When the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs take the field on Sunday, only one will emerge the winner. But in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, many companies have been competing to win the brand sweepstakes.
With Super Bowl commercials becoming increasingly cost-prohibitive (ads in this year’s game cost $5.6 million per 30 seconds), many advertisers want to find other ways to build excitement around the game—and all the better if they shell out less money to do it.
Outdoor and ambient advertising tied to the game offer an attractive alternative. They’re much cheaper than a Super Bowl commercial, and these days they stand a good chance of going viral. Plus, these football fans are a desirable audience. You know they have money—Super Bowl tickets cost almost $6,400 this year, and that’s not even counting what superfans pay for lodging, food and transportation.
The best part about advertising at the Super Bowl is that you can be as loud, as outrageous, as in-your-face and as bold as you want to be. There’s no other stage quite like it. Here are 10 fun Super Bowl outdoor advertising campaigns from recent years and going back a bit further.
1. Pepsi Trolls Coca-Cola in It’s Home Territory
The 2019 Super Bowl took place in Atlanta, where Coca-Cola is headquartered. But Pepsi had the Super Bowl sponsorship, something the country’s No. 2 cola brand was all too happy to rub in No. 1’s face. Pepsi took out ads across the city, including a subway station domination and loads of transit ads, with the theme of “Pepsi in Atlanta: How refreshing.”
2. Saints Fan Declares: ‘They Reffed Up’
The New Orleans Saints really thought they deserved a berth in last year’s Super Bowl. A controversial call that went against them during the NFC Championship meant the Saints were sipping hurricanes on the day of the big game instead of suiting up. Fans were extremely upset about this—one of them so much so that he rented billboards around Atlanta lamenting what he saw as the NFL’s botched call.
The signs called attention to the ref’s blown call and were posted around the city. Anytime you can caption a sign “NFL Blew It,” you know you have done something special. Matt Bowers, the fan who purchased the boards, even put one up right near the Super Bowl stadium.
3. Skittles Pulls Out of the Game and Gets More Attention
Skittles advertised in the Super Bowl for years. But it seems to have generated more buzz by sitting the game out. In 2018, it produced a Super Bowl ad but didn’t run it in the game. The candy brand even paid for a celebrity (“Friends’” David Schwimmer) to appear in it. Then it showed the ad to one person in the entire country. Unlike those companies paying millions to appear in the year’s most-watched TV program, Skittles was satisfied with this audience of one, and boy did it work—the company brought home a bunch of Cannes Lions awards for the stunt.
4. GoldenPalace.com Goes Bare
Does anyone remember the days before GoldenPalace.com sent streakers to the Super Bowl? They were simpler times, for sure, though arguably less interesting. The online gambling site has for years paid a streaker to try to get on the field during the game. These days, NFL security is wise to the stunt, but when renowned British streaker Mark Roberts made his fully unclothed appearance during the 2004 game, audiences definitely took notice—the website saw traffic increase fourfold after the antics of Roberts, who had the brand’s name tattooed on his body.
5. Doritos Does Variations on a Theme Before the Super Bowl
Doritos made headlines for years with its user-generated content ads. This was way before TikTok, though they did have that app’s madcap feel. But a few years ago, the company changed gears and decided to embrace stunting over wildly expensive commercials.
The snack food company sponsored a world record try during the Super Bowl: Tallest Suspended Football Party. Twenty-two people chilled out 13 floors up, suspended by a crane, while watching the nearby game at Levi’s Stadium.
6. Super Bowl Countdowns
It doesn’t have to be Super Bowl season to associate yourself with the game. An advertiser ran a cute campaign in Minnesota counting down the days until the big game, which was set to take place in Minneapolis. It’s a goodwill gesture to generate excitement for something coming to town, giving the boards a sense of time and place.
7. Rolling Billboards Targeting Gambling Addicts
For so many people, the Super Bowl is a time of joy and fun. But for others, the game brings out dangerous tendencies if they have a gambling problem. The Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ picked the perfect time to send out rolling billboards targeting compulsive gamblers when New Jersey hosted the Super Bowl.
8. Sheriff Joe Arpaio Shows up in Times Square
In 2015, the Super Bowl took place in Glendale, AZ. Infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio wanted to greet New Yorkers traveling to his state for the big game. In the advertisement, Arpaio welcomes New Yorkers traveling cross-country for the game and reminds them to obey the law while in his state.
9. The Tom Brady Humiliation Billboard
This board actually went up after the big game, but it showed the power of outdoor. A New England Patriots fan said he’d takeout a billboard featuring Tom Brady’s game-sealing fumble in Super Bowl LII if a Philadelphia Eagles fan could generate enough social media engagement with a tweet outlining their deal. But of course it did … so the gracious fan did just that when Twitter responded with its support.
10. The Super Bowl Shuffle
Can the lovely weirdness of the Super Bowl Shuffle be considered an outdoor stunt? We think so. The Chicago Bears’ performance art piece excited fans and got them talking about the team well in advance of the big game.