Direct Response Marketing Agency - Chief Media
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Super Bowl LV – What Advertising?

With Super Bowl LV now behind us, it is time for us to look back and digest everything that happened during the biggest sporting event of the year, which was estimated to pull in 100 million viewers on game day. Aside from Tom Brady doing his level best to put a Super Bowl ring on his finger yet again, there were also plenty of points of interest within the advertising world.

This year’s crop of ads featured a healthy mix of both the familiar and the unfamiliar. Although the economy remains shaky, music publishers had a ball this year, with either historically strong or downright record-breaking amounts of music placements this year. Bruce Springsteen appeared in his first commercial ever, a Jeep ad, which boasted an original composition from the man himself. Drake, Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, and Adam Levine also made surprise appearances in the window leading up to game day. Something, however, was missing.

Ads Down 60% YoY

The music may have been a hit this year, but what about the ads themselves? Twitter announced that reviews on the ads and hashtag mentions on the platform itself were down 60% YoY. People didn’t have much to talk about this year it seems. So which ads made a name for themselves and which ones got sacked? Some brands managed to secure themselves a tidy share of good press by not airing any ads, like mainstay Budweiser who instead donated their advertising budget to raise awareness for the Covid-19 vaccine. This was the first time ever that Budweiser did not feature their famous Super Bowl ad. Coke and Pepsi followed suit. Which, on the other hand, made room for others!

General Motors’ ad for their new Ultium battery was funny, creative, and touched on important themes around sustainability. Toyota made an emotional appeal with an ad starring Jessica Long, an American Paralympic swimmer with a story that plays on themes of hope and compassion. Ads from Huggies, State Farm, DoorDash, and Cheetos were all similarly well-received, with all either boasting a light, jovial attitude, a star-studded cast, or both. Not only were they well-received but rather repetitive.

Days before the Super Bowl, CBS announced that they did “virtually” sell out on airings for this year’s game, even with some major brands taking a back seat. Marketers noted prior that brands needed to be extra sensitive with their choice of Super Bowl message as they will be speaking to millions of people during unprecedented times. On average, a :30s Super Bowl spot this year cost $5.5 million. Tampa Bay wasn’t the only winner of this year’s game, as Amazon and Chipotle took home the trophy for the most effective commercials, according to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Amazon won the audience over by emotional appeal with their humorous Alexa ad and Chipotle moved millions with its environmentally friendly push.

Were the Ads Effective?

Reflecting on Super Bowl LV, what we have is a mixed bag. An interesting note was that none of the advertisements featured people in masks, a decision that came as a relief to some, who felt the world didn’t need another reminder of everything currently going on but was to the chagrin of others who felt it a disservice to downplay the reality of the current situation. For the most part, this year’s ads tried to be light and funny, and for some brands this was effective.

However, it also greatly watered down the variety, and in the eyes of some worked to the overall detriment of the featured brands. Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University, stated that “[t]he relentless stream of cheery ads made it tough for any of them to really stand out.” With the tone of ads being so homogenous, the standouts tended to be those spots that went somewhat against the grain of unbridled joviality, like Jeep’s, did something creative in terms of format, like Reddit’s, or were just plain weird like oat milk company Oatly. Stacked rosters of big celebrities delighted some consumers, but annoyed others who found the endless stream of household names to be gimmicky or feel forced. Likewise, with the relentlessly upbeat messaging – while we can all certainly appreciate the sentiment, nobody likes feeling like something is being pushed on them.

Super Bowl LV certainly wasn’t a failure by any means, but it also seems to have underdelivered somewhat on hopes that it would strongly signal a return to normalcy. Despite the best efforts of giants in marketing, business as usual might not be realistic anymore. What matters right now is to stand out from the crowd, project an honest brand identity that doesn’t feel forced, and be mindful of the situation everyone is finding themselves in. A strong impression of authenticity will do wonders right now for your brand, and don’t be surprised if advertising looks very different in the aftermath of Super Bowl LV.

If you are interested in advertising, contact us to get started on creating your next campaign.