Rihanna’s Super Bowl Performance Proved She’s the Smartest Businessperson

The multi-talented star flipped the concept of traditional Super Bowl commercials on its head
Rihanna performing at the 2023 Super Bowl (photo: Fenty)

Never one to let a genius marketing opportunity slip past her, Rihanna’s memorable Super Bowl performance was a brilliant reminder of why the multi-hyphenate icon exists in a complete league of her own when it comes to—well, everything, but in this specific instance, celebrity makeup brands.

Rihanna made her highly anticipated return to the stage at Sunday night’s Super Bowl halftime show via a suspended platform hovering high above the field, and delivered a masterclass in elevated (pun intended) product placement. It was her first public performance since the 2018 Grammys, so excitement leading up to the show was at a fever pitch with fans posting their song predictions on social media all weekend leading up to the show. And Rihanna made sure to capitalize on that excitement: Her company Savage X Fenty sold out of special-edition T-shirts emblazoned with “Rihanna Concert Interrupted by a Football Game, Weird But Whatever.”

During the performance, Rihanna swiftly reached over to one of her dancers and grabbed a mystery product. An earpiece? A tissue? Actually, as roughly 100 million viewers quickly learned, it was a makeup product. The Fenty Beauty Invisimatte Instant Setting + Blotting Powder, to be exact. Her mid-performance application of the $44 shine-absorbing powder was a reminder that while Rihanna was gracing us with a 13-minute return to music, she was doing so not just as the singer behind the pop hits we all love, but as Rihanna, the businesswoman; as Rihanna, the youngest self-made female billionaire in the U.S; as Rihanna, the brand.

When Fenty Beauty launched in 2017, it was applauded by industry professionals and makeup fans around the world for its then-groundbreaking 40 shades of foundation. Before then, only a few brands offered such inclusive shade ranges. In a post-Fenty world, shade inclusivity is expected of every makeup brand—and the beauty world is better for it. The move boosted her income, too. Today, Rihanna’s net worth is estimated at upwards of US$1.4 billion, an amount that largely comes from her 50 per cent ownership of Fenty Beauty (the other half is owned by French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH). In the five years since its launch, Fenty Beauty has released products across all makeup categories, expanded into skincare, and featured celebrities like SZA, Lil Nas X and Madison Beer in campaigns.

The halftime show product placement was a savvy—cheeky even—rebuff of the traditional Super Bowl commercial. The lore of Super Bowl ads is almost as well-known as the game itself—since the 1980s, these commercial spots have been highly sought after, and a 30-second spot reportedly cost participating brands, such as Doritos, Pepsi and Uber, approximately US$7 million. (A few brands have even surpassed those already staggering numbers, such as Google’s reported US$16.8 million 90-second commercial in 2020.) 

But Rihanna rejected the premise of traditional ads and instead borrowed from the world of influencer marketing, using product placement to promote her makeup. With a simple three-second forehead blot, Rihanna effectively made traditional ads feel wildly old-fashioned and not nearly subversive enough for modern-day consumption. Not only was this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blotting powder application free advertising on advertising’s biggest night, but it ensured that Rihanna would—one way or another—be getting paid for her halftime show performance, a gig that has always been unpaid

And it worked. Google searches for “Fenty” spiked by a whopping 833 per cent during Rihanna’s performance, making it the fourth most-Googled topic of the night. The Fenty Beauty team had also flown a select group of beauty influencers to the Super Bowl, ensuring that content surrounding the now-famous product placement was secured. And just in case you missed the influencer posts, the Fenty Beauty social media team was ready on Twitter for anyone who’d rushed online searching for answers about the exact product Rihanna had just whipped out.  

There was also this brilliant TikTok posted by Fenty Beauty last week, which was viewed 12.5 million times. 

As Carrie Rose, founder of creative agency Rise at Seven, tweeted, the brand managed to “put themselves at the centre of a global trending topic and do it for free.” And if she’d managed to do that before the show, why not do it again during the show? 

Fenty Beauty has been trending on Twitter since Sunday, proving that after her five-year hiatus from the stage, Rihanna is a truly savvy, modern businessperson. While she may have demonstrated her marketing genius in front of millions, her Fenty Beauty promo was a reflection of a bigger change that’s happening. The influencer marketing industry grew from US$1.7 billion in 2016 to US$9.7 billion in 2020—an already massive jump in just a few short years. In 2022, influencer marketing became a US$16.4 billion industry.

Once again, Rihanna showed us that it’s a Fenty world and we’re all just living in it. Don’t act like you forgot.