How the Super Bowl Surprisingly Became the Perfect Stage for Cause Marketing

by Hilary Craven , Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners

The Super Bowl is that high pressure time in marketing when friends and family gather around the old queso vat and allow their most opinionated consumer selves to speak out. We encourage each other to give an immediate “thumbs up” or “that sucked” based on laughs, celeb cameos or a fleeting tender moment as ads flash across the screen.

But with a swell of consumers demanding a deeper meaning from brands, many advertisers chose to replace their $5 million slots with a socially conscious message versus just a product on display. This year’s ad derby took note of the 87% of Americans who said they would switch from one brand to another if the brand were associated with a good cause (Cone Cause Evolution Survey). Outside of the sheer number of eyeballs the Super Bowl commands, it is a unique event where the vocal behaviors of viewers in the room push conversation in real time and social unlike any other televised event. The act of viewing ads during the Super Bowl has long been of equal importance to the outcome of the game.

Colgate, for example, encouraged people to shut off their faucets while brushing their teeth in the hopes of promoting conservation because #everydropcounts. It explored a common behavioral insight that prompted viewers to ask, “Do you do that? Do you leave the sink running while you brush your teeth?” This spot didn’t just tap the trend of brands embracing a larger cause, but it highlighted the “small” moments in life – our habits and quirks that make the brand feel more human. This strategy moves the cause marketing efforts from an internal corporate conversation, to outwardly ask, how can we all affect social change?


In turn, NO MORE, the platform that aims to end domestic violence and sexual assault, created a powerful PSA centered on an isolated conversation. Depicted through a series of text messages between two friends, this subtle approach helped to bring awareness to a social issue that has become increasingly less taboo to speak about in the open. Through social engagement, or right out in the open, the spot and placement gave viewers permission to talk about a tough social issue, even in the middle of a party.


 With several spots like this popping up during the Big Game, it marks an authentic shift: Brands are really starting to reflect cultural demands to behave like socially-conscious people. And consumers are open and ready to talk about how they can affect positive change in the world, even during our most beloved sporting event.


Hilary Craven is CMO of Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners