The Super Bowl wasn't light on metal this year, but the heavy hand of Canadian regulators meant not all the ads were available north of the U.S. border.
After a relatively dull showing in 2019, automakers returned to the field with a slate of key products to pitch that broke new ground for several companies — including spots from brands that were either new to the Super Bowl stage or haven't been there often.
For the 2020 broadcast, eight auto brands ran spots, compared with five last year.
The Supreme Court of Canada in December blew the whistle on a federal regulatory decision that allowed viewers to watch keenly anticipated American commercials during the Super Bowl broadcast, meaning some automakers’ ads weren’t available to Canadian viewers on Sunday.
In its ruling, the high court said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission strayed beyond the scope of its authority under the Broadcasting Act when it took action to ensure the U.S. ads could be seen.
For almost half a century, the practice known as simultaneous substitution has been a central feature of the Canadian broadcasting system.
It permits a television station that purchases exclusive Canadian rights to a U.S. program to require that cable and satellite companies substitute incoming U.S. network signals showing the same program with the Canadian station's own signal.
As a result, local viewers see only the Canadian station's signal — including commercials — no matter which channel they watch.
The idea is to ensure the Canadian broadcaster can offer advertisers exclusive access to Canadian viewers and maximize revenues.
However, the practice denied Canadians a chance to see entertaining U.S. commercials that often generated as big a buzz as the National Football League's championship game.
In 2016, the CRTC decided that in the case of the Super Bowl, the usual practice of simultaneous substitution was not in the public interest. Bell Media, which holds the Super Bowl rights, and the football league contested the CRTC's move in court. Therefore, not all U.S. ads are available to Canadians.
FCA, for example, did not broadcast its Groundhog Day ad, featuring the Jeep Gladiator and Bill Murray as meteorologist Phill Connors, in Canada.
“It did not air in Canada this time, but did run on the Canada social media channels,” FCA Canada spokeswoman LouAnn Gosselin told Automotive News Canada.
Toyota's new Highlander ad didn't run in Canada, either.
General Motors did air its Hummer EV ad, but much later in the Canadian broadcast than in the U.S. airing.
So, here are the ads that the Canadian audience may or may not have seen Sunday.