Sunday contest – if a safety occurred during the big game. Contestants had until just before kickoff to submit their entries.
The contest was to celebrate – and promote – safety, specifically the three-point safety belt. This year is the 50th anniversary of the first cars to include the three-point safety belt. The invention, created by a Volvo engineer named Nils Bohlin in 1959, is credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives and preventing or reducing the severity of injuries for many millions.
A safety has only happened in nine Super Bowls. This being the 54th occurrence of the game, the odds were in Volvo’s favor. (Weirdly, safeties have occurred in back to back Super Bowls twice and in three straight Super Bowls once, meaning that seven of the nine happened in streaks.) Since no safety occurred during Super Bowl LIV, the contest did not pay out.
Miami is a vibrant port city full of life and activity. This was especially true in the weeks leading to the Super Bowl. Belgian beer company Stella Artois (which is owned by American brewing company Anheuser-Busch) chose to celebrate Miami and several other vibrant port cities from around the world with an experiential activation called Port de Stella.
For the three days before the Super Bowl, Port de Stella was a festival of food, music, and transportation. Yes, transportation, because attendees coming from South Beach could register for a 40-minute trip on a luxury yacht to arrive at Port de Stella in style while bypassing the jam-packed Miami traffic.
Once onsite, attendees could enjoy an unforgettable meal created by chefs from three famous European restaurants: Frenchie (Paris, France), Roscioli (Rome, Italy), and Sanchez (Copenhagen, Denmark). They also had the option of attending a “Stella Session,” a series of interactive presentations from a variety of hosts like actor and producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas and TV personality Karamo Brown. Music acts at the installation included Sofi Tukker and DJ Irie.
Anyone who was not in Miami during Port de Stella’s timeframe may still get an opportunity to attend the event. The brand has plans to tour the activation to various U.S. cities throughout the year.
Disclaimer: We’re fans of all the innovative and interesting venues, events and activations that occur across the world, and we like to keep our readers informed as well. This post features a project that was not ours. We applaud their work, and do not wish to appear to take credit.