Don't blame Bell Media, the courts or the government. Blame major Canadian companies who refuse to spend money on memorable Super Bowl commercials. They have the option to do what US companies have been doing for years - they just don't want to.
It Was So 1992
It was January 1992. That year Washington was playing Buffalo in the Super Bowl.
On the Friday before the game, I played squash with Mike Gray. Mike was a salesman at CFCW when I worked at 96 K-Lite radio. 'CW was our sister station.
After our match, I remember us talking about the game and the conversation turned to the fact we wouldn’t be getting the Super Bowl commercials in Canada. Even the American channels showing the game that were coming into Canada on cable had to carry the CTV telecast, which meant we wouldn’t be getting the expensive ads.
In those days, we couldn’t even go to the internet to watch that year’s Super Bowl commercials. The internet, as we know it today, didn’t really exist then. You either saw them on TV during the game or didn’t.
I remember Mike saying how some of these commercials were in the best in the world, but all we would see in Canada would be locally-produced low-budget ads. He was right.
Around 48-hours later, I turned on the TV about 10-minutes before kickoff, and what was the first ad shown? There was Mike Gray in a commercial for Abalon Construction. I couldn’t believe it.
I got a good chuckle out of the irony and still think about the timing 30-years later.
The Supreme Court Sack
For a few years in the early 2000’s something changed and we did get the much talked-about commercials, but that didn’t last long before they were shut down again. In 2015 though, the CRTC, which is the government body that regulates broadcasting, decided what was called simultaneous substitution was not in the public’s best interest and allowed Super Bowl commercials to be shown in Canada.
Court battles ensued, as Bell Media, which owns CTV stations across Canada, took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court arguing it was being cut out of millions in revenue, because Canadians should be watching Canadian commercials instead. Just before Christmas in 2019, the Supreme Court agreed. Only a few US Super Bowl commercial have been seen in Canada each year ever since.
I can understand where Bell is coming from. CTV pays the NFL to televise the games, so it shouldn’t lose all that potential advertising revenue for the biggest game of the year.
The problem has been, CTV hasn’t exactly been filling all those Super Bowl ad slots with great Canadian commercials. For the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of locally produced commercials (hello Mike Gray) that would also appear in the middle the evening news. Unlike in the US, the commercials we have been getting were the same as anywhere else in a TV lineup.
For whatever reason, Canadian companies don’t think it’s worth the cost of producing memorable Super Bowl ads, even though they know they’ll get the biggest single event viewership of the year.
To make matters worse, CTV has aired a number of promos for its shows, like The Good Doctor during the Super Bowl. When you see a national network running promos, it means it wasn’t able to sell the time for what it wanted. I’m sure if it lowered its price it could have filled the space, but that’s tricky. Networks can’t lower their price to fill ad slots because of the risk of offending advertisers who paid full fare.
As Dull as Dishwater
Fast forward now to yesterday’s Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs, won by the Chiefs 38-35.
We did see some American commercials during the game. I saw several spots for Pepsi, along with commercials for GM/Netflix, Doritos, Sketchers, Uber One, Downy, Turbo Tax, the new product Popcorners. That was it. They were few and far between though.
In a way, to air the odd American commercial and not all of them was actually worse, because they made the bland local ones pretty sad by comparison.
Again this year we were cheated as we watched commercial breaks filled with spots for Crave, Goodlife Fitness, Bodog, Winners, and Bell Media (another form of the free promo). I do have to give Bell credit though, as it did have some new and unique spots for the game.
In a touch of irony, Crown Royal did a couple of commercials featuring Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters praising Canadian inventions and, unless I missed them during the game, we didn't get them in Canada.
I can’t help but feel we got cheated again because major Canadian companies put no effort into the commercials used to market their brands during the Super Bowl. Perhaps if we had one or two that would put some time and effort into something unique and memorable it would force others to do the same? Without that though, we're destined for Super Bowl commercial sameness.
If my mother was still alive she would term the Canadian commercials we saw “As dull as dishwater.”