I suppose it’s fitting that a ho-hum Super Bowl (no offense to Tom Brady but come on…) would feature a ho-hum array of commercials. And it did. With so many of this year’s ads reliant on the same devices, it was difficult to remember which was after the game ended. How did this happen? How is it that, given the unparalleled opportunity to say something unique and relevant to a year without precedent, an industry whose essence is creativity overwhelmingly failed to come up with a different answer than “celebrities and nostalgia”? I have a couple of thoughts, but first I want to look at a couple of spots that stood out – in both good and not-so-good ways.
Toyota did what Toyota does so well: find an amazing and inspiring story and share it with the world. This year, they featured Jessica Long, a Paralympian swimmer with 23 medals who was adopted from Russia as an infant. It would have been a wonderful spot in any year, but in 2021 a message of overcoming adversity is particularly powerful.
Reddit snuck what was basically a pre-roll ad into the third quarter. If you blinked, you missed it – and then kicked yourself when you heard everybody talking about it. Even if you did see it, it was too long to read in the time it was on screen. So, you had to look it up. And pause it. And then talk about it some more. And show it to the folks who missed it. Brilliant.
Then we had Jeep, with what turned out to be an incredibly polarizing ode to the virtues of coming together. Their call for people to meet in “The Middle” sent a message of unity, but the way it was worded sparked a backlash – ironically uniting partisans of the left and right in opposition to the professed virtue of moderation. Jeep’s effort contrasts with Bud Light Seltzer and Anheuser Bush, who made up for the flagship’s absence with ads that referenced the malaise of 2020 in a less sentimental and heavy-handed manner.
And then there was the avalanche of celebs and nostalgia. I’ll ask again – why? Was it because putting stars in a spot was the easiest thing to sell? Was it because the `90s were the last time basically everyone in America was happy? Was it both? Whatever the case, a lot of brands moved in the same direction, and that dramatically reduced the effectiveness of all of their efforts.
I believe the run of Super Bowl ads we saw on Sunday is what happens when everybody decides not to do anything “risky” – you get a blob of indistinguishable marketing. And worse, you get a lot less diversity and inclusiveness that would normally be the case. The lesson seems straightforward to me: the “safe” option isn’t so safe anymore if everybody else is doing the same thing. Sure, playing it safe doesn’t alienate as many people. It’s hard to alienate folks who don’t remember anything you say.
Get in touch with the PACO team, to learn more about our strategic and inclusive approach for 2021.