Super Bowl advertising relied on light humor. Not all succeeded
The mood on the field was tense during the Super Bowl when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs. Off the pitch, brands sought to ease the tension of the game – and the year – with light-hearted commercials starring celebrities and nostalgic characters.
They aimed to connect with the estimated 100 million viewers who tune in to the Super Bowl every year.
Cadillac updated the 1990 classic Edward Scissorhands. M & Ms hired Dan Levy to show how a bag of M & Ms as an excuse can help people get together. And Will Ferrell teamed up with GM – and Awkwafina and Kenan Thompson – on a crazy cross-country sprint to promote electric vehicles.
Perhaps the most noticeable effect: Virtually none of the ads showed people in masks, a public health priority, but also a grim reminder of the ongoing pandemic.
With so many points of light, it’s more likely that advertisers will be remembered who took a different approach. Jeep aired a two-minute ad in the second half of the game, starring Bruce Springsteen, urging people to find common ground. Oat milk maker Oatly chose to go crazy.
“The never-ending stream of happy ads made it hard for any of them to really stand out,” said Tim Calkins, Northwestern University marketing professor.
In an effort to be lightweight, advertisers have crammed their ads – and sometimes overcrowded – with celebrities.
Cadillac hired Call Me By Your Name actor Timothée Chalamet to portray Edward Scissorhand’s son, who enjoys the Cadillac Lyriq’s “Super Cruise” hands-free technology. Winona Ryder resumed her role in the 1990 classic move as his mother.
Other ads combined celebrities with humor. Rocket Mortgage tapped comedian Tracy Morgan to show a family why it isn’t “fairly safe” in situations like eating questionable mushrooms, skydiving, and taking out a mortgage. State Farm featured Paul Rudd and Drake as commercial alternates. And Hellmann’s recruited comedian Amy Schumer as “Fee Godmayo”, who helped a man deal with his leftovers.
Most of the ads were kept out of politics, but there were a few notable exceptions.
Fiverr teased that his ad was showing Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the site of an infamous press conference by Rudy Giuliani during last year’s tumultuous election, which raised the question of whether or not the ad was political.
It has not. Instead, the winking ad was more about how small businesses can thrive with Fiverr. It featured Four Seasons Total Landscaping owner Marie Siravo talking about how to use Fiverr to build a successful business.
But the strongest political statement of the night came from Jeep’s two-minute ad with Bruce Springsteen. Although the boss called on people to find common ground, the idea of ”unity” polarized in this controversial election year.
“It’s no secret that the middle has been difficult to reach lately, between red and blue, servants and citizens, freedom and fear,” emphasizes Springsteen and adds: “We need the middle.”
Olivier Francois, FCA’s chief marketing officer, said it was worth taking the risk of a serious ad in order to create a “healing” commercial that will be remembered long after the game. “There’s a chasm and Bruce wants to do one thing, talk to the similarities,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press. “It’s not left or right, blue or red, it’s just in the middle.”
“It speaks to where we are now as a country and our need for” common ground, “said Vann Graves, executive director of the Brand Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. “This is of course not a new approach, but in today’s climate an effective and necessary one.”
But Brooks Brasfield, 28, watched the game in Nashville with his wife and said the tone of the Jeep advertisement was too political for him.
“I like Springsteen and heartwarming ads like this in general, but this one feels too forced given the current political climate,” he said.
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GO FOR WEIRD
Oat milk company Oatly ran a surprise ad in which its CEO, using a keyboard in an oat field, sings that its product is like milk but not like milk.
It wasn’t a hit when David Simmons, 24, of Louisville, Kentucky, watched the game with his two roommates and his girlfriend.
“It was just shockingly weird, I couldn’t really focus on the next commercial,” he said. “It was terrifyingly strange. I drink all kinds of milk, but I won’t drink Oatly. “
However, Kim Whitler, a marketing professor at the University of Virginia, said the ad “will likely get noticed because it’s so starkly different,” she added what it is – and it’s quirky. That could work for the goal. “
Many ads this year featured a diverse cast, from Amazon’s Alexa ad with two black leads to the job site Indeed ad with a variety of real-world job seekers. Mercari featured a multiracial couple in its ad, and WeatherTech featured a diverse workforce of its real employees.
Elsewhere, Hellmann’s ad starring Amy Schumer as “Fee GodMayo” featured a black lead and DoorDash’s ad starred “Hamilton” star Daveed Diggs, who sings and dances through a Muppet-populated neighborhood. While it’s hard to quantify how diverse the ads have been this year, it’s certainly a long way from 2013, when there was an outcry after a Cheerio ad featured a multiracial couple.
“It’s the right thing and good business,” said Graves of VCU. “Consumers are now demanding that they be reflected in brands that they spend money on.”