CR’s pick of the 2020 Super Bowl ads

Yesterday saw the return of the Super Bowl – the US’s biggest annual sporting event and in turn, its biggest advertising event. Here we pick out the ad trends from this year, plus our favourite spots

The Super Bowl remains America’s largest sporting event, and, by virtue of the fact that it draws millions of viewers to their screens to watch the event live, it is a rare example these days of a captive audience for advertisers.

As such, marketers and ad agencies bring out their big guns: spending millions on celebrities and special effects to try and win the crown for the most shared, loved and discussed ad of the big game.

This is a firmly a TV ad playground so innovation tends to be pretty thin on the ground (one rare exception being Tide’s clever meta ad campaign from 2018, which they reran this year to less exciting effect, and which seems to have inspired this weird mish-mash of a P&G ad this year too). And this was the case yesterday, with a brief attempt at innovation from Heinz, which showed four ads in one, falling pretty flat.

So what trends were on show in 2020? Well the biggest one, which has been coming over the last few years, is that very few brands are bothering to hold their ads for the game itself, instead releasing them online in the days leading up to the event. Over 40 brands put out ads this way this year, maximising the amount of views they picked up along the way.

In terms of the mood of the spots, we have seen a switch from the deeply political advertising of a few years ago to pretty much out-and-out humour in 2020. Even the odd moment of activism, such as this ad from Olay, was delivered with a smile.

One other point worth noting is the evolution of the car industry, as shown through Super Bowl ads. We saw Audi and Hummer both emphasising electric vehicles, while Hyundai provided an entertaining spot to show off its smart parking features. If this is anything to go by, we are certainly not entering a car-free future any time soon.

So onto the spots that stood out for us this year. Around 50 ads played out in the big game, here is our pick of the best/most noteworthy of 2020:

Jeep; High Dive

Bill Murray revisits Groundhog Day for Jeep – what’s not to love?

Mountain Dew; TBWA

Another movie classic gets a makeover, as Bryan Cranston and Tracee Ellis Ross recreate The Shining’s most famous scene to point out that the new Mountain Dew Zero Sugar is “as good as the original”.

Cheetos Popcorn; Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Yet more nostalgia on show here as MC Hammer pops up in this spot, which makes light of one of the annoying qualities of Cheetos – its bright orange dust.

Amazon Alexa; Droga5

When Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi speculate on life before Alexa, we are thrust into a historical flashback of times before electronic assistants.

Sodastream; Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Enjoyably silly, if kind of old-fashioned, this Soda Stream spot sees water discovered on Mars.

Pringles; Grey

Pringles infiltrates an episode of Rick and Morty with a Morty bot that can’t stop stacking Pringles to make new flavours. Fun, if niche, though probably bang on target for the Pringles audience.

Porsche; Cramer-Krasselt

Porsche gives us a fun and entertaining romp through the history of its vehicles in this spot themed around a heist.

Doritos; Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott perform a Wild West dance off for Doritos.

Bud Light/Bud Light Seltzer; Wieden + Kennedy New York

We witness the internal wranglings of Post Malone’s brain as he tries to choose between Bud Light and Bud Light Seltzer in a corner store.

Microsoft, McCann New York

While the link to Microsoft isn’t clear, this mini-documentary telling the career journey of Katie Sowers, the first ever female coach in the Super Bowl, is certainly inspiring.

Google, In-house

This sentimental spot from Google emphasises the AI powers of its Google Assistant to remember things through the story of an elderly man reminiscing on times with his late wife Loretta. It’s designed to tug at the heartstrings, though also came off a little creepy to me…

Rocket Mortgage; High Dive

It’s hard to make an entertaining ad about money. Turbo Tax makes a good fist of it in this all-singing, all-dancing ad about paying your taxes, but Rocket Mortgage wins the sector this time with this entertaining spot which reveals the ‘real’ Jason Momoa.

Walmart, Publicis Groupe’s Department W

This is not a particularly great ad, but noteworthy for the sheer amount of money that Walmart must have paid in licensing fees to get cameos from Star Wars, Men In Black, Toy Story, Lego Movie etc etc for its first Super Bowl ad. I guess if you are low on other ideas, it pays to reference everyone’s favourite films.