Heinz is LVII’ing it up for Super Bowl 57

Among the most perplexing questions in sports is why the NFL opted to use an ancient and often confusing numbering system to denote its marquee game LVII years ago.

The reason, it turns out, is actually fairly straightforward: Since the championship game takes place the year after the season begins, organizers determined that identifying it by number rather than year would help avoid confusion.

Meanwhile, when the idea for a championship game was first conceived, AFL founder and then Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt is said to have decided that using Roman numerals would add some gravitas befitting the sport’s biggest event. And what better way than Roman numerals for a sport steeped in gladiatorial imagery?

(Oh, and according to a 1986 New York Times article, football’s biggest event was originally supposed to be called “The AFL-NFL World Championship Game” until someone at a meeting used the words “Super Bowl” in passing. Branding at work, folks.)

Anyway, this year’s Super Bowl between the Buffalo Bills Chiefs/Bengals and 49ers/Eagles marks the 57th edition of advertising’s biggest game, which just happens to coincide with the number used by Heinz Ketchup on its packaging for more than a century.

Never a brand to pass up an opportunity to insert itself into the cultural conversation, Heinz has latched onto this one-time opportunity with a new campaign from Rethink called “LVII Meanz 57.” The brand has erected billboards reading “LVII Meanz 57,” with the label on the neck of the iconic Heinz Ketchup bottle comprising the 57.

There are also wild postings featuring messages like “Roman numerals are super confusing,” and “Roman numbers haven’t been cool since MCMXCII.” It’s also running a video featuring man-on-the-street interviews with consumers to tell what LVII means. Among the responses: “Livey,” and “a movie that came out, but it’s like the 200th version of it.” One consumer even urges the NFL to consider using emojis to avoid confusion.

Heinz is also driving people to a dedicated website, LVIIMeanz57.com, where visitors can vote on whether this year’s game should keep the Roman numerals, or adopt the number 57.

Carat handled media for the campaign, with Zeno Group responsible for PR and influencers.

Chris Powell