Super Bowl 2021 TV Commercials: The highs and lows 🏈

Posted on 08/02/2021 by Alun Davies

Some people believe the Super Bowl to be the most-watched annual sporting event on the planet. It's not. It's the most-watched annual commercial break that happens to have a sporting event wrapped around it.

It now costs $5m for 30 seconds of air-time during the game. That means agencies have to make their moments count in order to get their client’s brands noticed.

This is when the advertising world brings it’s A-Game in a battle of wits to try and win the most views, the most shares, the most blogs (like this one) – amplifying its original message.

So, who went home with a ring, and who came up one yard short?

The Good

Obviously, the theme of 2020 being a year to forget was something many advertisers mined for effect. Most hit the same notes, but Annheuser-Busch managed to get a good take on things, firstly with a touch of humanity (via director David Fincher):

And then secondly through some humour (SB ads this year were big on entertainment and low on earnest messages compared to many years, a clear indication that the ad world has their ears open to people wanting relief from the current pandemic situation):

Often Super Bowl adverts look to tie into recent events. But in the current climate, with the US full of tensions both online and offline, this didn’t come up as much as it has done in the past. Fiverr, though, decided to host their tv spot from Four Seasons Total Landscaping:

Going for the celebrity endorsement is a tried and trusted approach for a Super bowl commercial. Quite often it’s a straight-forward pitch that’s soon forgotten. But sometimes, just sometimes, they strike gold like Amazon did this year with it’s new Alexa advert with Michael B Jordan:

The Bad

John Travolta doing a TikTok dance in order to shill lawncare products. I’ll say nothing else:

It has been 11 years since Old Spice introduced us to the man your man could smell like during Super Bowl XLIV. Its approach is still being copied to diminishing returns.

The Nostalgic

As always though, many tapped into nostalgia in order to tap into the broad demo viewing market. Only this year, in a move that I took very personally, it seems that the 90s are now fully ‘nostalgia’.

One of the most hyped ad spots was for Uber Eats bringing back Wayne’s World.

This Cheetos advert shouldn’t work. Any advert built around a 20 year old Shaggy song shouldn’t work. And yet…

The final advert worth highlighting comes from Cadillac. What do you do when your new electric car features hands-free drive technology? With Edgar Scissorhands (played by Timothée Chalamet) driving it alongside Winona Ryder.

The Takeaway

The Super Bowl is one of the last holdouts of American monoculture. Over 100 million people across all age, gender, race and income demographics sit down together for this in the US alone. People talk about the ads the next day. They’re an established feature of the proceedings.

Through online distribution channels, these adverts hit even larger audiences and will be potentially seen long after their $5m tv spot has ended.

That allows advertisers an incredible opportunity to make a big impact to a broad audience by creating a memorable experience. A simple proposition that is incredibly hard to do in practice.

This year doesn’t feel like a classic year for advertisers, but it was fascinating from a strategy point of view, and is probably a good barometer of how a lot of campaigns are going to go while the pandemic is still with us. We saw an emphasis on entertainment and distraction over earnestness and ‘worthier’ messaging. Purpose was still there, it has to be as a brand is nothing without it. But thanks to the current global moment, that purpose came with a little more showbiz on the surface than usual. As a short-term trend, that’s understandable.

What’s not understandable is where the last 20 years went and how the hell the 90s are now nostalgic. Damn I feel old.

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Super Bowl 2021 TV Commercials: The highs and lows 🏈

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