The great Super Bowl LV ad review

Michael B Jordan embodied Amazon Alexa, Cardi B crashed a Wayne's World party, Edward Scissorhands' son grew up and no-one is sure what's going on with Oatly. Three creative leaders review the highs and lows of this year's Super Bowl ads.

The great Super Bowl LV ad review

Laura Rogers

Global creative director, Adam & Eve/DDB

I have a complicated relationship with Super Bowl ads. I grew up in Canada and Canadians are one of the few groups outside the US who both understand and give a shit about the NFL. Super Bowl Sunday was almost the same in Canada as it was in America.  

But there was one, huge, Destiny’s Child reunion-sized thing missing from our Super Bowl: the ads. In an attempt to give Canadian brands an advantage over the huge culture-swallowing corporate monoliths south of the border, our government blocked American ads on game day. And banning these ads (of course) only made me want them more. In those innocent days before the internet, I could only hope to get a peek at them on Good Morning America, or maybe I’d be lucky enough to know someone who knew someone who watched the game on an illegal American feed piped in from Detroit, but they always seemed mysterious and just out of reach. I’m telling you this because it’s nearly impossible for me to be objective about the delicious, forbidden fruit that is the Super Bowl ads. But I’ll try.

M&M's hit all of 2020’s pet subjects, from mansplaining to gender reveals to Dan Levy, and served this up with an effortless tone that even managed to make the talking M&M characters a little less grating. Strong.

Oatly went with its CEO singing a song in a field in what was apparently a deliberate attempt to polarise people. It even printed T-shirts with “I totally hated the Oatly commercial”. I think “I’m indifferent about the Oatly ad” would have better captured my feelings. 

Most people who have tried to describe 2020 have resorted to words and phrases like “unprecedented” and “now more than ever”. Bud Light Seltzer went for “Attack of the Killer Lemons”, and that’s a metaphor I can get behind. 

I call myself someone who always stands up for representation, but I have to admit, I have a blind spot: the Scandis. I’m forever mistaking Danes for Swedes and Swedes for, well, just about anyone with a lilting accent and a strong sense of graphic design. It’s bad and I’m sorry. But GM’s ad for EVs delivered an important message in a hilarious way and made me feel seen. Thank you. 

Toyota’s spot about Paralympian swimmer Jessica Long is a beautifully crafted film. But I have to ask, why is a Paralympian the only person with a visible disability in all of these ads? People with disabilities should be on our screens in all types of roles, not just as athletes.  

In “Let’s grab a beer”, Anheuser-Busch positions its product at the highest and more bravely, lowest points in life. But showing two people lose their jobs followed by a funeral scene in a year when death and redundancy were experienced by so many felt a touch crass to me.

Amazon imagines that if Alexa had a body, it might be Michael B Jordan’s. I love the classic combo of sex and comedy served up from a female point of view. Nice one.

Wayne and Garth are back in an ad that proves there’s still some mileage left in these characters. Enough to bang out a pretty funny 60-second ad for Uber Eats, but I hope they’re not planning another sequel. Oh wait, this just in…they’re planning a sequel. Let’s hope Cardi B is also signed up for that. 

Daveed Diggs joins forces with the gang from Sesame Street to recreate a fever-dream I had about post-lockdown life: there’s dancing in the streets, people greeting each other in song, and all my neighbours have been transformed into puppets. I love DoorDash’s joyful spin around the neighborhood.

If I have to pick a favourite, it’s the one teenage me growing up in Canada would have been the most desperate to see: Cadillac’s Edward Scissorhands revival. It connects perfectly with its hands-free steering message and Timothée Chalamet absolutely nails the charming, lovable, scissor-laden anti-hero. I’d have a poster of him on my bedroom wall for sure.

And there goes my objectivity.  

Guillermo Vega

Chief creative officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London

First, I’d like to bring up one of the simplest and riskiest ads I’ve seen in a while during the Super Bowl. The Reddit spot. It’s genius. It went for a long-copy ad in a five-second media buy, knowing the audience wouldn’t have time to read it but trusting that by glitching the traditional format, it would get everyone talking. And they did. The approach was a great example of Reddit's understanding of its community and how they behave on the platform. As the ad says: “Underdogs can accomplish just about anything when they come together around a common idea.” 

Anyway. On to an enjoyable 30 minutes spent watching some of the spots from the annual advertising Oscars moment.  

First up, “Let’s grab a beer” for Anheuser-Busch stands out from all of them. Not surprising, given David Fincher was involved, but I think this will go down as a real advertising classic. The line is awesome and I love the concept that it’s never about the beer, which is a poignant message, especially for right now when all we want to do is share a beer with the people we love (and not via Zoom). It’s a super American style which I love, the copy is brilliant and the performance of everyone in the film is spot-on. It feels natural.

Amazon and “Alexa’s body”. It’s genuinely funny and it’s important to raise a smile at the moment. Amazon has always been good at showing the product in comedy situations and uses celebrities well. There are a couple of cringe moments, but other than that, this deserves the praise it’s getting.   

DoorDash and “The neighborhood”. OK… what just happened? Despite being a bit confused at first, on review this is a feel-good ad thanks to some classic American characters. Not my style, but it works. 

On to Toyota and “Upstream”. This is a beautiful ad, an emotional narrative and the craft and production value you’d expect from a brand that has brought us some of the best advertising in the world. You can be sure that the Super Bowl will bring us at least one ad that pulls at the heartstrings and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s the right balance between emotion and a powerful message.  

General Motors’ “No way, Norway” got a genuine laugh out loud moment from me. Who doesn’t love Will Ferrell? It’s funny, it gets the message across, the actors are brilliant. It’s a classic comedy ad that works really well.

M&M’s “Come together” does the job. It could be funnier, and the concept is a bit forced, but a good performance from Daniel Levy makes up for it. 

Resh Sidhu

Executive creative director, Barbarian

This year’s 2021 Super Bowl served up commercials from some familiar and well-loved brands, along with a handful of newcomers making their debuts. What a spectacular show it turned out to be for all the wrong reasons: while there were some standout ads, smart hijacks and a sprinkle of compelling spots, most didn’t hit the mark. 

Brands had to manage the right tone as the world emerged from a very different kind of year, with some advertisers weighing in on the reality of the moment, while others went for tried-and-tested strategies of nostalgia, light-hearted humour or an overdose of celebrity. With each of these brands shelling out roughly $5.5m-plus for a 30-second commercial on this year’s game, the big question at the top of my mind was: did they use the opportunity wisely or did they completely lose the plot? I watched with my family, while tracking the intense social chatter and brand sentiment in real time across social media. 

Honourable mention

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman recited a poem at the pre-game ceremony captivating the nation once again. The original poem honoured frontline workers and three honorary game captains chosen by the NFL. Gorman is making Super Bowl history as the first poet to perform for a game. 

Most inspiring

Toyota's ad starring Jessica Long gave me goosebumps for all the right reasons and is an incredibly moving and well-told story full of hope and resilience that goes all in with a powerful message. Long’s story hit the spot with viewers, many taking to social media to share how it struck a chord and was full of heart and spirit – a brave move from an automotive brand and there’s not a Toyota in sight. 

Best hack 

We all love rooting for the underdogs and true to its nature and recent events, Reddit pulled off the most rebellious Super Bowl ad by running a five-second commercial commenting on January's GameStop frenzy – if you sneezed, you would have missed it. Social media went into overdrive with viewers posting and tweeting about the ad, and many thinking it was a hoax. Within minutes, Reddit’s five-second ad was becoming the most talked-about commercial. Nicely played.

Celebrity overdose

There was an overwhelming reliance on celebs, and even though many of the commercials featured big names – Will Ferrell for GM, Dolly Parton for Squarespace, Drake for State Farm and a dancing John Travolta for Scotts, to name a few – many ads were lacklustre, forgettable and fell flat. Take Doritos’ “Flat Matthew,” with Matthew McConaughey: the ad was so dull and boring, I can’t even remember it.

Jeep is another brand that lured in the big-name celeb but fell short in delivering big impact. Even with Bruce Springsteen narrating the scenic, two-minute ad through empty streets, viewers were divided. The problem is its message and its attempt to create a unifying cry for a deeply divided nation, it’s a path well trodden and it feels clichéd and empty. If you’re in the middle, you’re really nowhere. Jeep had the opportunity to stand for something, be bolder and do what Nike did with Colin Kaepernick, because playing it safe gets you nowhere.

Best newcomer

Huggies is the first diaper brand to ever air a Super Bowl ad. The adorable spot features babies – always a winning formula – but what got everyone talking was its very clever approach of featuring babies born today. Yes, you heard that right. Most of the commercial was pre-recorded, but the company added footage of babies born today and welcomed them into the world. Nice touch.

Most insightful

While Bud Light opted for lemons and celebrities, it was the parent company Anheuser-Busch’s ad that really struck the right chord, simply reminding people of the casual moments of togetherness that we have all missed and long for. Even though there was not a mask in sight, the message of drinking a beer with co-workers, reminiscing with friends and sharing a joke, gives us hope that those times will return once again. 

Most ‘WTF’ moment

The most dumbfounding ad came from Oatly, which provided an opportunity for advertisers and brands to learn (we hope) how not to do it – because one thing is certain, we’re all united in agreeing that Oatly’s commercial was awful. This tweet from @ChrisCarlin sums it up nicely: “I’d like to meet the @oatly marketing genius who said, ‘CEO playing keyboard and singing in a hayfield? Yup. That’s it. $6 million? Wrap it up.’”

Most tone-deaf 

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse after Oatly, in strolls Cure Insurance, a newcomer to the Super Bowl that makes its shocking debut as the worst and most tone-deaf ad. It’s an example of what’s wrong with adland. I found it disgusting, the way it marginalised sexual harassment and normalised predatory behaviour. Even my sons were horrified, and they are teenagers.

This is what happens when your creative team is full of white men, lacks diversity and everyone is out of touch with reality – I’m sure they are all patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Well, hate to break it to you, your ad was offensive and utter shit.

Most desirable 

Amazon Alexa’s ad this year with Michael B Jordan as Alexa personified was truly perfection. It’s humorous, light-hearted, well written and one of the very few ads that appeals to women and was not created for the male gaze. Its casting was diverse and it got everyone hot under the collar, making Alexa the Sexiest Piece of Tech Alive.

Most nostalgic

Uber Eats and DoorDash didn’t disappoint, with light-hearted and star-studded ads transporting you back in time. My favourite of the two was Uber Eats, with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey back together for a Wayne’s World spot encouraging viewers to “party on”. Although there was too much celebrity this year, one thing Uber did well is combine celeb power with purposeful messaging, and encouraging everyone to support local restaurants was on point. It was also one of few brands with a clear call to action, offering to match donations. Now that’s how you put your money where your mouth is.

Most empathic

Most surprising was Indeed’s first Super Bowl ad. It was so in touch with the mood of the nation by highlighting the emotional journey of job seekers at a time when many people are facing turmoil and stress. Its empathetic tone, relevancy and compelling approach drew on the emotional side of hunting for a job with moments we can all relate to. What I also love is social media’s reactions to TikTok singer Christian Shelton, who has become the star of the show for his cover of Andra Day's anthemic song Rise Up

Word to the wise

Going to the Super Bowl means you are speaking to an audience of 100 million-plus and 46% of those viewers are women, yet the majority of the ads spoke to men. Brands need to tread carefully and be cautious; they have to make sure their ads are not tone-deaf and they need to be relevant, purposeful and memorable. 

Sadly, the majority of this year’s Super Bowl ads fell short. Many ignored the fact that we are in a global pandemic, lacked diversity and depth, and overloaded their spots with celebrities to compensate for a lack of story, insight or actual idea.

Social media is alight with rumours that not a single spot was directed by a woman this year – can this be true? Clients and brand marketers, we need more representation, diversity, innovation and originality in the work, and this will only happen if you seek it in your teams. This is one of the biggest platforms in the world – and everyone is watching. Come on adland, we can do better.