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A darkened view of a football field from the sideline.

Ad Localization and the Big Game

Why the American football championship offers brands more international advertising opportunities than ever

The final game of the American football season, the “Big Game,” is one of the most watched annual sporting events in the world. In any given year it commands over 100 million viewers. But not everyone watches for the joy of sport: The ads that run during commercial breaks have become one of the event’s biggest attractions.

The stakes for brands who want to capture that audience are higher than ever. Why? Because a 30-second ad spot during the U.S. broadcast cost between $5.8 and $6.2 million in 2022.

While most of these viewers still reside in North America, the game’s popularity has been steadily rising throughout the world. As of 2020, 80 countries have federations relating to American football, including Germany, China, and South Africa. Broadcasts of the Big Game have expanded to over 170 countries and air in 30 different languages. This offers brands the opportunity to gain a worldwide audience during the uniquely American event.

In order to make an impact with international viewers, brands must adapt these ads through a process known as localization. Although the term is sometimes used interchangeably with translation, translating copy is only part of it. Localization goes beyond translation by giving the ad a local look and feel through language, narratives, and imagery that match cultural norms.

In this article, we’ll explore how brands can transform traditionally U.S.-focused ads into messaging that will resonate with audiences worldwide.

What Is the Big Game?

The Big Game has served as the final game of the season since 1966. The first championship was held on January 15, 1967 in Los Angeles, California. That broadcast reached roughly 51 million viewers. The 30-minute halftime show featured a local college marching band, and a 30-second ad spot cost around $42,000; that’s $360,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.

Today, popular musicians perform pre-game ceremonies and half-time shows. And ads —which have become part of the spectacle — cost over five million dollars to air.

A close-up of a football.

Ads During the Big Game: A Brief History

So, how did ads that air during the Big Game reach iconic status? It all started in the 1970s. As viewership rose, brands began taking bigger risks. In 1972, Coca Cola premiered the memorable “Hilltop” commercial, and Noxzema featured American football legend Joe Namath and actress Farrah Fawcett in its ad.

However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that advertising solidified its place during the event. In 1984, Apple released an ad unlike any other to announce the launch of its new personal computer model. Darker in tone than previous ads, it referenced the plot of George Orwell’s novel 1984. It not only garnered massive media attention, but also launched a new era of creativity within the advertising industry.

Brands such as Anheuser Busch began to make the Big Game the centerpiece of their marketing. And rivalries between competitors such as Budweiser and Miller and Coca Cola and Pepsi also played out on air.

By the 1990s, the ads became television events unto themselves. Brands vied to create the best ad of the night. Creative storytelling and celebrity endorsements helped propel them into the collective American consciousness.

With big ideas came big expenses. Spending rose to $1 million per spot in 1995, as the event became one of the few times of year when people wanted to watch ads.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, brands began featuring deeper, more emotional storylines, a trend that continues to this day. Now, ads range from humorous to serious — with brands touching on topics such as immigration and gender inequality.

The Big Game and International Expansion

As American football’s worldwide audience grows, the Big Game offers brands the opportunity to launch big budget ad campaigns in more and more countries. Although the number of international viewers varies widely by location, here’s a look at a few of the biggest markets.


The Big Game has aired in Canada on both English and French language networks since 1967. Viewership prior to the 2000s is difficult to accurately gauge, but has increased significantly since 2010. In 2021, a record 17.6 million Canadians watched at least some part of the event. It also attracted significant engagement across streaming platforms, with the number of livestreaming views increasing by 108 percent compared to 2020.


In 2019, 7 million people in China watched the game across both digital and TV platforms. Nearly 80 percent of viewership came from digital platforms, with more than 60 percent of that traffic coming from Tencent, the country’s largest streaming platform.


In Mexico, 3.7 million people watched the 2020 championship game. The event had a total reach of 12 million viewers across Mexican broadcast stations.


In Germany, 1.9 million viewers watched the final game of the 2020 season.

How to Localize Ads for the Big Game

Localization is one of the best ways to adapt ads for another market. However, the types of ads that air during the Big Game can be difficult to translate conceptually outside of the United States. That’s due to the long-standing trend of brands creating one of two types of commercials: ones that rely on emotional narratives, and ones that use U.S.-style humor. Below are examples of each:

Serious ad: Chrysler and ‘Imported from Detroit’

In 2011, Chrysler aired an Emmy-winning ad that highlighted the company’s decision to resume production in Detroit, Michigan. The narrative resonated with Americans because Detroit, nicknamed “The Motor City,” experienced a major economic decline due to outsourcing. It would be difficult to evoke the same emotions in audiences unfamiliar with the narrative around Detroit revitalization.

Humorous ad: Mountain Dew and “Puppy, Monkey, Baby”

In 2016, Mountain Dew aired a nonsensical ad featuring a hybrid creature made from a puppy, a monkey, and a human baby. The humor lies in the fact that the creature should be an adorable combination because everyone loves all three. However, it actually has an unnerving presence. In addition to the style of humor, the ad relied on the belief that everyone thinks puppies and monkeys are cute. Yet animal symbolism varies by culture, and what may be a beloved pet or zoo animal in one country may be a threat or a pest in another.

Given the challenges, you may be wondering how brands can localize ads for the Big Game —without sacrificing creativity. Here are a few tips:

  • Use internationalization to plan for a global audience. Internationalization involves planning and designing an ad that can launch in multiple countries with minimal changes.
  • Create connections to the local audience. Although the ad concept should have a broad appeal, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t incorporate elements that conform to the local culture. Transcreation, or creative translation of the dialog can help you achieve this without re-filming for another market.
  • Be flexible with the content. Ad copy may require significant changes to draw out the emotional response you want. This flexibility can make the difference between success and failure.
  • Pay attention to taboos in the target market. The last thing you want to do is offend potential buyers.
  • Work with local experts to ensure quality. Localization experts who live in the target country can help you evaluate the content and adapt it in ways that will truly move those audiences.

Last but not least, keep in mind who your audience is: everyone. In the U.S., people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds watch the Big Game. It’s a time of celebration where families and friends come together, hosting parties in their homes and meeting up in sports bars. And although the 2022 celebration looks a little different due to social distancing recommendations, the sentiment remains the same.

A close-up view of the yard markings on a football field.

Diversity and Inclusion in Advertising

Because the Big Game is known for unifying everyone, brands often use the event as an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion. That can involve tying these themes into big budget ads. While this is a noble goal, it does add another layer of complexity when it comes to localizing for international audiences. For example, it would require extra care to translate gender-neutral ad copy in English into a grammatically gendered language such as Spanish.

Fortunately, our Smaⁱrt Content™ tool ensures you’re using inclusive language in every market. This proprietary technology leverages machine learning to flag offensive terms, non-inclusive terminology, and gender bias to help you remove problematic language. It also detects inoffensive words used in an insulting way, so you never have to worry whether or not your copy is welcoming in every language you support.

Final Thoughts

As the Big Game grows in popularity, more brands will launch international campaigns to reach new audiences. However, in order to succeed, you need a localization strategy that appeals to local viewers — without sacrificing creativity or inclusivity. That’s where Lionbridge comes in. We have the tools and expertise you need to tackle one of the biggest advertising events of the year.

Remember, it’s never too early to start planning for the next Big Game. Get in touch today to discuss how Lionbridge can help you localize your upcoming ad campaigns.

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