WashU Expert: Super Bowl ads aim for social responsibility


Video Feb. 4: Patrick Rishe, director, Sports Business Program at Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, looks at the winners from Super Bowl LIII commercials. Among them: Coca-Cola, Verizon’s first responders, Budweiser’s wind turbines, Microsoft and a handful of the companies that went with humor.


Pre-game, Jan. 31:

Prepare for a Super Bowl broadcast rife with social-issue and cause advertisements, because that’s what younger generations — read: consumers — want from a Sunday less about football than marketing.

So says a Washington University in St. Louis sports business expert who, along with his students and fellow researchers, watches this international phenomenon differently than the other 100-plus million viewers.


“Expect themes overall to be less political and more about unity, shared traits, individuality and freedom of expression,” said Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Olin Business School. The reason: Younger consumers prefer their products, services and messages that way.

“The underlying reason for this trend of millennials and GenZs being more apt to support companies that take a stance on social issues or personal ideologies is that research has shown these groups have a strong preference to purchase from companies which express a higher degree of corporate social responsibility,” Rishe said. “Also, younger consumers are much more experiential in nature and crave a sense of engagement. So companies that include social messaging in their ads are more likely to make an impression, more likely to resonate, and ultimately, more likely to build stronger consumer loyalties.”

Rishe referenced two ads previewed early in Super Bowl week:

  • Verizon’s ‘first responders’ ad is timely because of the prominence first responders have played this year in many areas of American life, and certainly poignant with the Los Angeles Rams being one of the participating teams when you think of the wildfires and the Thousand Oaks shooting tragedy in Southern California.
  • Anheuser-Busch’s commercial on their use of wind power aligns with an energy-conserving environmentally friendly theme.”

These types of messages are nothing new, even this NFL season.

“The Nike/Colin Kaepernick example from September is a great example of that,” he said, “where Nike was confident that their demo would embrace and support the thematic apparent in that campaign.”

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