What to watch for in Sunday’s Super Bowl commercials

Three years from the start of a pandemic, henpecked by inflation and kinda-sorta-maybe anticipating a recession is no time for sweeping assertions about ad buys and corporate positioning. But Super Bowl Sunday waits for no economic headwinds, and the lineup of advertisers for the 57th game offers some tells not only for the current conditions but also the future.

One year after the “Crypto Bowl” saw three cryptocurrency spots aim big only to crash, burn and bring shame upon their endorsers, the industry is absent from the national lineup. The beer landscape has opened up to all comers.

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And sports gambling will remain viable and visible, with as large a presence as another testosterone-fueled industry – cars.

A look at who’s in and out, hot or invisible once the station breaks hit after the Chiefs and Eagles kick off Sunday:

Sports gambling: Still a kick

Unlike alcohol, online wagering remains in its semi-Prohibition era: Not every state has approved sports gambling five years after a Supreme Court ruling opened the door. The fight for customers remains real, and the space crowded.

But perhaps a settling in the industry is underway.

One year after DraftKings and Caesars planted the flag for sports gambling in Super Bowl ads, just one of them returned. DraftKings will be joined by FanDuel on the commercial roster, befitting for the two brands industry experts believed would have a huge early advantage due to their previous forays into daily fantasy sports.

DraftKings is live with its mobile gambling product in 20 states, while its daily fantasy offerings remain available in 46 states. It will lean hard on some Super Sunday staples – comedian Kevin Hart, actor/hip-hop artist Ludacris and baseball legend David Ortiz – in its appeal to the masses.

“We have certainly established ourselves as a leading brand in the industry, but sports betting is still growing,” Michael Shonkoff, DraftKings’ vice president of brand and agency, tells USA TODAY. “The Super Bowl is a great chance to reach a large audience and reinforce our leadership position.

“We want to give people a chance to try the product, taking that moment and offering a free bet for those who are eligible.”

Their biggest rival is mixing in an element of chance.

FanDuel has enlisted future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski to attempt a field goal between the third and fourth quarters of the game. If Gronk’s 25-yard try is successful, the company says it will unleash $10 million in free bets for its customers.

‘It’s for America,” Gronkowski told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s $10 million in free bets for America.’

And it may represent a turning point in sports gambling’s arc, where fans may know of its availability but haven’t fully established their brand loyalties.

“The awareness-building ads don’t make as much sense anymore,” says Charles Taylor, professor of marketing at Villanova University. “People are more prone to know where to go to do it. It is getting more about trying to distinguish themselves from the other betting places, which isn’t easy to do. It’s a pretty simple service, right? Taking bets.

“Using Rob Gronkowski is really attention-getting and pretty clever creative.”

Cars: Missing in action

If there’s a holy trinity of Super Bowl advertising, it’s probably beer, snacks and cars. But one of those will be far less visible come gameday.

One year after five auto brands – plus car-buying site Carvana – elbowed into the game lineup, only Jeep, GM and Kia are airing nationally. Yet this may be a very temporary state of affairs.

While gas prices have dropped, the cost and availability of cars has not. Supply-chain issues paralyzed both the new- and used-car markets, and shoppers in both markets now face rising interest rates. It all makes this a less than ideal year to spend $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime.

“I do think that’s related to supply chain and that they haven’t had to work very hard to sell some of the hot models at premiums,” says Villanova’s Taylor. “It’s starting to come back into balance, but I think some are thinking less about needing a short-term boost.

“I don’t think it will be a long-term trend.”

Nostalgia: Still the champion

As brands attempt the impossible – appealing, in some meaningful fashion, to an audience expected to exceed 110 million viewers – an old reliable network of leading men and women will find their way to your screen.

From Hart for DraftKings, to Will Ferrell for GM’s partnership with Netflix (keep an eye out for Ferrell in the iconic green “Squid Game” sweatsuit) to a quartet of mostly aging rockers led by Ozzy Osbourne touting Workday, a smorgasbord of celebrity comfort food will be served.

The cross-generational plays are also evident, from a Steve Martin-Ben Stiller Pepsi alliance to Billie Jean King and popular streamer MrBeast for the NFL.

Ideally, there’s just one celebrity who can hit all age groups and perhaps that’s Dave Grohl, the pleasantly benign Foo Fighters frontman who got his start with Nirvana. He appears in a Crown Royal spot.

“He’s been portrayed as appealing more to millennials but a lot of people older and younger than that like him,” says Taylor. “He himself would be considered Gen X. We’re still seeing Ozzy Osbourne and Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell.

“It’s nostalgia, as long as everybody can remember it.”

This post appeared first on USA TODAY