Who Will Win the Super Bowl: Legacy Brands or Millennial Tech Companies?

Every year, more freshmen advertisers join the lineup

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Welcome to the holy grail of advertising: the Super Bowl, where $7 million nabs you 30-seconds in front of a live audience of 200 million eyeballs (give or take a few who run to the restroom during the commercials).

Part of the reason for this high price tag is the newcomer brands that want to make a splash for their debut. And every year, more freshman advertisers join the queue. This year, NBC has attracted more than 30 new advertisers, representing about 40% of the 2022 Super Bowl ad roster. Last year, CBS had 26 new brands advertise during the game, compared to just seven in 2020 and 2019.

Who are these newcomers? While it would be easy to assume these brands come from alcohol, auto, food and CPG categories like legacy brands Anheuser-Busch, Doritos and Ford, more tech and millennial-focused brands like Uber, Amazon and even the Boston Dynamics robot have joined the million-dollar advertising game.

It’s easy to assume the legacy brands have a reputation to uphold, but what makes a millennial tech brand want to place their bets on a 30- or 60-second spot in 2022? Let’s take a look.

Who’s in, who’s hot, who’s back

For tech and traditionally millennial-focused brands, the Super Bowl provides an opportunity to make themselves less scary and more ubiquitous to older audiences. They may lean into properties that elicit a sense of nostalgia among their core demographic while also being familiar with older viewers.

For example, the way DoorDash employed Big Bird and Cookie Monster during the Big Game last year bridged the gap between generations. Alternatively, these brands may use the Super Bowl as an opportunity to introduce themselves as safe and approachable to an audience that doesn’t typically fall within their digital ad-targeting.

No doubt crypto brands are out to prove themselves as more than speculative malarkey by appearing front-and-center during the premier sporting event, whereas younger brands aim to use the Super Bowl as an apotheosis into the mainstream, legacy advertisers who may have appeared less bullish in recent years won’t sit idle on the sidelines this time. This year is a unique cultural moment.

Americans, fatigued by masks and vaccines, are ready to get back to business and put the pandemic in the rearview for good. These brands will reflect this angst by getting themselves back into the conversation. BMW, Nissan, Kia—they’re back. Taco Bell, Budweiser, Lay’s—they’re back, too.

As always, we can expect a two-pronged competition between these brands. The first is which among them is most in with the in-crowd. The second is which brand is most “American.”

Regardless, their very presence at this moment echos the same sentiment: “We’re back. Let’s get back on the road. Let’s eat. Let’s travel. And let’s get our finances in check before the IRS is on us.”

So who will win the day?

If advertisers are to have an impact, they need to create campaigns that rely on more than a Hail Mary. You can’t just smash your way into the cultural zeitgeist by bringing together a big budget with a big name during a big moment. You need stories and characters that are truly integrated, not simply celebrity cameos.

And it’s not about about resizing your ad for portrait mode or editing a 30-second spot into a 15-second spot. Advertisers need to create campaigns that naturally extend beyond the 50-yard line into social media and the real-world, like Jake from State Farm. I’m talking about that moment when you recognize Jake sitting courtside with Patrick Mahomes during NBA ALL-Star weekend or in the NBA 2K22 video game. These are the campaigns worth every penny.

The fact is that Super Bowl ads are always a coin toss, an act of hubris for advertisers trying to turn headlines. But somewhere beneath the pile, assuming you don’t fumble the ball first, there may be a bengal waiting to surprise us all.

For all the latest Super Bowl advertising news—who’s in, who’s out, teasers, full ads and more—check out Adweek’s Super Bowl 2022 Ad Tracker and the rest of our stories about the Big Game. And join us on the evening of Feb. 13 for the best in-game coverage of the commercials anywhere.