5 Marketing Alternatives To High-Priced Super Bowl Ads [+How Brands Pivoted This Year]

That year, CBS opened the tender for a 30-second Super Bowl ad slot that cost approximately $ 5.6 million – plus $ 300,000 if brands wanted their ads on CBS’s Super Bowl live stream .

And while the price above is roughly the same as it was for 2020, it took until January for all of the CBS slots to sell out.

The sluggish ad buying this year isn’t shocking. With the ongoing global pandemic and times of financial uncertainty, many big brands who used to be in a hurry to buy ad space are now trying to avoid spending millions of dollars on commercials that only last 30 seconds.

While $ 5.6 million seems like a lot of money for just one slot, think about how much advertisers are spending on the additional cost of producing these commercials, which are often known for being A-list talent to have crazy special effects or even award winning directors.

Three notable brands that won’t air Super Bowl ads on CBS this year are Budweiser, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi.

While Pepsi Co. opted out of ad slots to raise more budget for the sponsored mid-term show, the other two brands were considering current events and the current financial climate.

For example, Budweiser will donate its Super Bowl retail budget to charity this year. Coke, which will also donate some funds to charity, has chosen to go easy on its budget.

“This tough decision was made to ensure we were investing in the right resources in these unprecedented times. We will toast our brand colleagues with an ice-cold Coke from the sidelines,” said a statement Coke sent to CBS News .

While a Super Bowl ad can obviously give millions of viewers great visibility, this year’s shifts show that a company doesn’t necessarily have to pay $ 5 million to get noticed.

Below, I’ll provide some examples of how big brands that opted out of Super Bowl ads began marketing their brand instead. Then I’ll explain how you can cost-effectively use common Super Bowl season marketing strategies in your own campaigns.

What 4 Big Brands Did Instead of Buying Super Bowl Ads


While Bud Light Seltzer’s Super Bowl commercial tackles the “Lemons” of 2020, Budweiser has turned down an ad for its flagship beer.

Instead, the brand decided to launch a Twitter campaign that tweeted a video with their mascot – the Clydesdale – during each commercial break.

Our Clydesdales are returning to the Super Bowl. Not for a commercial break, but for everyone. You can find them on Twitter during every break in play. If you participate, you can win a retro fridge with Bud. Keep your #EyesOnTheClydes this Sunday. pic.twitter.com/WNID0DXzY8

– Budweiser (@budweiserusa) February 4, 2021

This is a great example of how a brand can take advantage of the Super Bowl commercial break without actually having an ad. While millions are glued to Super Bowl ads, they also scroll through Twitter or social media feeds to broadcast live games. In doing so, they could discover Budweiser’s campaign.

Avocados from Mexico

While avocados from Mexico have shown some Super Bowl ads in the past, this year they have adopted the #GuacBowl instead.

Because guacamole is a popular avocado soccer snack and some sports viewers lack the excitement of being in a stadium, avocados from Mexico created a virtual sports facility called the Guac Bowl Stadium.

When you step inside the stadium, click on content from Avocados Made in Mexico, buy Guac Bowl Swag, and learn more about a competition that could win avocados made in Mexico by fans of $ 1 million.

Here’s a look at what this online experience looks like:

Guac Bowl This is a great example of how a brand can engage audiences with a virtual experience that discusses a product, highlights intriguing content, and gives them the opportunity to interact with the brand. At a time when businesses are becoming increasingly virtual, brands can take note of Mexican avocados to build this creative but somewhat simple web experience.


Instead of creating a high-priced Super Bowl ad, Audi apparently avoided fully promoting the Super Bowl on social media. Instead, the brand is preparing for the “world premiere” of its latest car, the Audi e-tron GT – which has a launch plan at the beginning of February.

Rather than focusing on a 30-second commercial slot, Audi posted content including interviews with its senior VP to discuss the development of the new car and the solution to consumer problems.

While Audi doesn’t delve deep into Super Bowl campaigns, it’s a good example of a brand that may have redistributed funds for a multimedia marketing campaign. This shows that an effective campaign sometimes doesn’t need to use current events at all.


This year wasn’t the first time big brands opted out of the big game.

Take 2018, for example. That year Skittles decided they didn’t want to spend millions of dollars on a Super Bowl ad. Instead, they used the money to create a full-length Broadway musical.

What could the Skittles musical possibly be? Well, it has been described as a musical commercial discussing the insincere and high priced world of advertising.

The musical never aired on TV or streamed, but here’s a look at the main ballad from the musical, “Advertising Ruins Everything:”

While Skittles was both creative and clever, it was still pretty expensive. And, as a small to medium-sized marketer, you probably can’t afford a Super Bowl ad or Broadway music alternative just yet.

So what do you do when you don’t have millions in your budget like the brands mentioned above?

Below, I’m going to list five common advertising strategies brands use during the Super Bowl. For each, I’m going to show you how to use each one on a much smaller scale while effectively increasing brand awareness.

5 Affordable Marketing Alternatives to Super Bowl Advertising

1. Buy video ad space on social platforms.

As a small business marketer, you don’t have to pay for a high-priced television commercial to get the right audiences.

With the growth of online platforms and social networks like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, we’ve also seen the growing opportunities for in-stream advertising. If you’re less familiar with this form of advertising, you can submit a video-based ad to a service like YouTube or Facebook. Then, in longer videos, the ad is usually shown as pre-roll or mid-roll.

Investing in in-stream video ads online may also be a better choice than investing in traditional television advertising. Aside from the Super Bowl and other major television events, people are turning to live television less and less. Meanwhile, more than ever, consumers are streaming videos, surfing the Internet, and logging into social media channels.

While Super Bowl or TV ads usually have an upfront cost, online ad placements have more flexible costs that can be higher or lower depending on how long they last, how long you want to distribute the ads, and how big they are or the size of yours Target group. To be clear, while brands only pay millions for 30 seconds during the Super Bowl, ad platforms like Facebook or YouTube let you spend less money to target audiences who are most likely to interact with your content.

Another advantage? While television advertising requires a consumer to remember and look up your brand later, online ads can often allow viewers to click directly if they are interested in your product or offering. This automatically increases the ROI chance and reduces the friction between brand and customer.

If you want to take advantage of online video ads, you should take a closer look at your buyer personality before investing money behind an ad platform. Ask yourself questions like “What social media platforms are they using?” Or “What is your gender and age range?” The answers to these questions will help you determine which social media platforms to display ads on and what audience goals to set for your ads.

After you’ve defined your target audience, you’ll also want to create attention-grabbing content that is specifically tailored to your target customers.

On online platforms, you can often purchase an ad slot between six seconds and a minute. However, because the internet is so fast, your audience’s attention span can be much less than the time allotted to you. For example, Gen Z and Millennials will only pay attention to online content for an average of eight to 12 seconds.

When you’re purchasing a more budget-friendly skippable ad placement, an even more important strategy is getting attention, as uninterested viewers will click the “skip ad” button to get the video they’re looking for as soon as possible.

Here’s a great example of a pre-roll ad from the job search site Reed.co.uk. The ad immediately attracts attention with a video of meowing kittens. It then greets its pre-roll placement by encouraging YouTube viewers to watch videos because they are “distracted from their job.” In the end, Reed, the website’s founder, urges viewers to click on the video to send them to the construction site:

When creating an ad, keep a note from Reed.co.uk in mind by making sure it gets noticed right away.

Don’t have kittens like the ad above? Consider using other techniques to get the attention such as: B. the presentation of an assignable pain point, the offering of a value proposition or the placing of the audience in an action-packed scene when the video is played.

2. Delve deeper into a video narration.

Aside from traditional commercials, which are a basic pain point and offer a simple product-based solution, Super Bowl ads have been known to have a unique plot or to feel like miniature movies.

Here is a historic Super Bowl example that is in the Clio Hall of Fame. During its 1984 commercial, Apple announced the Macintosh with a commercial based on the George Orwell novel “1984”.

The novel, written in 1948, told the story of a dystopian society in which all people followed a leader, dressed alike and shared the same ideologies.

The Apple commercial is in line with the George Orwell classic in that thousands of men walk in a lined formation when they enter an auditorium where an almighty leader preaches about their society on a giant screen. The ad’s narration becomes interesting when a woman in brightly colored clothing suddenly runs into the room and hurls a hammer at the screen of the superior leader, figuratively destroying the mildly conformist society.

At the end of the commercial, a narrator announced, “On January 20, 1984, Apple will introduce the Macintosh. And you will see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

Why was the Apple ad so intriguing and iconic? At the time, Apple was seen as a young, disruptive underdog company, while the PC world was monopolized by IBM – a much more traditional large company. This commercial is a deep metaphor for how Apple’s brand, innovative products, and mission would free computer users from the monopoly of former technology giants.

Yes, Apple had more resources than the average startup creating this ad. In fact, it was directed by Ridley Scott – known for his work on award-winning films like Alien and The Martian.

On a smaller scale, however, it only takes a creative team member or two and affordable video equipment to create an attention-grabbing narrative ad.

Additionally, commercials that tell a great story don’t necessarily have to discuss a deep or intense topic like Apple’s. Alternatively, they can also be quick and fun anecdotes.

This smaller example from Bernie & Phyl’s furniture simply tells the story of a bulldog who’s left behind at his office job. The plot encourages people to spend more money on important things like job candidates while saving money on furniture in the retail chain:


Do you want to create a compelling promotional script? Take a look at this template. If you have a great idea but aren’t sure where to start producing, check out this step-by-step guide.

3. Take advantage of important events or holidays.

Whenever there’s a big event like the Super Bowl, big brands jump out to create campaigns that take advantage of the trends associated with it. This is because people interested in the event may also enjoy the content or advertisements that discuss it.

Although big brands advertise at major events, you can instead create campaigns that include pop culture or event references. This could be blog posts about how an event relates to your industry, a social media post that uses recent hashtags, or a marketing video about how your customers are celebrating an event.

Here’s an example of energy drink brand G-Fuel asking Twitter users to reply to their tweet by asking who they think will win the 2020 #SuperBowl. In the tweet, they include a picture of two G-Fuel drinks in front of a soccer field:

G-Fuel Super Bowl Tweet

This is wise as those interested in the Super Bowl might click the hashtag #SuperBowl or search the topic and find this post. Although the drink is not directly advertised and there is no recommendation from the NFL, the post takes advantage of the trend and enables Super Bowl fans to learn more about the sporty energy drink.

While taking advantage of vacation and social media trends may seem like low hanging fruit, keep in mind that every event has certain legal aspects.

For example, the NFL has registered the term Super Bowl as a trademark and does not allow brands to use the name of the event in content with commercial intent. If G-Fuel were to promote its beverages as “Official Super Bowl Beverages”, it would violate that brand. However, by showing a picture of their product in front of a soccer field and simply asking fans for their thoughts on the actual game, they are not saying that their product is in any way endorsed by the NFL.

To avoid further blurring when referencing the Super Bowl in a paid ad or commercial, brands usually call it “the big game” or “the soccer game”.

4. Lean into co-marketing.

Even for big brands, sometimes it’s more budget-friendly and engaging to create a co-marketed Super Bowl ad. With this strategy, two or more brands invest money, time, effort, or resources to create a common piece of content that skillfully highlights all of the brands involved.

Here’s a great example of an ad from 2015 where Newcastle pooled its money with 37 other brands to buy a Super Bowl ad space that mentions all of the companies at some point. The ad was appropriately titled “Band of Brands:”

The example above is one of the craziest examples of co-marketing, but this is a strategy that is incredibly scalable for small businesses and has been used as a tactic for centuries.

Below is an example of how Louis Vuitton and BMW partnered as suppliers of luxury travel and transportation products by running a series of ads showing their sleek black products together. The campaign was titled “The Art of Travel”.

The above co-branding example is effective because two companies complement each other rather than compete with each other. Your audience, made up of high profile professionals, will also go well together and will deal with this type of advertisement in a similar manner.

5. Consider influencer marketing.

In addition to high-budget productions and interesting storylines, Super Bowl commercials are also known for their star-studded casts. Remember that Amazon Echo commercial where Alexa was voiced by a handful of popular celebrities?

While you likely can’t hire stars like Cardi B, you might be able to budget for content from a micro-influencer who is heavily followed or seen as credible in your industry.

When you sponsor an influencer who really understands their audience and your industry, they will create and publish content that will intrigue their audience while also making your product stand out.

Influencer marketing is similar to co-branding. Rather than increasing the chances of two branded audiences getting to know both companies contained in a single piece of content, influencer marketing allows the influencer audience to learn more about your product while allowing your audience to learn more about the influencer.

An influencer marketing strategy can also be particularly effective on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or TikTok.

In this example, the smartphone game Run Around sponsored a TikTok user who gained over 15,000 followers by recording herself playing cell phone games.

In the effective TikTok example above, the brand identified that gaming-focused audiences were on TikTok and sponsored an influencer whose audience anticipates their reviews and demonstrations for mobile games.

Create a (somewhat) Super Bowl quality ad

When creating a high quality ad on a budget, keep these scalable tips for big brands in mind:

  • Tell a great story. Attract your viewers, make them relate to your brand, and show how your product can help them.
  • Include current events: Craft campaigns that deal with highly debated topics like the Super Bowl, award shows or holidays – especially if they are strongly related to your brand.
  • Use brands and influencers: By partnering with brands and influencers, your product or company can attract the attention of similar audiences that you haven’t yet reached. First, research and build relationships with brands and influencers that your audiences or industries are looking for credible tips.

Want to see more effective campaign strategies for big brands that you can learn from? Check out this post as we share our favorite Super Bowl ads of all time.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in February 2020 but was updated in 2021 to ensure completeness and freshness.

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