Prime time policy: how public affairs and the Super Bowl collided   

Each year, the Super Bowl draws more than 100 million viewers. Thanks to the Taylor Swift effect, those numbers are sure to climb even higher and are expected to top the 2023 record of 115 million viewers – the most-watched U.S. program in history. With viewership like that, it’s no wonder that companies shell out millions of dollars for mere seconds of consumer attention. 

Last year’s influx of crypto commercials were traded in for an onslaught of electric vehicle ads, and with movie enthusiasts returning to theaters post-pandemic in a big way, the blockbuster trailers for hotly anticipated films like the adaptation of the Broadway sensation Wicked dominated.  

While the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs battled it out on the turf, there were some thought-provoking offensive and defensive public health strategies playing out during the commercial breaks as well. Super Bowl advertisements have evolved beyond Clyesdales and Labrador Retrievers – now more than ever, we’re seeing public policy at the table when it comes to prime time ad buys.  


Power to the Patients The Patient Rights Advocate campaign has branded itself as a “healthcare revolution” advocating for price and fee transparency in health care. Their newest ad, featuring country singer Lainey Wilson, folk and bluegrass songstress Valerie June and country-rap fusion artist Jelly Roll, calls on “elected officials in Congress to put a stop to the overcharging.” While the campaign has previously rolled out ads featuring hip-hop stars Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes and Fat Joe to name a few, the decision to shell out the big bucks for an ad featuring country singers is no accident, given patriotism’s deep and longstanding connection with both country music and American football. 

The Dawn ProjectSoftware engineer, executive and founder of The Dawn Project Dan O’Dowd has a beef with Elon Musk. The Dawn Project touts itself as “the world’s leading expert in creating software that never fails and can’t be hacked.” While BMW, Kia and Volkswagen all ran ads promoting their latest EV models, The Dawn Project took a direct shot at Tesla’s self-driving software, highlighting an incident in which a self-driving Tesla blew past a stopped school bus, leaving a child significantly injured. The ad goes as far as to say, “boycott Tesla to keep your kids safe.” Sound familiar? That’s because The Dawn Project is doubling down on its 2023 Super Bowl commercial. 

Microsoft You’ve heard of ChatGPT and OpenAI, but last night, the American tech behemoth Microsoft reintroduced its offering to the modern-day space race. Microsoft’s artificial intelligence software Copilot was born out of an effort to enhance both Bing and Edge in February 2023, rebranded in September and became “generally available to Microsoft 365 Enterprise customers in November. After working through what appears to be some growing pains, Microsoft made a bold stance during Super Bowl LVIII. Microsoft claims that with “your everyday AI companion,” “ideas become action, the impossible becomes possible, and hopes become reality.” How will Microsoft fare in such a crowded field? It remains to be seen, but Microsoft is working to normalize AI, presenting it to consumers as a partner rather than a threat. 


Pfizer – While pharmaceutical giant Pfizer earned some free PR goodwill in December 2020 as the first company to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, it seems the pandemic is in the rearview mirror and consumers have returned to the popular punching bag, “Big Pharma.” Pfizer took a stand publicly during the Super Bowl to define its ethos with a spot featuring the rousing Queen hit “Don’t Stop Me Now,including a nod to scientific accomplishments throughout history, and ending with a call to actionLet’s Outdo Cancer. 

Snapchat Just two weeks ago, social media CEOs were subject to a public shellacking in the form of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the latest in what seems to be a growing number of congressional hearings focused on social media’s impact on public health. Snapchat was quick on the trigger with a bit of brand rehabilitation and crisis communications deployment. The Super Bowl ad was launched in tandem with, a website which states, “We all need more connection. We just need less social media to do it.” The company calls for “less social media” but “more Snapchat” – an interesting approach to defining its own lane and an attempt to set itself apart from industry counterparts. 

NFL – The National Football League is no stranger to controversy and banking a few communications wins is never a bad idea. During Super Bowl LVIII, the commercial breaks featured multiple NFL commercials – one promoting resources for bullying and mental health in schools nationwide called Character Playbook. Another anticipated ad which was teased during the playoffs introduced Super Bowl fans to the NFL’s Born to Play” initiative, an effort to expand access to football programs for young people globally. The spot opens with an energetic, football-obsessed Ghanaian boy named Kwesi daydreaming and playing football throughout the streets of Accra. The ad closes with a heartwarming exchange between Kwesi and former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, a British-Nigerian player and 12 season veteran of the NFL. The message? “It doesn’t matter where you’re born, as long as you’re born to play.” 

Taylor McCarty Hoover brings nearly a decade of communications experience to Cogent Strategies, most recently serving as communications director for the House Committee on Agriculture, where she defined the chairman’s, committee’s, and Republican Conference’s messaging strategy on the farm economy, climate, conservation, the farm bill, and more. For Taylor’s complete bio, click here