Well it’s that time of year again, where Giant Propeller dusts off the copywriter and binds him, Clockwork Orange-style, to a chair to watch all of the Big Game commercials for your entertainment. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it a bit comforting to continue this tradition even after the fart show that was 2020 derailed all sense of normalcy. In times like these, it’s the little traditions we can count on that make us feel connected even when we’re soaking in isolation vats filled with hand sanitizer for years at a time.
As per usual, the price tags for these commercials were staggering: $5.5 million for a 30-second spot. But even if a majority of struggling Americans can’t afford what they’re selling, it’s still nice to see celebrities hocking potato chips and hard seltzers all the same.
Interestingly, if not surprisingly, some of the titans of commerce opted out of including their brands this year: most notably Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser and Hyundai. In the case of Budweiser, a Big Game staple for 37 years, they chose to “reallocate” its investment toward those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The beer brand will donate some of its advertising airtime throughout 2021 to Ad Council and COVID Collaborative, a group of experts on health, education and the economy. Of course, this didn’t stop them from pushing every other Bud product like crack dealers in the 80’s, but we’ll give credit where it’s due.
Make no mistake, these are tricky times for brands when it comes to advertising. On one hand it’s important to maintain socially-conscious optics that acknowledge how badly everyone is hurting, and on the other, the tenets of capitalism demand everyone keeps selling and buying things in order to keep this country running. If you ever doubted that advertising makes the world go round, think again… So without further ado, and in no apparent order, a little commentary on some of the best and worst of these commercials. Keep in mind we have omitted anything that was totally boring and without any kind of entertainment value. It should literally be illegal to air these lame spots during the Superest of Sundays. In other words, you’re welcome…
In this chilling Black Mirror episode, a woman cheats on her husband with a virtual Michael B. Jordan and it’s only a matter of time before divorce attorneys will be dealing with these actual cases.
A bunch of people having lousy days in different scenarios all bond over the alcoholic beverages Anheuser Busch makes… including Budweiser… wait a second… Ohh this is technically just an Anheuser Busch commercial, so seeing Budweiser briefly included doesn’t count right? Hmmm.
After a Bud Light delivery truck flips over on a lone road (raising serious questions that go unanswered) various characters teleport to the scene to help out. They include the Bud Knight, Post Malone and Cedric The Entertainer (naturally), who all chip-in to clean up the mess and right the truck. Curiously, and for no apparent reason, a random high five topples the Bud Knight over a ravine where he apparently plunges to his death. The man responsible shrugs off the person he just killed with a chilling indifference somehow intended for humor. As I said, serious questions go unanswered.
BUD LIGHT SELTZER LEMONADE
Friends at a party reflect on how awful 2020 was while enjoying lemonade seltzers. And by awful we don’t mean a pandemic or social unrest, but the apocalyptic lemon showers that brought this great nation to its knees. The premise being, “When life gives you lemons…” Okay, so it’s a clever metaphor I’ll admit but please Lord protect my lips from any Bud Light Strawberry Lemonade Seltzers I beg of you.
Timothée Chalamet stars as Edgar Scissorhands in this charming tale of the tortured offspring Winona Ryder had from her relationship with Edward. We’re supposed to appreciate the concept of a driverless luxury vehicle allowing a freak like Edgar to drive, but instead we’re left wondering how Ryder gave birth to such a heinous monstrosity without dying.
Ashton Kutcher is unable to prove pesky wife Mila Kunis keeps eating his Cheetos because she sings Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” –– but to be clear, probably also because Ashton Kutcher is not exactly the sharpest detective.
A little brother ponders if a burrito can save the world, to which is older sister is understandably skeptical. No reason is given for his theory, which somehow ties into the farming industry feeding the entire planet but without any real clear connection between our agrarian salvation and a delicious laxative. Just… Chipotle: farming is good.
Matthew McConaughey undergoes an existential crisis in the form of being the world’s most handsome 2-dimensional person, that is, until he eats a magical Dorito that then traps him inside of a vending machine when he inflates back to his normal self. Which is actually probably not the strangest thing to ever happen to Matthew McConaughey.
This soap brand for men somehow manages to thrive despite having commercials with an apparent $12 production value. Their Thor-haired spokesman with a twinkle in his eye might be charismatic, but not as charismatic as a sasquatch would be so where the hell is my SASQUATCH, “Dr.” Squatch??
Will Ferrel is so mad that Norway sells more electric cars than America he enlists the help of a pirate Kenan Thomspon and Aquafina to travel to Norway and… yell at Norwegians? The plan is never really ironed out but they end up in the wrong country anyway so yet another international disaster involving comedians is narrowly averted.
Something about how with the proper home financing we can climb Mt. Everest and win UFC fights and ice skating competitions even if we’re blind. No idea what one as to do with the other but I AM PUMPED all the same.
What better time to advertise the first privatized tourist trips to outer space than during the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression? Although to be fair this is probably geared toward the billionaires who will let the meek inherit the earth while they drink champagne in zero gravity on their way to the moon orgy.
Bruce Springsteen and his earrings tells us how America is actually really awesome and everyone would get along a lot better if we all just drove Jeeps. I want to be cynical here but at this point, anything is worth a try.
Brad Garrett turns in an actually pretty solid performance as a sandwich kingpin looking to snuff out his competition in a commercial that looks like it was directed by Martin Scorcese. I’ve honestly never even heard of Jimmy John’s but this was a fun spot.
Maya Rudolph has been cloned four times, as miniature cowgirls, in order to shop for a pair of pink cowboy boots in some old western town. Either the edibles have kicked in or this really just happened.
A series of people use this chocolate candy to apologize for various social faux pas, but the real takeaway here is that Dan Levy is a sociopath who has an M&M captive in his car with plans to eat him alive later. We expect this kind of thing from Armie Hammer, but Dan??
Various superstar athletes are seen having a great time drinking a beer that I’m pretty sure none of them would ever be caught dead with in real life. Just taking a wild guess that the people who drink beer watch professional sports, not play them.
MICHELOB ULTRA ORGANIC SELTZER
Doubling down this year, Michelob Ultra is pushing an organic seltzer with a collection of celebrity impersonators narrated by the best Christopher Walken voice impression of all time (he had me fooled till the end). Oh, and Don Cheadle is in it and kicks his lookalike off a yacht after zip-lining from a helicopter because his imposter is… not organic? Advertising never has to make sense, thankfully.
Ah, yes, the investment app named after a legendary altruistic folk hero that actively protects greedy hedge funds against the online commoners who seek to game(stop) the system for a change… is the very definition of “irony” in Webster’s Dictionary.
What do Martha Stewart, Carl Weathers and John Travolta all have in common? They endorse a brand that has been a partner with Monsanto for over 20 years, and by Monsanto I mean cancer. Too real? Hey it was nice to see Stanley from The Office at least!
Tony Romo and his Stepford Wife live in a beautiful white house where they eat giant sandwiches, sleep on multiple mattresses and drive a monster truck. Because in case the millions of unemployed people in America forgot that filthy rich people still exist, Sketchers is happy to rub their faces in it.
A group of office workers turn their cubicles into their dream jobs brimming with creativity and dance and expression. We can assume they were all promptly laid-off once management saw this unfold on the security cameras.
For reasons currently unknown, Jason Alexander’s soul became trapped in a hoodie worn by a teenage boy who has a complete disregard for basic hygiene. Jason’s soul reacts to the various gross ways he is defiled, only to come across his physical self who is helpless to save himself. Whatever Jason did to deserve this cruel fate should serve as a warning to all of us.
Sentient desks housing remote Turbotax employees roam around “Spreading Tax Expertise Across the Land” but really this appears to be a hostile corporate takeover of the entire country and honestly it’s to be expected by this point.
Wayne and Garth are back! With Cardi B! Encouraging people to eat local with Uber Eats! Using manipulative advertising techniques! It’s actually pretty funny and thank God they didn’t do a spot for Monsanto instead. That would’ve ruined the 90’s for me.
A man is tortured by the worst kind of terrorist there is –– a scary car dealer –– before magically being transported to his backyard with his wife. I have not been to a dealership in a few years and I did not know they have resorted to such ruthless violence.
Did you know as you read this there is a Booty Crew over 2 million strong and they want to optimize every woman’s booty to its “juiciest” potential?? This frenzied cult worships booties and will accost random women by grabbing and slapping their butts before forcing them to wear Fabletics booty-boosting leggings and become one of them… At this rate, the government might have to recognize them as a legal religion before the next Big Game or risk booty retaliation.
Astronauts who have just returned to Earth are stranded at sea because Mission Control is busy stacking their Pringles, and we somehow expect to get to Mars? Not if Pringles has anything to do with it. The amount of criminal negligence on display here, with an outstanding ambivalence toward human life and the spirit of exploration in general, is appalling.
In perhaps one of the most bizarre commercials this year, Coors claims they were unable to advertise during the Big Game due to the NFL’s contract with one of their competitors, so they enlist the aid of Cambridge scientists to induce “dream incubation” to insert their commercials directly into people’s minds. Somehow, this was not directed by Christopher Nolan. And how long until we have to pay for “dream incubation ad blocker” for when we go to sleep?
To promote their “Major Melon” flavor, Mountain Dew hired John Cena to prove he knows how to count, and then a watermelon dog appears like a nightmare vision from a bad acid trip. Which might also be the same effect of drinking too much Mountain Dew.
And last but not least, the most interesting commercial of the game:
REDDIT’S 5 SECONDS
Clearly not one to let Robinhood win the day, Reddit managed to afford 5 seconds to display a title card which made reference to their role in… (DEEP BREATH)… the GameStop stock market scandal when users of the subreddit r/WallStreetBets forced a short squeeze of GameStop stock that temporarily sent its value skyrocketing and caused several prominent hedge funds to post huge losses. Whew! Got all that? Ellie Bamford, head of media and connections for marketing agency R/GA, which developed the spot for Reddit, told Variety that the commercial’s unusual structure was an effective way to grab audience interest: “We knew we had to break the mold and disrupt the current ad model. It wouldn’t be very ‘Reddit’ if we didn’t.”
THE TAKEAWAY FOR EMERGING BRANDS
Reddit goes to show that just because you can’t spend millions on celebrities and special FX doesn’t mean your emerging brand can’t thrive during the Big Game or any other holiday / event. In fact, with the growth of online platforms and social media networks, there is plenty of opportunity for growth with in-stream ads (such as with YouTube or Facebook). While Big Game / TV ads usually have one up-front cost, online ad placements have more flexible costs depending on how long they are, how long you’d like to circulate the ads, and the size or scope of your target audience.
And while televised commercials require a consumer to remember and look up your brand later, online ads often allow audiences to click on them directly when they’re interested in your product or offer. This automatically adds a greater chance of ROI and decreases friction between the brand and the customer. In short: emerging brands might not be able to cast the widest net, but when you know where to fish, quality will always > quantity.