The Value of NFL Talent in Advertising
A Case Study of Footballers in TV Commercials Advertising

The Value of NFL Talent in Advertising

A Case Study of Footballers in TV Commercials

A Case Study of Footballers in TV Commercials

NFL broadcasts are thrilling and full of surprises, but there is one element that has become rather predictable – every commercial break features players endorsing products. These spots can costs millions but just how valuable are they for their brand sponsors?

NFL Talent in Advertising

Ever since “Mean” Joe Greene traded his Steelers jersey for a Coke, brands have recognized the persuasive power of NFL talent. Flip on a game this Sunday, and you won’t see a single ad break that doesn’t feature at least one football star promoting a sandwich, store, or sportscar.

The league’s relationship to ads has become a core part of its identity. Perhaps the best evidence for this is the fact that each year Super Bowl commercials get almost as much attention as the game itself. However, the market for NFL Superstars is limited, making the cost of signing one to promote your brand rather costly.

Does the value of adding an NFL Superstar to a campaign really justify the expense?

Latitude was curious, so we executed a study to understand the impact of a successful player-product partnership on consumer perceptions.

We set out to better understand how these partnerships impact consumer perceptions and what approaches to this style of marketing tend to be effective.

A sample of 300 people was recruited to watch several current ad spots featuring NFL players and provide feedback in Lumiere. 

As a means of determining whether seeing the ads resulted in brand lift, these data were compared to a control group consisting of both NFL fans and non-NFL fans who were not exposed to the star-studded commercials.

Profiling an "All-Star" Advertisement

Before diving into assessing brand lift, we needed to determine what a “winning player-product partnership” looked like. Our first analysis compared four advertisements featuring NFL talent to determine which was most effective in terms of overall appeal. The targeted ads were:

State Farm & Patrick Mahomes – “Bundle Mantra”

Hulu & Jalen Hurts – “Word Travels Fast”

Verizon NFL Sunday Ticket & Josh Allen “Work Crew”

PepsiCo & NFL HOF cast – “Unretirement”

And the winner is...

Each of the four ads performed well on the Lumiere metrics examined, but the PepsiCo commercial entitled “Unretirement” was the clear winner.

This 60-second spot promoting a variety of PepsiCo snacks and beverages features all-time-greats Emmit Smith, Randy Moss, Dan Marino, Jerry Rice, Tom Brady, and Julian Edelman, as well as current NFL quarterback, Josh Allen.

Our results suggest that the NFL players cast in the spot deliver in terms of nostalgia and engagement, and the majority of the jokes land effectively.

Marino putting on reading glasses to see the small font on his wristband playbook was recorded as one of the comedic highlights (highest # positive comments in Lumiere).

A summary dashboard in Lumiere from our study:


Key Findings

So, what specifically about “Unretirement” made it resonate more with viewers compared to the three?

All of the ads tested featured NFL stars and good laughs.

Digging deeper into the data provided by Lumiere revealed some key findings worth considering for brands looking to create NFL partnership advertising:

A Summary of Our Findings from Lumiere:


  • From the 1980s to the present, no matter which era of football is your era, this ad likely featured a star with which you have an association.


  • If you’re an Eagles fan, Jalen Hurts (Hulu - “Word Travels Fast”) is probably a household name, but this NFL star doesn’t have particular relevance elsewhere. The stars in “Unretirement” played for successful and beloved NFL teams across the country.


  • In the PepsiCo spot, the Hall-Of-Famers start and end in the same place: the living room couch, watching the game. This is exactly where most consumers will be when they’re exposed to the ad, which implicitly suggests that these superstars are just like us! Or as one viewer put it, “this scene looks cozy with the couch full of friends, good snacks, and drinks.” For a CPG brand like PepsiCo, this is precisely the vibe that they would hope their marketing conveys.


  • The State Farm, Verizon, and Hulu advertisements are comedies, but they don’t “wink” at the audience in the way that the PepsiCo ad does. The NFL stars in this ad seem like they are having fun, aware of the absurdity, and not afraid to make jokes at their own expense, most notably in the well-executed Tom Brady line at the end - “Unretirement? Who’d be dumb enough to do that?”

So, does clever marketing move the needle of brand perceptions?

Cleary, PepsiCo has created a funny and buzzworthy piece of advertising to serve alongside football games in 2023. And yet the question remains:

Does a witty ad translate to improved brand perceptions?

Or perhaps more to the point, will the millions of dollars spent on Hall-Of-Fame talent impact the bottom-line for the individual products promoted?

To assess the actual value of “Unretirement” for PepsiCo, we compared the exposed and control group on a set of favorability and brand attribute questions.

The Results

The effect of seeing the commercial on perceptions of PepsiCo products was overwhelmingly positive.

Significant brand lift was observed on each of the five attributes tested, most notably perceptions that the brand is “Friendly” and “Trustworthy.”

The group who viewed the ad was also 9% more likely to have a favorable view of PepsiCo overall and 14% more likely to recommend the brand’s products to a family member or friend.

On nearly every metric examined, this advertisement outperformed the control group, as well as the other three advertisements tested.

What else is the data showing?

Qualitative response data from viewers of the ad suggested that the appeal goes beyond the comedy and nostalgia of the players; the products show up too!

NLP analysis from Lumiere’s AI indicated that the most commonly used word in positive comments about the advertisement was “chips.” Overall:

  • 23% of viewers mentioned Frito-Lay in their unprompted discussion

  • 20% made note of their favorite flavors as they watched the ad

As one viewer put it, “the snacks look appealing and catch your attention.” From a marketer’s perspective, Verbatims like this suggest that the ad is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.


Ultimately, the PepsiCo “Unretirement” advertisement is everything that a good ad should be.

It engages the audience in ways that are ubiquitously appealing while creating positive product associations and boosting the overall impression of the brand.

Some of this is good writing and production, and yet the impact of the many well-regarded athletes featured in the spot cannot be overstated.

NFL star power is expensive, but when it works, the resulting lift and buzz are worth every penny.


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