Sure, there were lots of funny ads in the 2021 Super Bowl, but top marketers didn’t pay $5.5m just to raise a smile. The Drum asks the experts which brands called the winning play for long-term brand success with their Super Bowl buys. Here’s what they had to say.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren’t the only underdogs to win big during Super Bowl LV.
Reddit, Indeed and Oatly also used 2021's Big Game to shine on a stage that usually dominated by larger, more expected advertisers.
Case in point: Reddit’s site crashed after it ran an inspired five-second spot that left people wanting more.
Today, we offer some post-match analysis of our own as we ask marketers from across the industry which brands they think played the most strategic game on a Super Bowl Sunday like no other.
Bianca Guimaraes, executive creative director at Mischief @ No Fixed Address
“As a creative, I hate to admit that a not six-, but a five-second ad wins the Super Bowl.
"Reddit’s spot did two things unapologetically well: capitalized on a real-time cultural moment by referencing the GameStop chaos and underscores its long-term strategy of building community by highlighting the merry band of underdogs Reddit brought together for said moment.
"It was smart. Also, it proved that it’s not about the size of the production, it’s about the size of the idea. Reddit didn’t take a risk. It made a calculated choice that paid off. All while giving credit to its users. Brilliant.
"Cheers to more ideas that play off culture and defy the norms. #ToTheMoon.”
Lisa Clunie, co-founder and chief executive of Joan
“I had my pick [for best ad] all ready to go – that is, until I saw Reddit. That five-second hack of the Super Bowl environment was the best demonstration of the indie-spirited brand.
"While everyone else spent a fortune on airtime, production and celebrities, Reddit aired an undesigned PowerPoint slide with the headline: 'Wow, this actually worked'.
"Fresh on the heels of the GameStop situation, Reddit cemented its position as the home for rebels and underdogs ready to rally around common causes, and maybe even topple the big guys. Well done, Reddit.”
Katie Keating, co-founder and co-chief creative officer at Fancy
“Splashy productions. Star-studded casts. Epic storytelling. These are the things we look forward to and the things we get jealous of. The things we expect, year after year. But not this year.
“This year, what we need is to be seen. To be understood. To be recognized for what we’re going through and not simply acknowledged for it but helped. Indeed’s empathy for real job-seeking Americans was clear.
“And it started with casting a diverse representation of real job-seeking Americans. The ad created a feeling of understanding, possibility, and hope for the future. And recognized the reality that we’re living in today. So much of what I saw did not.”
Ambika Gautam Pai, chief strategy officer at Mekanism
“Against the backdrop of one of the most harrowing economic crises, long-term unemployment numbers inching closer and closer to the Great Depression, and women coming together to urge Biden to implement the 'Marshall Plan for Moms' the topic of jobs couldn’t be more relevant.
“Indeed chose the perfect year to position itself as a company that gets what (a diverse slice of) America is going through. In the midst of brands leaning hard into nostalgia to hark back to better times – utilizing average Super Bowl-esque comedy that could’ve lived in any other era and focusing on themselves versus others – Indeed identified the exact intersection of its equity and the cultural context to deliver an ad that was poignant, ownable, relatable, and real.
“I get it, montages get a bad rap among industry-folk, especially when they use duplicative stock video (yikes - props for not sending people on location for shoots during a pandemic, though), but only in the minds of ad people. Job seekers who saw this spot are going to be on Indeed tomorrow, and I guarantee an uptick in its reputation and business post-Super Bowl. Also, if you liked Logitech's ad, Indeed tweeted that it's hiring, in real-time.”
Thas Naseemuddeen, chief executive at Omelet selects
Winner(s): Squarespace (and General Motors)
“That long-term impact sweet spot is when brand behaviors align with the entertainment. Duh, right? Squarespace has had so many interesting Super Bowl moments over the years. Keanu, Idris, John Malkovich and now Dolly — America’s sweetheart, vaccine superhero, and perfume entrepreneur.
“I love that Squarespace is using the product itself to help power her passion — and the passions of so many others — in a meaningful way.
"And since Super Bowl is THE stage, it feels right to make big announcements. 30 new electric vehicles by 2025 — that’s a huge commitment from General Motors, and Will Ferrell and crew landed that message much more effectively than a press release ever could."
Michael Johnson, executive director of design and experience at Happy Cog
“What struck me about the nostalgia this year wasn’t the utter strangeness of it (Super Bowl ads are supposed to be weird) but that even Silicon Valley had taken a sentimental view of the past. Can futurists look backwards, as long as it’s just for laughs…? (Asking for friends.)
“Squarespace’s '5 to 9' might get nicked for this too, but by longing for a future that doesn’t exist yet, it’s actually rather anti-nostalgic.
“It's superior piece of (seemingly) nostalgic advertising: you don’t have to be in on the joke to get the point, but more importantly, it doesn’t postpone our faint hope for a future just to get in a laugh.”
Stephen Clements, chief creative officer of YML
Winner(s): Oatly (and Reddit)
“I’m all in on the Oatly ad. It’s weird and memorable, quite possibly because it is so low production. I don’t know why but it felt right this year, when we’re all at home, to see a man in a field singing a weird self-written song about oats.
"And not just any man, it’s the chief exec of the company no less. All the other high production ads seemed kind of desperate and even, maybe, a little wasteful.
"Oatly got me interested enough to see what its website was like — and it nailed it, too. It’s wholesome, and fun, but it works, and it’s also low production. A+ all around. It’s a fundamental truth of advertising that if you’ve got something worth saying, you don’t need a lot of money to say it.
I also appreciated the crowd-funded Reddit ad, which was just five-seconds long. Again, it made a straightforward point very well: the power of the crowd is strong—which we have seen firsthand because of the wild GameStop and AMC stock price swings of late.”
Christopher Crawford, president, Elite Media
Winner: The NFL
“No contest, the NFL won big. The brand stayed relevant by partnering with black culture for key performances, wrapped its pre/in-game programming in an envelope of purpose and inclusivity and quelled the mention of protests through player centered PSAs.
“Time has revealed that Colin Kaepernick was on the right side of history and time will reveal if the NFL will land on the right side of its purpose driven platitudes and positioning. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that any brand, including Tom Brady's, had a better showing on this year’s biggest stage."
Jeff Benjamin, chief creative officer, Tombras
"This year it felt like most brands were clinging to the safety of the past — old brand icons, A-List celebrities… from 10 years ago, etc. Yet one brand — not surprisingly a modern tech brand — grabbed hold of the moment with modern casting, humor that reflected a modern audience, and the only ad that really felt effortlessly fresh. The Amazon Alexa ad doesn’t just reflect a new generation of creative — maybe even more exciting it reflects a new generation of clients who aren’t living in the past."