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In a Blowout, Super Bowl Ads Shine

By February 3, 2021 August 1st, 2021 No Comments

While the Super Bowl was a one-sided blowout with Tom Brady – the GOAT – and the Tampa Bay Bucs routing the Kansas City Chiefs, we at least had the most creative ads of the year to keep our attention while Patrick Mahomes was running for his life!

Here are my Top 3 spots:

1. Jeep | The Middle – starring Bruce Springsteen

This epic 2-minute ad starring “The Boss” is a triumph. It’s beautiful to look at and listen to, and it says something essential about this moment in American history.

As we see the occasional shot of Springsteen looking pensive, and as we take in heartland scenes – an aerial view of a lonely road, a close-up of a dusty cowboy hat resting on the seat of a Jeep, a horse on the range, a cross atop a chapel – we hear a somber instrumental score and the bard of New Jersey’s narration, which is worth quoting here in full:

There’s a chapel in Kansas. Standing on the exact center of the lower forty-eight. It never closes. All are more than welcome. To come meet here, in the middle.

It’s no secret … The middle has been a hard place to get to lately. Between red and blue. Between servant and citizen. Between our freedom and our fear.

Now, fear has never been the best of who we are. And as for freedom, it’s not the property of just the fortunate few; it belongs to us all. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from. It’s what connects us.

And we need that connection. We need the middle. We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground. So, we can get there.

We can make it to the mountaintop, through the desert … and we will cross this divide. Our light has always found its way through the darkness.

And there’s hope on the road…up ahead.

That is, quite simply, poetry, and sent me back to Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb”. Combine that poetry with masterly cinematography, scoring and editing, and this ad was the real Super Bowl winner.

It’s a work of art that resonates!

2. Toyota | Upstream

One of the most inspiringly created ads of the year, Toyota’s Big Game spot tells an original story of Paralympian gold medalist Jessica Long. Such ads about disability often veer into the condescending realm of sympathy, and this spot’s narrative is spot on, and the end result is heart-lifting, captivating and a much-needed moment of representation in a night where it was largely lacking.

3. Bass Pro Shops – Cabela’s

This 60-second Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s commercial hypes nature – and all it’s beauty that encourages the downtrodden to get outdoors in a COVID world. As we see shots of diverse, happy, eager nature enthusiasts of all ages, as well as glorious mountains, forests, lakes and more, an announcer beckons: “To everyone in our great outdoor family: you may be feeling a little cooped up. But don’t forget: There are still rocks to be skipped, trails to be trampled, fish to be caught. The great outdoors are wide open, and they’re calling us like never before.”

An overall positive ad that soothes a needy world by speaking the truth and offering great advice: “we need nature to help us heal and reconnect with the ones we love the most. So, when you can, get back to nature. Get back to each other.”

Here are the Top 10 ads as rated by Adweek:

1. Anheuser-Busch | “Let’s Grab a Beer”

Rich in wonderfully nuanced story beats, this spot breaks the stodgy mold of how most giant parent companies treat their multi-brand spots. Such corporate ads typically feel like trite Americana written for investors, not consumers. But Anheuser-Busch and W+K New York have created something truly special with “Let’s Grab a Beer,” a spot that reminds us of all the complicated, fragile and surprising ways we’re bonded to the people around us. After a year of isolation for many of us, it’s a message that resonates beautifully.

2. Amazon | “Alexa’s Body”

Sex blended with comedy is a classic Super Bowl ad combination going back decades, but that’s not to say advertisers often get it right. Amazon and TBWA-owned agency Lucky Generals strike a captivating balance with this spot in which an employee working on the new Alexa imagines the voice assistant in the body of actor Michael B. Jordan– who just happens to star in the Amazon Studios original Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse. The cross-promotional spot is steamy and silly, with just enough edginess to generate some raised eyebrows in the room. Going into the game, it was the most talked-about spot, a standing which probably only increased after it officially ran.

3. DoorDash | “The Neighborhood”

You don’t see a lot of truly bright and upbeat ads in the Super Bowl – which isn’t too surprising for an event often associated with broad-humor tropes like crotch hits and clumsy dads. So, it was refreshing to see Sesame Street and the deeply lovable Daveed Diggs unite for DoorDash’s sweet homage to local eateries. Hamilton breakout star Diggs has been stepping up his ad presence in recent months, but this marks his biggest – and most well-deserved – stage yet.

4. Toyota | “Upstream”
5. General Motors | “No Way, Norway”

Most ads for mainstream electric vehicles seem to shy away from acknowledging the massive trend toward low-emission vehicles, instead focusing on consumer benefits like drivability and comfort. GM commendably goes the other way here, calling out America’s sluggishness to embrace EVs and highlighting its commitment to rolling out 30 new electric models by 2025. The star lineup –Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina– keeps it funny instead of preachy. This is one of the few spots that’s entertaining in the short term while legitimately starting a long-term conversation.

6. Cadillac | “Scissorhands Free”

Unfortunately, 1990’s Edward Scissorhands didn’t have the happiest ending. Johnny Depp’s Edward and Winona Ryder’s Kim ended up apart. But what if they hadn’t? Cadillac’s Super Bowl ad imagines a timeline in which the two have a child: Edgar Scissorhands, played by Timothée Chalamet. The spot recaptures the odd sweetness of Tim Burton’s original film but is also a smart way of pointing out a specific product feature: the Cadillac Lyriq’s hands-free driving option.

7. Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade | “Last Year’s Lemons”

For most of us, this past year was the weirdest and most painful of our lives, but you wouldn’t know it from the vast majority of ads in this year’s Super Bowl. Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, via W+K New York, walks an impressive balance of revisiting many of 2020’s low points while still keeping things humorous.

8. Oatly | “Wow, No Cow”

Love it or hate it, you probably talked about the ad. In a truly bizarre move, oat milk brand Oatly opted to bring an 8-year-old ad out of cold storage and run it as a Super Bowl spot. That’s especially brazen given that the original 2014 spot, featuring CEO Toni Petersson singing a jingle he wrote himself, was banned from airing in the brand’s home country of Sweden after a lawsuit by the local milk lobby. Knowing its spot would be polarizing, Oatly even preemptively added a T-shirt to its store with the message, “I totally hated that Oatly commercial.”

9. Uber Eats | “Wayne’s World & Cardi B’s Shameless Manipulation”

Uber Eats’ revival of Wayne’s World has more depth than the usual approach of falling back on retro SNL favorites. Namely it plays on the fictional duo’s role as local access TV hosts, positioning them as champions of all things local – which fits with Uber Eats’ pledge to supporting local eateries.

10. M&M’s | “Come Together”

With snap-tight copywriting and more than a few relatable scenarios, M&M’s and BBDO New York remind us of simpler times when you could gather in person and deeply annoy one another. Dan Levy is a perfect choice for celebrity cameo and adds just enough of an edge. Not a classic for the ages in the vein of some earlier BBDO spots for Snickers et al, but still a crowd pleaser that 2021 needed.

Here are the Top 10 from USA TODAY ad meter:

  1. Rocket Mortgage: “Certain Is Better”(7.38 average rating)
  2. Rocket Mortgage: “Certain Is Better – Tracy Morgan & Joey Bosa”(7.30)
  3. Amazon: “Alexa’s Body”(6.75)
  4. M&M’S: “Come Together”(6.73)
  5. Toyota: “Upstream”(6.71)
  6. General Motors: “No Way Norway”(6.67)
  7. Cheetos: “It Wasn’t Me”(6.52)
  8. State Farm: “Drake from State Farm”(6.50)
  9. Doritos: “Flat Matthew”(6.40)
  10. Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade: Last Year’s Lemons(6.36)

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