Brandon Doerrer
Feb 15, 2023

Why Serena Williams was in two Super Bowl ads for alcohol brands

Brands have to make concessions when working with the world’s biggest stars.

Why Serena Williams was in two Super Bowl ads for alcohol brands

Of all the celebrities that appeared in this year’s Super Bowl ads, tennis superstar Serena Williams was unique. Unlike Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell and Adam Driver, Williams was the only face to appear in ads for two separate brands. 

Not only that, but her rousing speech for Rémy Martin and golf cameo for Michelob Ultra promoted two separate brands in the same category: alcohol.

Twitter hummed with confusion as to why either brand would allow Williams to work with the other, let alone have her promote competing products on one of the biggest nights in advertising. Ad execs were also surprised that either brand would willingly share the same celeb for their big moment.

Rémy Martin did not immediately reply to questions for comment about Williams’ work for both brands.

Ricardo Marques, VP of marketing for Michelob Ultra, said: “This collaboration was certainly instrumental in making Michelob Ultra the most covered campaign of Super Bowl 57 amongst all alcoholic beverage brands.”

Those familiar with standard brand partner contracting practices have likely explanations for the dual appearances.

Williams is on top of the world

Exclusivity clauses limit how much an athlete can earn from competing brands, so athletes often expect a higher payout before agreeing to those terms – if they’re willing to agree to them at all. 

With brands already dropping at least $7 million on 30 seconds of air time during the Super Bowl spot, plus the cost of celebrity endorsements, they can either commit to spending big bills or drop exclusivity to temper costs. If Rémy Martin or Michelob Ultra pursued alcohol exclusivity, they likely chose the latter to avoid losing out on one of the best-known athletes in the world, said Jess Phillips, CEO of The Social Standard.

Athletes, especially those as famous as the recently-retired Williams, are in high demand for brand partnerships. Some make tens of millions of dollars for endorsements (Williams made $45 million in 2022, according to Forbes), which can be more than they make playing sports. With so many brands competing for their attention, exclusivity deals only add to the already high cost of working with high-profile athletes.

It’s also worth noting that this is the first time in over 30 years that Anheuser-Busch InBev relinquished its alcohol category exclusivity agreement for the Super Bowl. AB InBev opted to slim down its media spend at the Big Game in order to spend more on other sporting events. 

Pursuing exclusivity with Williams wouldn’t lend itself to spending less on the Super Bowl, so this likely played a factor in Williams working with more than one alcohol brand, said Karen Flanagan, managing director at Berlin Cameron.

Same category, different occasions

Rémy Martin and Michelob Ultra both sell alcohol, but the former is a beer brand while the latter specializes in cognac. Given the difference in both the product and the occasions for drinking it, Williams could promote both without spoiling her endorsement for either, said Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch NY.

Exclusivity clauses for products and categories can be specific, so even if Williams exclusively endorsed Michelob Ultra for beer, she could endorse Rémy Martin as a different kind of alcohol. For instance, Speedo sponsored Micahel Phelps’ swimwear while Under Armour handled the rest of his clothing.

Rémy Martin’s first show

This year marked the cognac house’s first Super Bowl ad buy. While it makes sense that Rémy Martin would pick an iconic athlete for its first go at the Big Game, Williams’  appearance in both ads “diluted” them, despite the difference in alcohol products, The Social Standard’s Phillips said. 

Berlin Cameron’s Flanagan agreed, adding that it made little sense to spend so much money on an athlete that both brands had to share.

This is Williams’ third year partnering with Michelob Ultra for the Super Bowl. Rémy Martin likely already knew about her involvement with the beer brand (and definitely knew after reporters asked Rémy Cointreau Americas CEO Nicolas Beckers about it), as these kinds of conflicts are commonly disclosed, Phillips said.

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