‘An awareness problem’: Why beauty brands like E.l.f Beauty, NYX, CeraVe are advertising at Super Bowl LVIII

This story is part of Digiday’s annual coverage of the Super Bowl. More from the series →

Last February, E.l.f. Beauty made its first foray into Super Bowl advertising with a regional spot featuring “White Lotus” star Jennifer Coolidge. This year, the beauty brand is upping the stakes with a national spot with several stars of the moment (Suits cast members Gina Torres, Rick Hoffman and Sarah Rafferty; Jury Duty’s Ronald Gladden) as well as long-time favorites (Judge Judy), among others (influencers like Benny Drama).

The regional approach served as a way for E.l.f. Beauty to add TV to its marketing mix as well as “test and learn” what the Super Bowl could do for the brand, explained Patrick O’Keefe, vp of integrated marketing communications, adding that the brand’s spot last year spoke to an “underrepresented audience” in Big Game advertising. “So this [year] is our opportunity to show up loud and proud and give them entertainment because that’s what we do – we love to entertain and sell a few products along the way,” said O’Keefe. The first foray also helped the brand understand the rarity of the Super Bowl audience with 75% of the audience excited for the ads, explained O’Keefe.

E.l.f. Beauty isn’t alone in recognizing the potential of the Super Bowl for beauty brands. Last year, Fenty Beauty also joined in on reaching the Big Game audience. This year, meanwhile, L’Oreal’s NYX Professional Makeup will make its debut with a spot featuring Cardi B; skincare brand CeraVe is taking to the Big Game stage for the first time with its own ad starring Michael Cera; Dove, meanwhile, will return after 18 years. Beauty as a category is starting to show up more at the Super Bowl to cater to the members of the audience who use their products.

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The Super Bowl remains one of the few monoculture events with a mass audience; last year’s game scored a record 115 million viewers. For marketers who are desperate to reach people, it has only gotten worse with social fragmentation, the ongoing decline of live TV viewership and third-party cookies crumbling, among other issues, making the appeal of the Super Bowl grow.

“There’s no doubt about the power of the Super Bowl and the audience that it brings,” said Dan Lucey, chief creative officer at Havas New York. “We keep looking at the Super Bowl like it’s a big, important game for football fans but I think it’s bigger than that. We treat it like a national holiday even though it’s not recognized as one. It has the gatherings, the rituals, the food, the customs. Even if you’re not a diehard fan you probably have plans for Sunday.”

It’s not just the captive audience, of course, that has beauty brands shelling out at least $7 million for a 30-second spot this year. This football season has had a rise in female viewership, particularly younger female viewers — the Taylor Swift effect is certainly a factor — making it easier for beauty brands who are after that demographic to commit significant ad dollars to the Big Game.

“The reality is that women have always been part of the Super Bowl audience,” said Laura Jones, chief strategy officer at BAV Group, VML’s brand analytics practice. “But I think what Taylor has done has given permission to brands to actually make room for people and make space for people that are generally not acknowledged.”

In the past, if they are acknowledged, it’s done so in a way that’s purpose-oriented (think Audi’s 2017 equal pay spot that had the brand defending the ad) or that’s still targeting men. “Usually you see women in Super Bowl ads and they’re depicted a certain way or they’re the butt of the joke,” said Shayne Millington, chief creative officer at McCann, the shop behind NYX Professional Makeup’s first Super Bowl spot. “We’re flipping the script and the women have the last laugh.”

Millington continued: “We’re hoping that there’s going to be a lot of meme moments, a lot of talk value, a lot of discussion around being light-hearted and full of humor about this flipping the script and the idea that it’s centering around women in powerful positions. Afterwards, there’s more content to come.”

Talking to the existing and growing female audience is just one reason why beauty brands are showing up more to the Big Game this year. Beauty brands have grown tremendously in recent years generating $430 billion in revenue in 2022, according to a report by McKinsey and Company, which also predicts that beauty will boom to $580 billion in revenue by 2027. 

“Beauty brands have grown exponentially in the last few years that not only do they have the money but they’re mass culture now,” said Trusha Bhatt, Strategy, Mother New York, adding that many of the brands joining the game have been exceedingly popular on TikTok. “And so not only do they have the cash flow but they also have figured out the lower funnel advertising. Now they can go upper funnel, which is fascinating, because most brands will do it the other way around.”

For the beauty brands popular on TikTok, brand awareness rather than conversion becomes the goal and the Super Bowl is an easy way to help fix brand awareness. 

“They’ve got conversion figured out,” said Bhatt, adding that the proliferation of beauty brands makes it difficult for brands to stand out. “They’re able to convert the very specific lip plumper that goes viral, but people don’t really know the brand behind it. When you walk into Sephora or Macy’s or any sort of beauty store at this point, there’s seven million brands. They don’t have a lower funnel problem. They have an awareness problem. And it’s kind of awesome that they have the money to go on a massive scale to fix it.”

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