Super Sunday: The Best and Worst Commercials

Past versus Future. New versus Old. Red versus, well more Red. This year's big game was emblematic of the past year we have had in numerous ways, and the advertising decisions that our superstar companies made are no different. Most businesses are seeing a lot of red in their finances following the unprecedented events of 2020. Some companies are looking for new and powerful ways to adapt to the changing advertisement game, and some are clinging to stalwart tradition - both with mixed results. So, let's break down the biggest winners and losers from the biggest advertising day of the year.

Winner: Which advertisement struck a chord with you?

Reese: Amazon Alexa stole the show. The comedic relief brought to the night through personifying Alexa in Michael B. Jordan’s “vessel”-as they called it, sent the same comedic notes you would expect from Saturday Night Live or the like. We have really come a long way with the general public’s acceptance of AI software, to the point where a cybernetic human AI is comedic, and not at all Terminator-esque. Bonus: the Toyota spot featuring the incredible true-life story of Paralympian Jessica Long hit me right in the feels. However, Toyota’s other ad spots were insufferable, so they must settle for an honorable mention.

Dan: Easily the best ad of the night was Amazon's Michael B Jordan Alexa ad and it made the end of the game tolerable. It was so good from concept to execution. The wife's lusting for MBJ felt so real (I mean, who wouldn’t lust over MBJ?) The husband as comic relief wasn’t even necessary but took the comedy to another level! Runner up for me would possibly be the GM commercial which saw Will Ferrell rounding up a gathering of friends including Aqwafina and Keenan Thompson, ultimately all ending up in the wrong country.

Clarito: Hard to pinpoint my favorite as many had their own unique bit of awesome happening. However if I had to pick, the Uber Eats Wayne's World ad was pretty awesome. An ad featuring an iconic 90’s comedic duo struck home because of its narrative in supporting local eateries. Not to mention the callouts to the infamous Tik Tok transitions found in many of today’s trending videos.

Loser: Which advertisement stood out in a bad way?

Reese: I will admit some bias here; I have never enjoyed musicals or the stage-based singing and dance numbers. With that being said, I really disliked the Alaska Airlines rendition of “Safety Dance” featuring dancing and sing Alaska Airlines crew members. It came across as a “Glee” spoof, and I left the ad feeling that Alaska does not actually value safety - but instead was fulfilling their obligation to pretend they care about health and safety protocols. Catchy jingles are antiquated, and cheap renditions of 80’s pop songs were never even in vogue.

Dan: With the number of celebrity cameos, I'd say the weakest ad was Scott's Brand. They tried to be funny but I felt they thought that they could succeed by simply having cameos from John Travolta, Martha Stewart, etc. Everything just fell so flat, it was awkward and just did not work.

Clarito: Draft Kings, I felt they could have put more thought into their production given the ad buy or sponsorship that was on the line. A spokesperson in front of a greenscreen, that was it!?

In the past year, we have all faced new challenges. Commercial productions were no different. Where did you see our fellow ad agencies overcome these challenges?

Reese: Perhaps not a direct commercial, but I did notice that The Weeknd’s halftime show had every dancer wearing a bandage-like face covering. This was a unique way to simultaneously promote his new album (featuring a bandaged face in promotional materials), create an effective level of anonymity among the background dancers for artistic effect, and allow all the dancers to wear appropriate PPE. Very clever move.

Dan: So many of the commercials had single cameos or if there were multiple celebrities, the majority of the commercials and scenes had them separated so you know they were not shot together. Paramount is interesting as a series of commercials because they had a lot of people and some of them could have been shot together but seemed to be socially distancing which matched the story since they were trekking through the snow and mountain.

Clarito: There weren’t a lot of ads that featured crowds or gatherings of people. While there were some really well-executed creative concepts I wonder if the scope of work was dialed back due to covid. Some productions seemed very simple in execution or relying more on technical aspects than scope.

Notable absentees like Coca-Cola and Budweiser certainly stand out as missing this year during the commercial breaks. This meant that big-ticket ad spots were up for grabs! Who surprised you with a commercial during the big game this year?

Reese: Traditionally, the Super Bowl is a popular time for product announcements, and this year was no different. Multiple electric vehicles were given announcements, but all from massive corporations so perhaps that should not be surprising. However, I was surprised by Robinhood’s ad spot. After the controversy they have been involved in recently, where they seemingly betrayed their brand values for profit (my personal opinion), their brand messaging campaign read more like an apology than a brand awareness campaign. We will see how they fair on their upcoming IPO.

Dan: Was surprised and delighted to see Oatly with an ad even though it was quite weird but I felt it still worked even though on the surface it was bad. The CEO had a bad voice and the song wasn't super catchy, but the fact that it was a non-professional person singing on a keyboard in a field just made me laugh. Paramount came out of the blue with a series of ads that kept you interested in the story and had a decent payoff. I don't recall them being super active in the marketing realm and I was pleasantly surprised with what they put out. 

Clarito: Yes! Miracle-Gro’s first Super Bowl Ad produced by VaynerMedia was an “at bat”.

Due to many TV show & Film productions being shut down for health and safety protocols, more celebrities are available than normal. This meant more celebrity appearances in ads than in years past. Which celebrity appearance either stood out as an odd choice or was a perfect fit for the promoted brand?

Reese: This year had SO MANY celebrity cameos! I was expecting more than usual, but- woah. One cameo that I was surprised by was Cardi B teaming up with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey for Uber Eats. I imagine that the Venn diagram intersection between consumers having positive associations with Wayne’s World and Cardi B is a small overlap. Perhaps I misjudge the cross-generational effect of each pop-culture personality, but I thought it was an odd choice.

Dan: Perfect fits: Tracy Morgan (Rocket Mortgage), Michael B. Jordan (Amazon), Will Ferrell (GM), Drake (State Farm) Questionable fits: Wayne's World & Cardi B (Uber Eats), John Travolta & Co. (Scott's)

Clarito: Dan Levy in the M&M’s ad was brilliant. I may be biased due to my love for Schitt's Creek but I thought he crushed it. Tracey Morgan was also a smash hit in the Rocket Mortgage ad as well.

Were there any other trends that you noticed?

Reese: I expected more references to the year 2020, in comedic ways and in somber ways. There was only a couple of passing mentions that I noticed in ad form, with only one brand embracing it for the focus of their ad spot - Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade.

Dan: The game was terrible, but the commercials got me through the broadcast. That’s been a trend for me!

Clarito: There were a ton of cultural references. I did notice that while the production value was still apparent, there was an obvious shift in production quality due to the current circumstances.

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