Does Super Bowl spending spree show a new/old direction for troubled consumer goods groups?

While ad evaluation services argue over who won the battle of Super Bowl ads – New York’s AI-based Realeyes reckons it was Pepsico’s Mountain View Zero Sugar (below), the UK’s System1 reckons Microsoft was tops for emotion – the rush to buy Super Bowl spots at $5.2m a pop has prompted some optimists to believe the Bowl is more evidence that traditional advertisers are now increasing, rather than cutting, their ad budgets.

The FT says that Kimberly-Clark and Colgate-Palmolive both increased their US ad budgets by $100m last year. Mondelez International is also spending substantially more.

At the same time we’ve had Unilever, which has cut its trad ad spending, admitting that it’s not so good at selling tea any more as it puts its tea businesses up for sale amid a company-wide sales slowdown.

Unilever blames its tea fortunes on changing tastes (the Brits in particular no longer drink as much “black” tea as they did.) But Unilever no longer promotes these brands as hard as it used to do either – remember the PG Tips chimps? Or even Johnny Vegas?

Kraft Heiz took a $1.2bn powder recently after years of slashing its ad budgets and has now appointed a marketing executive as its new CEO. Changing times?

Now it may be that multi-brand companies like Unilever and Kraft Heinz can no longer afford to support all their brands, although this didn’t stop Kraft Heinz trying to buy Unilever a couple of years ago. Or it may be that the rush to digital and “better, faster, cheaper” as some of its agency proponents put it, has proved a wrong turning.

The situation for Unilever is particularly critical. It’s already sold its spreads business and if tea goes some might see it as a break-up of the Anglo-Dutch giant.

It’s probably too much to say that advertising can save the day; it’s not just a matter of more advertising but also better advertising and there was precious little in the Super Bowl this year to indicate a business at the top of its game – Mountain View’s ‘The Shining’ riff from TBWA\New York (above) being a shining exception.

So there is some evidence at least that big, traditional advertisers are reviewing their rush to digital amid advertising cost cuts. Maybe more of them should take a leaf out of Amazon’s book, now the world’s biggest advertiser, according to some estimates, with an eye-watering $11bn budget.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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