5 trends to watch in Super Bowl LV commercials
There’s no question the pandemic has upended the ad game. From who is in—and out—of the Big Game, to the tone of the spots and who is being featured, this year’s commercials are poised to look vastly different.
Here are 5 trends to watch on game day.
There will be a void in some typical Super Bowl categories: think soda, cars and movies. Neither Coke nor Pepsi will be airing commercials for their flagship cola brands, while automakers like Hyundai and Kia, both of which have a long history in the game, are sitting on the sidelines.
Currently, there are expected to be just five car commercials from three nameplates (as well as Vroom, the online auto dealership). Last year, six automakers consumed a total of seven minutes and 30 seconds of airtime, spending an estimated $77 million on media buys—more than any other category, according to Kantar. The category’s recent high-water mark came in 2018, when 11 auto brands ran ads.
Auto brands experienced the same pandemic pressures as other categories, with the top 10 auto brands all posting sales declines in 2020.
Super Bowl LV will also be light on trailers for blockbuster movies, as many theaters remain shuttered and productions continue to be delayed. Last year, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Marvel and MGM all aired commercials for flicks like “Black Widow” and the 25th James Bond movie “No Time to Die.” Currently, Walt Disney Studios is the only studio expected to air trailers in the game, though it remains to be seen if any others have bought in.
Of course, the biggest brand to announce its absence on game day is Budweiser, which will be watching the Super Bowl from the sidelines for the first time in 37 years. While parent Anheuser-Busch InBev will continue to maintain its usual presence in the game, it won’t be airing a commercial for its flagship brew.
Other brands sitting out include Avocados From Mexico, breaking its six-year streak, and Hulu, which has aired commercials in the last four games.
These tried-and-true Super Bowl brands are being replaced by a large batch of first-time advertisers who are looking to capitalize on a growing consumer base in the pandemic.
Currently, there are 19 marketers set to make their Big Game debuts, compared to 11 first-time advertisers last year.
Brands like Scotts Miracle-Gro, e-commerce platform Mercari, online job site Indeed, online car dealership Vroom, online freelance platform Fiverr, DraftKings, DoorDash and Uber Eats, saw their businesses grow in 2020 thanks to a shift in consumer behavior amid lockdowns. Similarly, buy now, pay later firm Klarna and trading app Robinhood have also witnessed a change to how people want to conduct their finances. It’s certainly reminiscent of the dotcom boom, which resulted in a bevy of new websites buying into the game (most, of course, went under not long after).
While it’s likely most of these companies won’t turn into regular Super Bowl advertisers, their presence this year will certainly serve as an opportunity to put some of these brands on the map.
Small business support
As part of their Super Bowl campaigns, several marketers are showing their support for local and small businesses, which have been particularly bruised from COVID-19.
DoorDash’s commercial celebrates the businesses in your neighborhood with a new take on the Sesame Street classic song “The Neighborhood,” while Uber Eats is looking to persuade Super Bowl viewers to eat local with its ad reuniting “Wayne’s World’s” Wayne and Garth.
Fiverr is highlighting an entrepreneur which rose to fame in 2020, thanks to Donald Trump. Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the Philadelphia-based small business that was the sight of a Trump presser, will be at the center of the online freelance marketplace’s first Big Game ad.
Klarna is supporting small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses in its social media push around its Western-themed ad.
Part of Verizon's campaign will support small businesses so they can achieve long-term survival, and includes a benefit concert immediately following the Super Bowl. Performers include Alicia Keys, Eric Church, H.E.R, Brittany Howard, Luke Bryan, Brandi Carlisle and Jazmine Sullivan. Verizon is looking to help small businesses in Tampa, the host city of Super Bowl LV, which won’t be able to benefit from tourism around the Big Game the way they would have been able to before the pandemic.
Super Bowl ads of yore certainly haven’t been a beacon of inclusivity. But amid the renewed social justice movement, some 2021 Big Game advertisers have worked to become more diverse in the creation and production of their ads. There's still a long way to go, but more brands have made some strides this year.
Amazon’s Alexa embodies actor Michael B. Jordan and features a predominantly Black cast, for example. Several prominent Black stars, like Don Cheadle, Daveed Diggs and Lil Nas X, star in commercials for Michelob Ultra, DoorDash and Logitech, respectively.
Dan Levy, who represents the LGBTQ+ community, is featured in M&M’s spot.
Toyota tells the story of Paralympian Jessica Long who was adopted from a Russian orphanage by an American couple. The spot, called “Upstream,” depicts how the couple received the news that Long’s legs would need to be amputated due to a rare condition. “It might not be easy, but it will be amazing,” her future mother says. The story is told by showing scenes of Long swimming through each scene, including as a child.
Of course, it’s not just about casting, but how people are represented. Indeed features a diverse group of job seekers—nearly all of whom are real people using the site—in its first Super Bowl ad. The message: Indeed finds jobs for all people. But the online job site was also strategic in how it represented and defined those job seekers, with a Black woman shown getting a job as a software engineer, for example, and a young Black man being called “experienced.”
From remakes of classic songs to some unlikely pairings, Super Bowl advertisers will look to bring viewers back to some happier times.
Cheetos plays on Shaggy’s 2000 hit “It Wasn’t Me” for a humorous ad starring celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, illustrating how to try to convince someone else you didn't swipe their snacks.
Uber Eats reboots “Wayne’s World,” which rose to fame on “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1980s.
Dolly Parton turned her iconic “9 to 5” song into an anthem for the side-hustle in Squarespace’s ad with the title “5 to 9.”
A grown-up version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is the soundtrack to Shift4Shop’s Super Bowl ad promoting its sponsorship of the first civilian mission to space. The song is meant to bring people back to their childhood dreams of touching the stars.
Sesame Street muppets, including Cookie Monster and Big Bird, and the classic song “The Neighborhood” transport us back to our childhoods in DoorDash’s commercial.
And Bud Light resurrects some of its classic Super Bowl ad characters, like “I love you man” guy, Dr. Galazkiewicz, the “Real Men of Genius” singer and Cedric the Entertainer, who last appeared in a Bud Light Big Game ad in 2005.