CR’s pick of the 2021 Super Bowl ads

While the pandemic inevitably ushered in some changes to this year’s Super Bowl, we saw some familiar trends in the advertising around the big game

For advertisers in the US, the Super Bowl is the biggest event of the marketing year – major amounts of money are spent on creating blockbuster ads which are pretty much guaranteed to reach a vast audience, both during the game and online.

Recent years have seen advertisers release their spots online ahead of the game, to leverage the interest in the Super Bowl ads, plus we are also used to certain brands returning year after year. Not so this year though, with major advertisers including Coke, Pepsi, and Budweiser opting to sit it out in 2021, due to both the coronavirus pandemic and financial uncertainty.

This allowed room for some newbies to make an appearance, but otherwise things were mostly business as usual, with big name celebrities and brash humour central to most of the spots. Politics were low on the agenda – perhaps unsurprisingly following the recent events in the country – and the pandemic was alluded to only subtly.

There are a lot of ads featured during the Super Bowl, so as usual we waded through them all so you don’t have to. Here, in no particular order, is our pick of the best:

Doritos, #FlatMatthew; Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Many of you might remember the children’s book character Flat Stanley from your youth – well, here’s Flat Matthew McConaughey, who’s just not feeling himself these days. Until that is, he gets a taste of the new 3D Doritos.

Oatly, Wow No Cow; Agency: Oatly Department of Mind Control/Forsman & Bodenfors

Oatly turning up at the Super Bowl might seem odd enough, but then it delivers this ad, showing CEO Toni Petersson singing in a field. Ad fans might notice that it’s actually a rerun of an ad originally created in 2014, but I doubt many viewers will be bothered by that, and will instead be too busy singing ‘Wow, no cow’ over and over again.

Amazon, Alexa’s Body; Agency: Lucky Generals

Released last week, this spot has already racked up over 76 million views on YouTube as people laugh along to Michael B Jordan becoming the Alexa of our dreams.

General Motors, No Way, Norway; Agency: McCann Worldgroup

Will Ferrell shows that ads for electric cars can be as ridiculous as all Super Bowl car ads, as he attempts to go to war with Norway – which sells more electric cars per capita than the US – in slapstick style.

Rocket Mortgage, Certain is Better; Agency: Highdive

Here’s another blockbuster, big star vehicle as Tracy Morgan goes to epic lengths to demonstrate how important it is to be clear on your finances when buying a house in this spot for Rocket Mortgage.

Jeep, The Middle; Agency: Doner

It wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without a sobering ad examining life in America, and Jeep delivers here with a two-minute spot starring Bruce Springsteen, which reflects on the recent political turmoil in the country but without mentioning any names.

Cadillac, Scissor Hands-Free; Agency: Leo Burnett

A different kind of car ad now, as Cadillac draws on the acting chops of Timothée Chalamet to play Edgar Scissorhands, son of Edward. Like his father, he struggles in everyday life, but then finds freedom in the hands-free driving of the Cadillac Lyriq.

Tide, The Jason Alexander Hoodie; Agency: Woven Collective

Celebrity appearances enter the realm of the surreal here, as Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander finds himself trapped in a hoodie that needs a wash. At least I think that was what was going on.

Verizon, Can’t Blame the Lag; Agency: McCann

This Verizon spot starring Samuel L Jackson goes epic on the CGI to make the point that its 5G provides ultra-low lag for gamers.

Anheuser-Busch, Let’s Grab A Beer; Wieden + Kennedy

Most brands have skipped mentioning the pandemic in their Super Bowl commercials (though this ad for Bud Light Seltzer did refer to the chaos of 2020 – it just wasn’t the kind you expected), but it’s difficult not to think of it in this spot for Anheuser-Busch (owner of brands including Budweiser, Michelob Ultra, Stella Artois). A thoughtful meditation on the value of grabbing a drink with friends, it just about avoids tipping into outright sentimentality, and instead serves as a poignant reminder of some of the simple things not possible for many of us right now.