This year's Super Bowl was always going to be different to prior years. 

There were only 25,000 fans in attendance at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, a fraction of its 65,000 capacity. Although even that is still unfathomable when you consider that a maximum of 4,000 fans were allowed at selected football games in UK prior to the latest national lockdown. The gaps between seats were filled by cardboard cut-outs of celebrities and of civilians willing to pay $100 for their paper double to attend on their behalf.

The Weeknd may have landed the coveted half-time show but was faced with the challenge of a significantly reduced production crew and no stage or fans on the pitch. He seems to have pulled it off though - his golden maze of mirrors has sent the meme-economy into overdrive (some of the best here). 

And then there's the advertising. 

The Super Bowl is a marketing rarity. It attracts an estimated 100 millions viewers live, and then many millions thereafter on catchup. It's quite possibly the only sporting event (or media event for that matter) where people are as excited about the advertising as they are about the main event. 

However, for the first time since 2007, the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl advert in 2021 decreased. Marginally, from an eye-watering $5.6m to an equally eye-watering $5.5m, but a drop, nonetheless. Perhaps more markedly was the absence of long time Super Bowl advertisers; Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Audi and Hyundai. The COVID-19 effect strikes again, marketing budgets have been slashed and channel strategies have changed along with them.

In 2020, the biggest Super Bowl advertising product categories were automotive and alcoholic beverages, accounting for 28% of ad dollars. With some of the big hitters sitting it out on the bench, this year's Super Bowl welcomed a new roster of brands.

Typically, insurers have deployed a steady stream everyday above-the-line advertising rather than investing upwards of $5.5 million on a one-time ad.

But the insurance sector is long overdue a rebrand and the marketing department at State Farm, together with their creative agency The Marketing Arm, are gunning for a touchdown. Named one of Ad Age’s Marketers of the Year, State Farm found new ways to connect with customers in 2020, including offering dividend credits and auto rate cuts, and advertising on ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance.”

Advertising at the biggest show in town was the obvious next step.

After days of teasing, the brand unveiled rap megastar Drake and Ant-Man actor Paul Rudd in its debut Super Bowl commercial. Drake serves as “Jake from State Farm”, though not quite delivering his signature line, while Paul Rudd plays a stand-in for State Farm spokesperson (and actual Super Bowl star) Patrick Mahomes.

It’s pretty funny. And we’re clearly not alone in our opinion. We carried out a quick spot of social listening and found “🤯” and “😂” to rank as the most used emojis in response to the advert.

The advert has engaged customers in a way we’ve not witnessed before in this sector. In the two days prior to the advert’s debut, State Farm received 350 social media mentions. This jumped to a whopping 50,000 by Monday afternoon.

Our social listening showed that the response was 75% positive. However, algorithms can sometimes misinterpret intent without full context. Our deeper dive into the ‘negative’ mentions pulled up an array of expletives that were actually being used in a positive way to express shock and disbelief that the biggest rapper in the world is putting his name to an insurance brand. Although, some fans were disgruntled that Drake prioritised advertising cameos above dropping his delayed Certified Lover Boy album.  

We can see that the advert was well-received on the whole, but how has it impacted State Farm’s brand, and will it influence purchasing decisions?

A quick scan pulled up a number of Tweets showing that the Canadian rapper’s affiliation has customers in their feelings about State Farm.

Existing customers beamed with pride;

Others wanted in on the State Farm action; 

Whilst others were already one step ahead!

The advert has hit headlines too. Our review shows pick-up from the usual media outlets, but also Hypebeast, Complex and Highsnobiety – which is as good as receiving a nod approval that your brand is cool, current and culturally relevant.

Could it be that in one 30-second advert State Farm has served the shortest Ted talk in history on how to engage today's insurance customer?

The insurance industry has long been rife with customers switching based on price. In the UK in particular, we rely heavily on the use of price comparison websites when selecting insurance cover. This customer behaviour has ultimately led to a severe industry-wide erosion of underwriting profit margins. Less common or prevalent in other territories but growing.

We ran a roundtable with industry leaders at the back end of 2020 where we explored how to stop wasting good money on bad customers. A ‘bad’ customer can appear in many guises, one of which is the disloyal fleeting customer who will be gone at their next renewal.

How many of us have a real brand affinity with our insurance provider? Let’s face it, up until now, insurance adverts haven’t quite hit the spot. Year after year, we see insurance, but also broader financial services, marketing efforts make it onto “most annoying adverts” lists.

Insurance CMO’s will argue that their brands are well-known, quite possibly, but that’s not going to impact the bottom line. The sector needs to implement multi-channel customer engagement strategies (as demonstrated by State Farm in it's advertising, social and fuss-free website) if it is to drive any kind of brand loyalty. 

State Farm have embarked on a journey, and early indicators show it’s working. However, the real proof will be in their NPS (net promoter score). In 2020, it tracked at 42%, against an insurance sector average of 44% - and even then is still a long way off the new kids on the block, Lemonade (70%) and Bought by Many (77%).

Will they be able to convert those tweets into loyal customers? That depends on a number of factors, including how they follow up on their $5.5m for Super Bowl advert with someone as relevant as Drake.