Is Super Bowl Advertising in the Midst of an Intervention?

There's a sober dark horse on the horizon

As "Dry January" draws to a sobering close, will we see a new beginning, a renaissance of sorts, in Super Bowl alcohol advertising? For the first time since 1989, AB InBev faces competition in the Big Game after declining to renew its exclusivity deal. Some wonder how competitors with their spirituous sips and seltzers might attempt to challenge AB.

The brand attributes that sponsorship termination move to a change in strategy. But maybe it sees the writing on the wall amid a 22 percent decline in alcohol consumption, the emerging popularity of sober months, sundry zero-percent options and blossoming sober bars. Even AB concedes that the Super Bowl no longer represents an annual peak for beer consumption.

Naturally, the end of its exclusivity will bring new in-game beer ads from others. But some brands may seize the opportunity to promote non-alcoholic beverages to a massive global audience. They could subvert expectations by using their primetime slots to make a non-alcoholic pitch. After all, category leaders Budweiser and Heineken increasingly hype zero-percent versions of their popular brews. And "dry" upstarts like Ghia and Ritual Zero Proof have begun to enter the zeitgeist, while Liquid Death rides the hydration wave with canned water that generates buzz. These companies cater to fans with a fresh attitude towards social drinking: Mind your business, and keep your eyes on your own cup! 

While the pandemic initially increased the frequency of alcohol consumption by 14 percent, it hasn't stopped the rise of the sober-curious lifestyle. Nineteen percent of adults are sober-curious. Trends like "Sober October" and "Dry January" provide such consumers with ways to experiment while not feeling left out of the fun. With savvy branding, a 12-month sober movement seems possible. "Abstinent April" anyone? The inherent irony of non-alcoholic beverages posturing as adult refreshment will surely inspire creative punchlines that could debut on or around the Big Game. (Always out front, Liquid Death employed this strategy in 2022.)

The Gen Z affinity for the rituals of wellness and drink-making have led to swelling sober-curiosity. Mocktails are joining coffee, tea and cleansing juices on feeds with fast-paced tutorials. This phenomenon won the seal of approval from the biggest trendsetter for Gen Z: model and Kin Euphorics founder, Bella Hadid. It's the latest in the Gen Z-obsessed, celebrity-endorsed beverage arena which includes Chamberlain Coffee and the Charlie D'Amelio Dunkin' sponsorship. Even CNN cut down on the booze in their 2022 NYE broadcast, signaling another shift in cultural expectations. 

While beer dominance remains safe overall, there's a dark horse on the horizon. Shifts in drinking norms and the end of AB's exclusivity gives brands an opportunity to innovate beyond Clydesdales and catchphrases. Could 2023 be the year that alcohol alternatives fully ferment? When Super Bowl LVII concludes, we might see new category players and precedents dancing in the end zone.

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Layla Soboh
Layla Soboh is a junior copywriter at 22squared.

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