Like everything else, the Super Bowl looked a little different this year. Not just because Tom Brady won with a team that wasn’t the Patriots, but also because many iconic advertisers like Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Hyundai and more, pulled out of the big game for reasons ranging from reallocation of their Super Bowl funds to philanthropic initiatives to tightened budgets after a difficult year. For those brands that stayed in the game, however, including Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light seltzer brand (we see you, Budweiser loophole), it was all about striking the right balance. For most, that meant leaning into humor and simply giving consumers a much-needed laugh. For others, that meant taking on a more somber or reflective tone without overtly going down the now overplayed “in these uncertain times …” angle.
As a company made up of creative entrepreneurs, we definitely like to nerd-out the day after, dissecting all the ads of our industry’s biggest night — both the ones we loved and the ones we didn’t. Since there are far too many spots to cover them all, we’re focusing on one of our biggest areas of expertise — consumer packaged goods (CPG). Here are the ones that stood out for our people, for better or for worse.
Reviewed by Matt Doyle, Executive Producer
M&M’s has beautifully turned a year’s worth of imminently relatable, pandemic/quarantine-induced angst and stress into a spot that’s going to bring viewers a moment of much-deserved levity during the Super Bowl. Featuring a cameo from Hollywood’s current man of the hour, Dan Levy, the candy brand highlights what looks like a best-of (or maybe worst-of is more apropos) “hashtaggable” moments that every single one of us has dealt with over the past year of madness. From angry neighbors kicking the backs of plane seats to #Mansplaining and #Karen jokes (the “I’m sorry your name is Karen” line is currently the leader in the clubhouse for funniest line of the year among all Super Bowl spots), the team at M&M’s has served up a sharply insightful social commentary based on this dumpster fire of a year and disguised it in a wonderful, colorful, chocolate candy-coated shell. The stress-inducing scenes are all completely diffused by simply sharing a bag of M&M’s, smartly positioning the iconic candy as a simple, delicious solution to all of the mundane problems we collectively fret over each day. Maybe it’s really as simple as life being made #BetterWithMMs, as their social activation states. If so, buy me a bag of peanut and please don’t call me a “Karen.”
Reviewed by Jenna DiCicco, Senior Strategist
Historically, Doritos Super Bowl advertisements are fun, memorable and have roots in what I like to call: big league culture — culture that, unless you live under a rock, anyone and everyone can understand. Easy and entertaining — that’s Doritos’ go-to play — and they didn’t stray from that recipe in 2021. My guess is that many people think this spot is a bit random, but in my mind, it works for two reasons: It’s easy and entertaining and it leverages a consumer/cultural truth to ultimately deliver the product truth. By choosing Matthew McConaughey to star in the spot, the ad became more widely appealing — no one in the audience will question who that is. The cultural truth was simple — the dumpster fire that was 2020 flattened all of us a bit, even if we don’t want to admit it. 3D Doritos are the antidote to a year of flattening. I imagine the brief as something like this: “get consumers, who are hungover from 2020 and trying to return to normal, to see Doritos as new and exciting in a sea of snack sameness by showing them Doritos allows them to reconnect to a life in 3D.” If that was the ask, then they succeeded — they kept it simple, had roots in culture and delivered an obvious product truth. Although not all consumers will see the wider cultural message here, that’s OK, it works anyway.
Reviewed by Andrew Harris, Creative Director
Modern-day Super Bowl commercials typically fall into one of three lanes: Relevant brands building affinity through entertainment; upstarts looking to make noise (think original E-Trade); and corporate boardrooms doing their best virtue signaling. For my eyeballs, this year’s Frito-Lay spot “’Twas the Night Before the Super Bowl” is the winner in lane number one. Keys to victory: 1. Super relevant product. 2. The power of sports celebrity. 3. Great script and acting. Pretty basic, but if Frito-Lay was looking to target sports fans who love sitting on the couch watching football and eating salty snacks, they nailed it.
Reviewed by Mike Stevens, Chief of Staff
The first-ever Super Bowl advertisement from Anheuser-Busch was a message to all Americans — it’s not about the beer, it’s about being together. It’s about being together for all of life’s moments, no matter how big or small. Why I liked it is because it showcased many different unique circumstances and the common thread is yes, sharing a beer, but really sharing each other’s company. It’s an uplifting metaphor for the times we’re in, that at the end of the day we’ll get through this pandemic and we’ll all be back together, sharing a beer.
Reviewed by David Bohl, Senior Strategist
It’s only worth it if you enjoy it. Smart insight. Great tagline. HUGE platform that could lend itself to some awesome work. This ad, however, didn’t do it for me.
Normally, I’d be fine with this ad. It’s anthemic and supports Michelob Ultra’s positioning — targeting athletes and health-conscious beer drinkers who think you have to sacrifice taste for fewer calories, using the analogy of sport to question this popular belief. But this is the Super Bowl, man! Forget how lofty this beer ad tries to be. When you’re spending a couple million dollars for a 60-second spot, it’s not enough to simply proclaim your worldview; you have to stick in people’s minds and get them talking about your product. Not the celebs in your ad. And I doubt many folks walked away from that game talking about Michelob ULTRA last night.
Reviewed by Cristin Barth, Creative Director
Have you ever thought about what CPG products definitely don’t need a Super Bowl spot? Me either. But if I did, Hellmann’s Mayo would likely be on that list. It’s not particularly sexy or healthy. They don’t take the opportunity to highlight or promote any new products. It’s just the classic mayo we all know and love, with an important message. I think that’s what I liked about this spot the most. The small bit of humor was anything but sophisticated. Just like mayo. Amy Schumer’s Fairy Godmayo character is almost completely purposeless and her attitude is bland. Just like mayo. With a wave of her butter knife, she uses her magical powers to deliver a simple solution to not waste food and to make fun, new dishes with leftovers instead by incorporating some “creamy, dreamy” mayo. At least I think that’s what consists of her magical Fairy Godmayo powers. As for what else she can do? Nothing. Just like mayo. Even the teaser to the full-length spot reveals that she purchases her mayo supply at the grocery store. It’s incredibly anticlimactic and that’s OK because after all, it’s just mayo.
Reviewed by Sophia Cigliano, Group Account Director
This spot drips with a cool vibe … I mean, it’s Lenny Kravitz — how can it not?! Full disclosure — I’m a die-hard fan but aside from that, I really dig this spot. In “Heartbeat Billionaire,” I immediately took note of Kravitz on the drums instead of his guitar as he narrated the explanation of a “heartbeat billionaire” as an overlay to his “It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over” song. The flow of the warm-toned, inviting illustrations takes the viewer through different social gatherings and returns to Kravitz in real-life social scenes. I think Stella Artois taps into what we crave now more than ever — human connection, love and time well spent. The idea of “invest in each other and the moments we share” speaks to how valuable our relationships are and how precious time is — use it wisely. #LetLoveRule
Reviewed by Matt Doyle, Executive Producer
I’m an eternal sucker for any spot that takes a full-on swing at the competition. A spot that cuts right to the core of a rival brand. A commercial that straight up aims to punch up in weight class to knock the big guys down a few pegs. This spot from Sam Adams is the embodiment of a good-natured shot fired across the bow of Super Bowl stalwart Budweiser and their iconic Clydesdale horses. The fact that Anheuser-Busch announced they’d be sitting this Super Bowl out in terms of advertising their signature brand provided a glorious opportunity for Sam Adams to swoop in and give viewers their annual fill of majestic horses galloping in slow motion across their screens during the big game. The fact that they’re using their stereotypical “FROM BOSSSSTON” guys to pull the pin on the horses’ carriage, thereby setting them free to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting community is completely in line with the latest campaign strategy for the Boston-based brand. Since the launch of their “Your Cousin from Boston” campaign last year, Sam Adams has leaned into (for better or worse) the typical “dude from Southie who talks/acts like a dope” creative strategy. It’s certainly great for a couple laughs in this spot, and I think the not-so-little beer guys at Sam Adams do a great job capitalizing on the opportunity to take a few shots at absolutely-gigantic-big-brother beer guys Budweiser on the biggest advertising stage of them all. If I were lazy, I’d call this a “wicked pissah” spot, but I’m actually “from Bosssston” and know that no one actually says stupid shit like that. Either way — lots of laughs.
Reviewed by Michael Gatti, Executive Creative Director
In a(nother) year where most spots fit into one of three categories — celebrities, nostalgia play or the dreaded “unprecedented times” — Oatly’s spot stood out from all of them. Forget that involving a CEO in your spot is generally a bad idea, forget that this weird song was released years ago, and forget that it looks like it was produced for twenty bucks in a half hours’ time. The one thing you remember is the spot itself, because it looked nothing like anything else running last night, and it was laser-focused on the product benefit: It’s not cow’s milk. Bonus points for an improvised song that’s sneakily catchy, and you’ve got one of the few winners from this year’s Super Bowl offerings.