After every football season’s Super Bowl we’re not only inundated with subjective analysis of the game, but also of which ads were better or worse than others.
Of course, we should let these campaigns simmer a bit before we praise or judge too harshly, but we humans have become far too accustomed to expect knee-jerk reactions and corresponding rankings. We throw deliberative caution to the wind and pick our sides immediately before letting the dust settle and evaluating the actual results.
The truth is that the advertisement winners and losers won’t be known for several months or even years. We can make educated guesses based on what we know of a company’s brand identity or their product target audience. Or we can simply react to what we personally found appealing or not. We can even ignore our own personal opinions and just perceive the general post-Super Bowl public sentiment. Whatever criteria we use to judge whether or not a company won or lost their Super Bowl ad slot has a heck of lot more to do with a quick gut reaction and personal opinion than it does with any real financial impact on the company that placed it. (Of course, like everyone else, I can’t resist either and my take on this year’s spots follows this brief cautionary statement.)
A flashy or funny spot might be awesome to watch and might get great attention, but does it translate to product sales? If we’re left uncertain about the company or product behind it, the intent might be lost despite the attention to the ad itself. By contrast, a much more traditional product sales pitch might seem boring but may have more success planting the subliminal “buy me” seed.
The measurement of success and failure is also relative based on the intent and the objective. For instance, using an automaker:
- Does an automaker want to sell more cars?
- Does it want to reinforce or change its public image?
- Does it want to establish itself as a leader in a particular technology?
The answer really should be yes to everything (and more), and each works in service of each other. Success in the objective should ultimately lead to more revenue regardless of which objective is the priority. In some cases, direct sales growth might be the immediate objective, whereas others are more focused on long-term revenue through the building of brand affinity. However the goal is achieved, the campaign behind it should be based on advancing the advertiser’s brand identity while supporting a fundamental understanding of their customer target audience.
So all that being said, here’s my personal objectively subjective take on the 2021 Super Bowl ad winners and losers:
#1 - General Motors EV/Norway. https://www.gm.com/our-stories/no-way-norway.html
As you might guess from my example above, I’m partial to GM’s automotive entry. Many consumers might miss the fact that GM has consistently focused on its brands and vehicles, and rarely the company identity. In support of its recent logo overhaul and while placing a few key products in the ad (e.g. the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq and Hummer EV) the idea establishes and advances the brand as an electric vehicle leader.
I personally love the Will Ferrell brand of humor, and securing him along with Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina lends instant comedy laden star power.
While I’m not sure it’s really necessary to either: A) reinforce the stereotype that Americans are geographically challenged or B) to make fun of Scandinavians in general, the result seems to have been taken in general good spirit. The style of the ad has even invited a series of online responses from people, politicians and competitors. It’s a well-played conversation starter in support of GM’s forward thinking vision.
#2 - Rocket Mortgage Certain is Better
Tracy Morgan. I really have no clue whether Quicken Loans will close more mortgages as a result of having him lead their brand advertising, or if adding Dave Bautista and Joey Bosa make people want to buy a home and borrow money to do it. But quite simply, the guy cracks me up. The facial expression as he’s about to jump the drawbridge kills me.
It’s more than just humor though, the absurdly uncertain scenarios weighed against the certainty of the Rocket Mortgage product is a beautifully woven contrast in message.
#3 - Weathertech We Never Left
It’s a simple pro-American emotional spot, but it’s not over the top. Importantly, it avoids political confrontation at a time where everyone’s on edge. It just says, hey we’re an American company with real American people making your real American products. The sentiment is a strong match with the direct target audience and inspires a “Buy Me!” feeling.
#1 - Oatley Wow No Cow.
They got one thing right, and that’s getting attention. Unfortunately, most of that attention isn’t particularly favorable. I was left thinking this is stupid, irritating and embarrasing and hardly endears me to the product or the company. I don’t know anything about the product or the company except that some guy in a field wants to sing about it with a keyboard.
Still, it’s been said there’s no such thing as bad press and depending on consumer sentiment, it could ultimately be proven as a much more successful gut punch in the long term. Time will tell.
#2 - Mountain Dew - Major Melon Bottle Count
I get the gimmick. Offer up a million dollar contest and splash it with some eye grabbing color and a matching beat and it's sure to get some positive energy. But I’m left thinking, why on earth would I want to drink this chemical abomination. And is John Cena really hitting the right demographic?
On a personal note that could never possibly cloud my objectivity, my wife is allergic to watermelon (yeah, I know it’s a weird thing to be allergic to) and I think she broke out in some hives through melon-colored osmosis.
#3 - McDonald’s - Thank You for Driving Thru
This is really a take on every McDonald’s campaign for as long as I can remember. Does anybody really sing and dance and think of how wonderful everything is because they have a fast food cheeseburger? Yes, McDonald’s has been supporting this overall brand attitude over numerous campaigns for a very long time so I get the brand consistency, but the sentiment has never worked for me.
Honorable Mention - Amazon Alexa Michael B. Jordan
Just a well written spot using the proven age old “sex sells” theme but in a memorable, fun way.
Dishonorable Mention - Jeep Reunited States of America
While setting aside the risk of running a politically themed campaign in such a hyper-partisan climate, I can’t understand how there’s not a single soul in the ad agency or at Jeep that seems to know that Michigan’s upper peninsula is in fact a part of the contiguous 48 states. And of course, Alaska and Hawaii are left out too.
Maybe GM was right to poke fun at the geography skills of Americans after all.
Perhaps by this time next year, we can make a real evaluation of what these and other spots may or may not have done for the companies that produced them. Then of course, we can start the cycle anew.
So what are your favorites and those that are not so much, and why?