The most famous Super Bowl commercials are legendary. Apple’s dystopian and borderline indecipherable “1984” spot, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird duking it out over a Big Mac in 1993 and more furry-hoofed Clydesdales than we can remember. But mostly absent from the list of Super Bowl advertisers? Winemakers. In fact, the last wine commercial that aired during the Super Bowl was part of a campaign mostly remembered for the way Orson Welles slurred his way through an endorsement of “California Champagne” than for its appearance at the big game. That is going to change this year though. Australian wine giant Yellow Tail will run the first Super Bowl wine ad in 37 years. But wine has been the preferred boozy drink for over a third of Americans for most of the last 15 years. So why the long drought?
One of the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of wine: beer. Since 1989 Anheuser-Busch InBev has had exclusive rights to advertise alcohol during the Super Bowl. Exclusive sponsorship deals around big events aren’t necessarily unusual, but what makes the A-B InBev deal a little different is its breadth. Because it encompasses all alcohol, not only are other beers precluded from running ads, but so are all wine and spirit makers. It would be sort of like Ford striking up a deal that prevented a boat company from advertising using the logic that boats are just water cars. Yellow Tail found a way around the A-B InBev deal, but it was cumbersome and costly. Instead of one big ad buy that would run across the entire country, the winemaker had to purchase ads in 70 separate local markets. Jason Kanefsky, chief media officer for Havas, the agency that worked with Yellow Tail on the spot told Ad Age they, “spent a tremendous amount of time…trying to put together a replication of a national buy through a local lens. It was an arduous process.” And even that piecemeal strategy wasn’t guaranteed to work. If A-B had chosen to buy a local ad in any of the markets Yellow Tail targeted, the exclusivity deal would have immediately kicked back in. And while no one at Yellow Tail, Havas or Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits (the wine’s American importer) would share exactly how much it cost, they did say it ended up being pricier than a national commercial, which this year tops $5 million for a 30-second spot.
So the simple answer to the question of why there are no wine ads during the Super Bowl seems to be that A-B InBev has made it hard and expensive on winemakers. But that still leaves the question of why one of those winemakers finally decided it was worth the trouble and the money this year. Deutsch Family President Tom Steffanci, said in an email to F&W that it comes down to taking a risk on the biggest stage possible. “We compete in a price tier that is declining so we need to grow share just to hold our current volume levels. Typically when brands in this price segment plateau they dump price and reduce their marketing budget…We’re taking a contrarian approach. [And] in a media landscape that is the most fragmented in history, the Super Bowl is more valuable than ever. This is the single most powerful platform in the world to seed an idea in consumers’ minds.”
The only question left is how the ad will actually play. It uses a couple Super Bowl standbys—cute animals and super models. We’ll see if it’s enough to get people to dump their pilsner for pinot.
If you want a sneak peak at the ad you can check it out below.