Marketers Are Pushing Hard to Be Seen at This Year’s Super Bowl

A look at some main activations around the city

Bud Light’s Rob McCarthy huddled with his marketing team in New Orleans on the eve of last year’s Super Bowl­—but last-minute strategizing for the Big Easy blowout was not on his clipboard. Rather, the vp of the Anheuser-Busch brand already had the Big Apple and this year’s big game on the brain.

“It’s the media and nightlife capital of the world—how do you make a mark in New York City during the Super Bowl?” McCarthy wondered.

A year later, and brands including Bud Light, Pepsi and Macy’s have pretty much settled that question­—by going bigger, bolder and louder than ever before. This will be the first Super Bowl to be played in the world’s media capital, and as entertaining and culture-bending as the event always is, this year is primed to be particularly bombastic, with an onslaught of hyperaggressive marketing activations aimed at breaking through in noisy Gotham. 

Bud Light, big city Photo: Natan Dvir

 Last year, Bud Light transformed the Wyndham New Orleans French Quarter into the Bud Light Hotel, which has become a staple Super Bowl activation for the brand, accommodating a few hundred revelers and influencers in the host city every year. But this time, the brand will make an even bigger splash, taking over the just-christened, ginormous Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Getaway, now making its maiden voyage from Europe and soon to be docked at Pier 88 on Manhattan’s West Side. Bud Light is preparing to welcome some 3,000 guests. Across the street, the brewer will host a 300,000-square-foot branded event space featuring concerts by The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Foo Fighters and Imagine Dragons.

From the beginning, McCarthy saw New York as go big or go home. “The ship idea came instantly, but we actually dismissed it for a while because we worried it was too big a dream,” he recalls. “We then put that giant dream back on the table and said, ‘This is a risk worth taking—let’s do it.’”

Even though Super Bowl XLVIII will be played at MetLife Stadium across the Hudson River in northern New Jersey, virtually everyone flocking in to see the Denver Broncos battle the Seattle Seahawks will either sleep over in the city or visit for some period of time. Clearly, no marketer wants to miss out on the party, and the city has partnered with the National Football League to transform Manhattan into nothing short of an advertising extravaganza.

The centerpiece: Super Bowl Boulevard, a stretch of Broadway from Times Square to Herald Square sporting eye-popping executions marketers hope will give visitors a larger-than-life, highly immersive experience. “Our partners are everywhere,” says Renie Anderson, svp, sponsorships and partnership management for the NFL. “There’s a lot of opportunity here because there’s a lot of space and people in Manhattan.” 

A Billboard near the Lincoln Tunnel Photo: Natan Dvir

 On the Boulevard—which will be shut down to cars in the days leading up to the game, creating a mammoth pedestrian mall—GMC has constructed a 180-foot toboggan run, apropos considering the serial snowstorms and record cold battering the city this winter.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Bridgestone will pitch a foam pit for kids. Papa John’s is giving away pizza. Mars’ Snickers is throwing a shindig. Nearby, Under Armour has secured a 12,500-square-foot space at Grand Central Terminal sporting a 25-foot video wall.

SLIDESHOW: Check Out How Brands Are Going Big for Super Bowl XLVIII

Media brands, naturally, will be a major presence. Fox, which broadcasts this year’s Super Bowl, will air live reports from the Boulevard all week. ESPN, CNN and NFL Network will be on hand. Other media players are joining the busy Super Bowl party circuit—among them, Condé Nast’s GQ, whose event is being sponsored by Patrón, Van Heusen and Miller Fortune, and American Media’s Men’s Fitness and Shape, whose first Super Bowl soiree, sponsored by Jamba Juice and Movado, will feature performances by Mary J. Blige, John Legend and Marc Anthony.

Meanwhile, in another brand activation, software giant SAP will team up with the NFL on an enclosed space dubbed Stats Zone, featuring touchscreens and real-time data. Visitors can find out which players and topics around the game are getting the most social buzz via analytics from Facebook, Twitter and other channels, and generate avatars to share with friends via social media.

At the base of Super Bowl Boulevard, Macy’s has recast the display windows at its Herald Square flagship to include video screens highlighting NFL stars present (Eric Decker, Victor Cruz, Lance Briggs) and past (Carl Banks, Sean Landeta), all of whom will make personal appearances. Inside, mannequins decked out in gear representing all 32 NFL teams line the aisles. And taking the concept of the pop-up retail outpost to a new level, an NFL Shop will dominate the entire fourth floor, featuring 36,000 square feet of league merchandise.

“It’s going to be a fun way of engaging people,” says Elina Kazan, Macy’s vp, media relations. “There will be a ton of reasons for people on the Boulevard to come into the store, and we will be pushing the experience on digital and social.”

Not content to limit the festivities to those in New York, on Jan. 27 the retailer will sponsor a one-hour Super Bowl special on cable network Fox Sports 1, telecast from Liberty State Park in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. The show will feature music by Goo Goo Dolls, Jordin Sparks and Daughtry; Food Network’s Marc Forgione; and a Macy’s standby: a 13-minute fireworks display over the Hudson. 

The 36,000-square-foot NFL Shop in Macy's Photo: Natan Dvir

 PepsiCo—which, in the weeks leading up to the game, had already blanketed the New York area with massive out-of-home placements—this week throws open the doors on #PEP-CITY, a 10,000-square-foot enclosed space in Bryant Park, steps from Times Square and Super Bowl Boulevard. Ziggy Marley, Austin Mahone and Prince Royce will take the stage, while culinary stars like Forgione and David Burke will feed the masses.

Needless to say, media buys on this order don’t come cheap. A brand activation at Bryant Park spanning several days—including costs for talent, fancy interactive trappings and permits—can go for $500,000 to $1 million, estimates Jessica Chappell, director of out-of-home process and operations at Horizon Media. Because Pepsi has a Super Bowl deal with the NFL—including exclusive sponsorship to this year’s halftime show featuring Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers—it’s likely getting a cut rate on the real estate, she adds. While a relative bargain compared to a 30-second ad in the game (this year commanding $4 million), these up-close-and-personal activations are still a steep investment.

Experts say the payoff is clear. “These efforts make sense because they allow the consumer to interact with the brand,” says Chappell. “They aren’t static experiences like billboards or TV ads. And there will be so many people coming into New York who aren’t going to the game. A lot of consumers will come into town specifically for those experiences and activations that are open to the public.”

Adds Adam Kasper, CMO at Havas Media: “There are not going to be as many eyeballs on Pepsi’s activation compared to its Super Bowl spots, but the people who do see the activation are going to remember it more. Brands are really starting to embrace on-location experiences because it is exponentially easier to get the word out about activations now compared to the past, thanks to social media. And marketers are starting to realize that consumers need to actually touch the brand, rather than just look at pixels on a screen.”

The opportunities are not limited to big brands. Take retailer Mizzen+Main, whose pop-up store at Saks Fifth Avenue’s will host daily events featuring the likes of ESPN’s Desmond Howard and Darren Rovell. “This is a completely different animal than if the Super Bowl was going to be in [some other city],” says co-founder Web Smith. “Because it’s in New York, this event is a great culmination of all of our niches—fashion, sports and media.”

As Mizzen+Main’s chief executive Kevin Lavelle puts it, “We are amongst giants” in New York. “It’s a thrilling stage for us to be playing on.”

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