Well, Super Bowl 55 is in the rear view mirror, and for those of us who root for other teams, we’re counting down the 212 days until the 2021 season kicks off and hope springs once again. But for those of us who love advertising, last night was a pretty good night.
Overall, the ads were solid. That’s saying a lot, considering we’ve had years in the recent past where there were lots of stinkers and head-scratchers. No, this year, the advertising gave us some good laughs, some fun little surprises, and even some smart marketing.
Diversity was certainly a theme this year, and that’s always a good thing. So was optimism. We saw very little mention of COVID-19, and only one or two of the roughly 75 national spots that ran even referenced what has happened over the last 10 months. It’s as if advertisers are simply looking forward to what’s next, and that’s a very good thing.
We also (thankfully) heard very little in the way of political viewpoints or messaging, which grew over the past three or four years more than at any other time. Finally, we did have some nostalgia this year, with ads dropping pop culture references from decades past with cameos from Edward Scissorhands, That 70’s Show, Sesame Street, Wayne’s World, and a surprise appearance by Beavis & Butthead.
Here are the ads from Super Bowl 55 that made us grin, and yes, a few that made us groan.
First, some honorable mentions:
Doritos 3D – the “flat Matthew McConaughey” was cute, and is mentioned here because it did a good job working the basic claim that “life is dull when things are flat.” The problem, of course, is that Doritos still sells a LOT of flat chips. No mind. Marketing a new 3D snack chip (remember Bugles?) requires marginalizing all the 2D snack chips. Got it.
M&M’s – a good use of the product as currency to make amends. The spot used funny vignettes of typical douchebaggery and turned it into an uplifting little message that M&M’s can help us all get along again. They’ve been really good at working the “Disney of candy brands” angle.
GM – one of the very few automotive spots in this year’s Super Bowl, (only three,) where Will Ferrell does his thing and fixes his faux anger on Norway. Light, funny, and did not take itself too seriously while telling the world that GM is focused on going all electric over the next decade and a half. Note to all big brands: doing a Super Bowl spot? Start with a really funny improv comedian – that’s half the battle.
Dexcom – I thought this was a weird category for Super Bowl (Dexcom is a continuous glucose monitoring system for people with Diabetes,) but it was well done, and the use of Nick Jonas (resurrecting the “I’m also a client” approach,) was effective. Simple, smart advertising for the people who need to hear it. What a concept!
Klarna – I had never heard of this brand before, but after watching the commercial (silliness to the power of four tiny Maya Rudolphs,) I understood the basic premise: Klarna lets you turn any purchase into four tiny payments. Hey, that works.
State Farm – they took their Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers schtick and raised it a Paul Rudd and a Drake. Very good performance from “Drake from State Farm” in this one.
SAM ADAMS WICKED HAZY IPA – “Horses”
A team of Clydesdale horses is inadvertently let loose through Quincy Market by “yaw cahzin fram Bahh-stin.” It’s funny, and entertaining, and a classic shot across the bow from a challenger brand, especially when the leader (Budweiser proper) decided to sit this one out.
BUD LIGHT SELTZER LEMONADE – “Lemons”
One of the few brands to even reference the previous year, the ad starts out by saying “2020 was a lemon of a year.” Then we cut to various scenes of normal and even celebratory gatherings getting interrupted by thousands of lemons falling from the sky. Hat tip to Paul Thomas Anderson who hat tipped to the book of Exodus. For an ad that’s trying to get you to remember one thing (LEMONS) this one was a winner.
AMAZON – “Alexa’s Body”
This could certainly have been the ad of the night for me. First, the ad does the basic duty of explaining that “Alexa has a new body.” It’s dramatized in the form of Michael B. Jordan, and the ad imagines various scenarios of him as Alexa. Beyond that, the ad is diverse, well-acted (the husband and wife performances are really strong, and Jordan plays the submissive and willing AI deliciously,) and also flips the gender roles very well. A device with a female name is now embodied by a very male body indeed. A little sneak-in of an upcoming feature film as an “ad within an ad” is also a sweet little trick. This ad was like a complex gourmet dish, where subtle flavors kept showing up with every bite. Well done, Amazon.
ROCKET MORTGAGE – “Pretty Sure”
In two of the best spots of the night, Tracy Morgan (one of at least a half dozen SNL alums to appear in the commercials this year,) steals the show with his brand of pay-attention-to-me-while-I-melt-your-face comedy. In each execution, a family is interested in purchasing a home, and is “pretty sure” they have everything in order to purchase it. Tracy steps in to clarify that with Rocket Mortgage, “you could be certain.” Then we go through several zany clips where “I’m pretty sure” is simply a terrible idea. Snakes. Murder hornets. Jumping out of planes. Running from bears. Angry aliens. Wrestling WWE superstars. You laugh out loud, you gasp, you cringe, and then you realize the man is right: pretty sure isn’t sure enough. Point well made, brand well represented. Super Bowl advertising honors won.
Now, not all the spots were that good.
GROANS: While this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads was pretty strong, there were still some brands that maybe didn’t hit the mark with their messages. I call them “groans.” That doesn’t necessarily mean they were bad, it just implies that maybe their money (roughly $183,000 per SECOND,) wasn’t well spent around these concepts.
MOUNTAIN DEW – “Bottle Count”
It was cute. And trippy. And it was kinda cool to turn it into something interactive. (Guess how many bottles of Mountain Dew in this commercial and you could win a million dollars.) But maybe too cute? Too trippy? It looks as though it’s targeted to nine-year-olds, and maybe that’s why I didn’t get it.
HELLMANN’S – “Fairy Godmayo”
This would be a good ad (and a lot more affordable) if it were run during an episode of the Rachael Ray show. 42 times. And there would still be almost four million dollars left in the budget. On the surface, it’s not terrible: Hellmann’s shows up to dazzle every day leftovers into something sparkly! That’s exciting. But when the character asks the Amy Schumer-as-fairy-godmayo “what else can you do?” Hellmann’s responds “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” And that’s where I groaned. This could have gone into “making salads shine!” “Making grilled cheese grillicious!” “Making burgers bippity-boppity-yummity!” But nope. The brand is happy to say it can do nothing else but some fake magic on bad artichokes. An opportunity missed here, I think.
TIDE – “Jason Alexander Hoodie”
After two years of absolutely crushing it on Super Bowl (seriously, “It’s a Tide ad” from 2019 is already in the lofty company of all-time greats,) this one just falls flat on a.) some tired jokes and b.) some graphic tricks and c.) Jason Alexander doing a pseudo-Costanza as the climax. Sorry, but it made me groan.
VERIZON – “Fortnite”
Look, I get it. Everybody wants Samuel L. Jackson in their commercial. And everybody wants a fast network. But turning him into a Fortnite avatar and having him give a sermon on the mount about “ultra low lag” and then doubling down with JuJu Smith-Schuster is all sorts of confusing. Like, who’s the target? And isn’t Fortnite kinda over if you’re not under 16? Asking for a friend.
FIVERR – “Four Seasons”
Remember when I said there were almost no political statements being made? Well, Fiverr had to futz with that and make a reference to a bizarre moment in our recent political history. The problem is that this reference is divisive at best, and not that funny at worst. Just a real miss on an obscure talking point in a sorry attempt to be, what, cute? Kitschy? In this moment, when millions of highly qualified professionals are out of work or struggling to find it, Fiverr could have made a brilliant and timely statement about the need for – and availability of – freelancers on its platform in an ever-increasing side-hustle economy. (Squarespace came closer with its “5 to 9” spot.) Instead, they sunk five and a half million bucks into making Four Seasons landscaping in Philly even more famous. Ooof.
So…what did YOU think of Super Bowl 55 ads? Would love to hear your comments.
Until next year!