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Pepsi, Doritos are returning to the Super Bowl after a year off

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

For six years in a row, PepsiCo coughed up millions to run Super Bowl ads for its Pepsi and Doritos brands—until last year. In Super Bowl 51, PepsiCo and its subsidiary Frito-Lay ran no in-game ads for Pepsi or Doritos. (Pepsi did sponsor the halftime show.)

This year, they’re back. The price of a 30-second Super Bowl ad is at $5.05 million, and PepsiCo is running one 60-second ad that combines Doritos and Mountain Dew, and one 30-second ad for Pepsi. Both ads will run in the first half of the game.

After a year off, why return to big spending on Super Bowl ads when NFL ratings are down significantly?

“It’s just a natural fit for PepsiCo to go big on the Super Bowl,” says PepsiCo beverage CMO Greg Lyons, who adds that the NFL is “still our biggest partner,” meaning it’s the sports or entertainment property where PepsiCo spends the most marketing dollars. (And keep in mind that a brand’s ad spend goes beyond the cost of the television ad—they also “activate” their sponsorship by setting up in-store signage all over the country.)

The combo ad promotes a new Doritos flavor (“Blaze”) and a new Mountain Dew variety (“Ice”) with actors Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman, and the Pepsi spot celebrates Pepsi’s advertising history in sports and entertainment with a range of stars including Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears, and “Uncle Drew,” the character played by Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving.

Peter Dinklage (L) and Morgan Freeman in a promo for a Super Bowl ad that will combine Doritos and Mountain Dew. (YouTube)

NFL primetime television ratings were down nearly 10% on average in this year’s regular season, and the league dealt with political controversy stoked by President Trump. There are signs that the popularity of the NFL may have peaked a few years ago, and that it could now be declining or at least plateauing.

Even with the dip, pro football is still the top dog on TV ( 44 of the most-watched primetime TV programs in 2017 were NFL games) and nothing beats the Super Bowl for total eyeballs—for now.

“It’s hard to think of that changing any time in the near term,” says Frito-Lay CMO Jennifer Saenz. NBC appears to agree: according to Kantar Media, the average cost of a Super Bowl ad has gone up 87% in the past decade.

That said, PepsiCo is also branching out: this year it signed a sponsorship deal for Cheetos with the USA Curling team in advance of the Winter Olympics. “We’re always looking at that evaluation,” Saenz says.

PepsiCo’s evaluation is still leading it to determine that 90 seconds of Super Bowl ads, at $15 million, is worth it. How many dollars worth of exposure and reach does 30 seconds in the Super Bowl bring to a brand? “Clearly more than $5 million,” Lyons says, “or we wouldn’t be doing it.”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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