Top brands see nostalgia as Super Bowl LV’s safest bet

Consumers may get the sense that their pop culture lives are flashing before their eyes on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s because every brand from Bud Light to Cheetos, Squarespace, to Tide to Uber Eats is bringing back old favorites in an attempt to generate sales and engagement.

A Bud Light consumer is confounded when the store is out of her favorite beer. In the distance, a delivery truck has toppled over. The only thing that can save the day is a gathering of Bud Light’s iconic ad characters from yesteryear. There’s the ‘I love you, man’ guy (from 1995), the ‘real men of genius’ singer (1998), Cedric the Entertainer (2001), and even the ‘Bud Bowl’ bottles (1989).

Bud Light is far from alone when it comes to recruiting familiar faces from the past. Tide, Cheetos, Uber Eats, and Squarespace are among the other dozen-plus brands looking to stoke fond memories as well create new ones in their spots this year.

The strategy is a simple one: to lean on nostalgia and comfort at a time when many consumers are feeling anything but comfortable. Nostalgia “is the safe play” for the Super Bowl because “it’s so hard to get the tone right during the pandemic,” says Jayne Charneski, founder of Front Row Insights who has consulted with Nike, Bose, and other top brands.

“Nostalgia is the antidote to the loneliness, anxiety, and stress we’ve collectively been under throughout the pandemic. Consumers are escaping into the past for relief, whether that’s through buying foods from their childhood, listening to old playlists, or taking a new look at old brands.”

University of Nevada, Las Vegas marketing professor Kimberly Nehls says, “nostalgia marketing is like the banana bread of quarantine. It is the comfort food of advertising reminding us of simpler times when things were good and healthy.”

Meanwhile, many brands have felt quite uncomfortable about Super Bowl LV. The sports spectacle has seen an unprecedented drop off from expected, regular advertisers. This year, inventory was available well into January, versus selling out in November which is the norm. Many marketers deemed the $5.5 million investment as too risky or frivolous leaving a who’s who of brands sitting out — including Avocados of Mexico, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Ford, Hyundai, Planters, Sabra, and many more.

For those brands who are all-in, there will be a heavy reliance on humor overall. Other brands are opting for a more serious tack, addressing this moment of adversity head-on with themes of hope and inspiration. This includes job site Indeed, trading app Robinhood and Toyota.

The celebrities of yesteryear suit up again

For those brands enjoying the hype surrounding Sunday’s match-up, optimism abounds. Bud Light, for example, is hoping the magic from the past will reverse a decade of sales declines. Bud Light has lost about a third of its volume in the US since 2010, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights.

Joe Lennon, senior brand director, Bud Light told The Drum that “every Super Bowl, our fans expect Bud Light to make them smile, and bring some levity and some fun. I think what’s unique about this year’s spot for us is the added element of nostalgia, which just provides an element of comfort and familiarity tied with the humor.” Another new wrinkle is the launch of its new ‘Bud Light Legends’ rewards program which will look to engage consumers on a one-to-one basis well beyond Super Bowl Sunday.

The stars themselves are enjoying the trip down memory lane as well. Cheetos is bringing Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, from ‘That ’70s Show,’ together with Shaggy who dusts off his hit song from 2000. “Mila and I both remember when ‘It Wasn’t Me’ came out 20 years ago when we were first working together on ‘That ’70s Show,’ so it’s really cool to come full circle with Cheetos, work together again and remix this song,” Kutcher said in a statement. “We’ve rarely done projects together since then, but the concept was so fun and relatable. And we couldn’t pass up the chance to be in this Super Bowl commercial.”

Here are 10 nostalgic spots to watch out for that will provide an array of well-known stars:

  1. Bud Light: The iconic beer brand reunites many, if not most, of its former ad characters to save the day.
  2. Cheetos: Brings husband and wife, and ‘That ’70s Show’ stars, Kunis and Kutcher together with Shaggy. That ’70s Show debuted in 1998.
  3. Frito-Lay: Retired NFL greats Peyton and Eli Manning, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and others team up to tout the snack giant’s entire portfolio — a Super Bowl first.
  4. Jimmy John’s: The sandwich chain is making a big bet on Brad Garrett, best known from the classic sit-com ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.’ The series went off the air in 2005.
  5. Michelob Ultra organic seltzer: Brings out the ‘almost all-stars’ with Don Cheadle and a cast that looks strikingly similar to Megan Fox, Sylvester Stallone, Usher and other impostors.
  6. Scott’s Miracle-Gro: Celebrates lawns with Martha Stewart, John Travolta and other celebrities. The spry 66-year-old Travolta shows off his dance moves.
  7. Stella Artois: Turns up the optimism with Lenny Kravitz and his 1991 hit ‘It Ain’t Over Till it’s Over.’
  8. Squarespace: Dolly Parton remakes ‘9 to 5’ to celebrate many people’s side hustles that happen from ‘5 to 9.’ The original song hit No. 1 on the US charts in 1980.
  9. Tide: Spotlights ‘Seinfeld’ star Jason Alexander for a few laughs about a hoodie with his face on it. Seinfeld wrapped in 1998 but has since been a Hulu favorite.
  10. Uber Eats: Brings us back to the basement set of ‘Wayne’s World.‘ Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) first appeared on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in 1988.

The mesh of cultural icons at this moment is unique, says Charneski. “The pandemic is a great unifier in consumer culture — Gen Z, Millennials, Xers and Boomers are all in this experience together. Pre-pandemic nostalgia is one of the rare times a marketing message can powerfully and authentically resonate across generations.”

There will be more familiar faces appearing in ads during big game nationally, and regionally. Once the whistle blows marketers are counting on the fact that they successfully “re-established that connection and trust with consumers now,” says Charneski. “Then [it’s about] building on that relationship going forward as we come out of the pandemic later this year — hopefully.”

As for Bud Light, Lennon says fans can count on seeing more of the ‘Legends’ characters throughout the year as it builds its rewards program which dangles merchandise and experiences in exchange for first-party data. He says, “We definitely want to give the fans what they want.”

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