Super Bowl commercials are often polarizing. What turns one viewer into a loyal customer may make another reach for their phone to swiftly unfollow a brand on every social platform. And in the immediate aftermath of the Big Game, the perception of which ads will prove to be remembered as brilliant strokes of marketing foresight and which will be mere flashes in the pan—or worse, generate brand-unsafe controversy—is continually evolving.
Take, for example, the tortuous journey of Jeep's high-profile "The Middle" spot featuring Bruce Springsteen. "The Middle'' certainly wasn't the only Super Bowl ad to spark debate: Was Oatly’s no-frills spot genius or cringe-worthy? Does "Edward Scissorhands" have a place in the cultural conversations of this decade? Should there be a cap on the number of rando celebrities you can pack into one ad? (Answers to all: probably.)
To find out which commercials actually won—and lost—the Big Game, we assembled a virtual judges panel of Amp community members to weigh in on the best, the worst and the most creative ad moves of this year’s Super Bowl. Surprise: The winner was a regional, five-second spot, and the loser was a brand that garnered so much animosity before the game that most observers wondered why they bothered to show up at all.
AMP SUPER BOWL JUDGES PANEL
WHICH AD WON THE SUPER BOWL?
The Winner: Reddit, "Wow, This Actually Worked"
What just happened? pic.twitter.com/DypRp6DeQt— Reddit (@reddit) February 8, 2021
Douglas Brundage, Founder, Kingsland: “Reddit stole the show while spending the least amount of time and money. The ad made viewers pause and then—gasp—actually read something. It was charming, smart, honest, culturally relevant and on brand. 10s all around.”
Todd Alchin, Partner/CMO, Noble People: “Not just because they figured out how to buy only five seconds, not just because they subverted what a Super Bowl ad must look like, and not just because of their hustle. All these things are laudable, but a bit inside baseball (or football). They win because they captured their cultural moment. It was authentic for their users and their brand, and nobody saw it coming.”
Victoria Gates-Fleming, VP of Digital Strategy & Creative Insights, Day One Agency: “Unlike the typical celeb-filled ads with high production value, it could have been made in Google Slides. It felt relevant and forced viewers to hit pause.”
Jorge Murillo, VP and Executive Creative Director, Alma: “It was subversive, intriguing and unexpected—and the only ad that made me angry for not having done it myself!”
Jesse Samberg, New Business Consultant, Night After Night: “Reddit has long been a black box to non-Redditors, or even a dirty word in some circles. Smart move to take advantage of the extra attention and traffic certain subreddits like r/WSB have generated for the platform in recent months.”
Gian Lanfranco, Co-Founder L&C NYC: “Simply the best creative piece of the year so far. It really captures the moment we are living in where brands need to be creative, relevant and act fast. It also shows you don’t need millions to get an impactful message across.”
Micky Ogando, President/CCO, Bakery: “Post-game, Reddit dominated social media with their clever, heroes’ tale of screenshot.”
Runner-up: Amazon, "Alexa's Body"
Jordan Coff, Account Manager, EightPM: “Who doesn’t like Michael B. Jordan? Better yet, a personal smart device that looks like him. This ad really brought new life to a product that has been seen as a meme for some time.”
Micky Ogando, President/CCO, Bakery: “It brought to life the Echo's intimate relationship with the homeowner in a way that made me—well, really, my wife—want to buy one.”
Tyler Sweeney, Manager, Digital Strategy, RPA: “It hit all the notes for me.”
Jorge Murillo, VP and Executive Creative Director, Alma: “Of the national spots, ‘Alexa’s Body’ was my favorite for turning a product demo into a raunchy romantic comedy—hands down the Best Use of a Celebrity in a Super Bowl Ad.”
Eric Kallman, Co-Founder/Chief Creative Officer, Erich and Kallman: “The bar seems to get lower every year. Two entertaining standouts were Rocket Mortgage and Amazon, but it’s hard to believe that broadly appealing, entertaining spots like these are not the norm.”
Mtn Dew, “Mtn Dew Major Melon Bottle Count”
Linda Chau, CEO, PAAPR: “Creating a call to action that led viewers to re-watch the commercial several times and share on their social media is pure genius.”
Travis Peters, CEO, EightPM: “The number of earned social media impressions makes them the clear winner.”
Victoria Gates-Fleming, VP of Digital Strategy & Creative Insights, Day One Agency: “Mountain Dew’s interactive melon-hued spot drove fans to action, with the $1 million prize ensuring they were the most mentioned brand on Twitter.”
Tyler Sweeney, Manager, Digital Strategy, RPA: “From a digital standpoint, the Mountain Dew social contest was great for share of voice.”
Indeed, “The Rising”
Sean Huang, Product Placement Coordinator, EightPM: “No other ad captured a triumph over 2020 quite like this one. Amid a sea of humorous ad spots and a rather horrendous past year, they provided the emotional release we all needed.”
Kelsey Sullivan, Sr. Director, Insights and Strategy, Human Design: “Indeed tapped into an underlying human emotion everybody can identify with: accomplishment. We’ve all wanted it, tried and failed until a real opportunity wanted us, too. The creative execution brought everything full circle with a spot that moved and inspired.”
Bud Light Seltzer, “@dudewithsign”
Kyle Kelley, Executive Creative Director, PMG: “What if I told you all you needed to make a Super Bowl ad was one dude, a piece of cardboard, a sharpie, and a beer. Not possible? Tell that to @dudewithsign and Bud Light, who didn’t even have to turn on their own camera to make an impression. Instant culture cred.”
Cheetos, “It Wasn’t Me”
Britt Fero, Principal/Founder, PB&: “Brilliantly simple truth combined with a great use of pop culture and authentic use of celebrity.”
Tyler Sweeney, Manager, Digital Strategy, RPA: “What Cheetos did on Snapchat by allowing fans to scan their spot and receive a coupon was so cleverly integrated.”
GM, “No Way, Norway”
Christy Hiler, President, Cornett: “Really creative use of data. It was funny, positive and shared an aggressive goal for good.”
Erin Lentz, Executive Director of Design, ArtVersion: “Informative, yet funny. One of the more memorable commercials that aired. Also love the new branding at the end of the commercial.”
Rocket Mortgage (Quicken Loans), “Certain Is Better”
John Trahar, Strategic and Creative lead, Greatest Common Factory: “The only brand with a real value proposition they were able to clearly articulate. They amplified that value through a compelling story of knowing if you can or cannot afford a home, to deliver a simple and valuable brand promise.”
M&M’s, “Come Together”
Lizzie Burton, Director of Client Success, EightPM: “I appreciate how they weaved in relevant social issues such as gender reveal safety, mansplaining, and being ‘a Karen.’ Extra points behind the scenes for the team who went above and beyond in representing diversity throughout the project.”
Tony Valdivieso, Copywriter, Blue Chip: “There was so much to love here: the innocence of the star and his champion, the newfound-yet-all-consuming dedication to fitness, the number of eggs he was committed to drinking, that look of satisfaction after becoming shredded in a single day. It pairs perfectly with their insight and payoff line.”
Oatly, "Wow No Cow"
Lindsey Allison, Head of Strategy, ENGINE Agency: “To see what ads people chose to invest their time in—both in building brands up or tearing them down—we turned on ENGINE’s Digital Hive. Cheetos and Jeep were the two winners on the positive side of the scale. Oatly was the clear winner on the negative side of the scale. I don’t call that losing though—people were at least talking about it.”
Paramount+, "Paramount Mountain"
Kyle Kelley: “Paramount took us back to the golden age of advertising. Celebrities, you ask? How about 17. Location? Just a mere Everest-sized mountain. :30 or :60? You’re thinking too small. It was refreshing, and it guaranteed you took note that Paramount is making big moves in the streaming space.”
Nickelodeon, "Nick-ified" game highlights
Micah Walker, Co-Founder/CCO, Bear Meets Eagle on Fire: “Such a great way to share the playful character of your brand within the actual game experience. It might not get the most popular ad ratings—or even be an ad—but it was the most creative thing I saw this year.”
Fred Levron, Worldwide Creative Partner, FCB: “For actually not making it to Super Bowl LV and, instead, redirecting their advertising dollars to support COVID-19 vaccines awareness and education. After airing iconic ads during the Big Game for 37 years straight, they managed to create as much conversation by not airing anything.”
Jeff Rosenblum, Co-Founder of Questus: “By opting out of the Big Game, they helped move the world forward while enabling the brand to stand out, create conversations and deliver a meaningful message—a great example of a business benefiting from selflessness."
WHICH AD LOST THE SUPER BOWL?
The Loser: Robinhood, “Born Investor”
Micah Walker: “Robinhood probably should’ve sat this one out with all that’s happened. Even so, no one will remember the bland effort they put forward.”
Micky Ogando: “After their jaw-dropping mishandling of the WallStreetBets retail trader movement, which saw them deflate the very investors they claim to represent in the ad, it is beyond belief that they went forward with it. Actually, judging by how they handled everything, airing the ad makes total sense.”
Travis Peters: “The ad had poor timing and inconsistent messaging considering recent events. Robinhood lost the Super Bowl, along with 2021.”
Tony Valdivieso: “I get it. The money was spent and the spot produced, but someone somewhere had to suggest pulling this, right? It almost certainly amplified the news of their wrongdoings and you just can’t invite that kind of criticism on this stage.”
Runner-up: Oatly, "Wow No Cow"
Kyle Kelley: “You’ve just hit the part of your road trip where you meet the long, lonely, stretch of highway full of billboards that few ever see when you cross paths with the notorious ‘Does Advertising Work? It Just Did!’ board. It’s an approach that's equally infuriating as it is memorable. Oatly’s serenading CEO conjures similar feelings. It’s not particularly interesting, or good, yet you can’t take your eyes off of it.”
Lizzie Burton: “While it was cringe-y enough to be memorable, I think they could have done the brand more justice with their spendy one minute to shine.”
Sean Huang: “As someone who doesn’t drink dairy, this spot left much to be desired. Sure, the catchy jingle will have most of us humming it for about a week, but the lack of a discernible goal won’t make milk-drinkers switch to this plant-based alternative. If I were a cow, I’d rate this two udders down.”
Cheetos, “It Wasn’t Me”
Eric Kallman: “The sadness of a bad Super Bowl spot multiplies when you’ve invested in celebrity talent and still come up short. For me personally, the loser is Cheetos. I’ll keep my criticism to that as, trust me, everyone swings and misses.”
Micah Walker: “I found the Cheetos work rather painful.”
Squarespace, "5 to 9 by Dolly Parton"
Jess Brown, Content and Strategy Lead, Big Communications: “Though I stan Dolly Parton, Squarespace’s '5 to 9' spot was tone-deaf. It’s displeasing to individuals who are either unemployed or working multiple jobs due to layoffs (or, worse) during the pandemic. I also didn’t like the feeling of celebrating round-the-clock work. No one wants to leave one job and head to another—they do it because they’re supporting families, paying off student loans or trying to make ends meet. A more motivational concept highlighting the character and strength of these individuals would’ve resonated better.”
Cadillac, “Scissor Hands-Free" (Douglas Brundage); Pringles, “Space Return” (John Trahar); Microban 24, “Keep Killing Bacteria for 24 Hours with Microban 24” (Linda Chau); Fiverr, “Opportunity Knocks” (Jordan Coff); Skechers, “To the Max” (Erin Lentz); Scotts Miracle-Gro, “Keep Growing” (Britt Fero); Michelob Ultra, “All-Star Cast” (Christy Hiler)
WHO GOT POINTS FOR CREATIVITY?
The Winner: Tide, “The Jason Alexander Hoodie”
Micky Ogando: “You can always count on Daniel Lobaton and the team at Saatchi to bring it during the big game. Kudos to them for being able to continuously sell weird and wonderful ideas to their clients.”
Linda Chau: “Many Super Bowl ads got your attention in creative ways but Tide gets points because they did it with a hoodie.”
Tony Valdivieso: “I don’t think I’ve seen clothes anthropomorphized in this way and I found it truly captivating. I, for one, am looking forward to the summer of George Costanza hoodies. Bonus points for featuring the song that served as his answering machine inspo.”
Tyler Sweeney: “I loved the visuals and the branding included with it. Not to mention them giving people the chance to win the hoodie by donating to charity via their online efforts.”
Micah Walker: “Simple and fun.”
Runner-up (tie): GM, “No Way, Norway”
Todd Alchin: “They used the stage to (finally) treat electrical vehicles as a flagship, used a little-known fact as a creative springboard, and backed it with a beautifully crafted and entertaining spot.”
Gian Lanfranco: “A simple idea executed beautifully that created conversations, getting different reactions from Norway and other car manufacturers. A Super Bowl classic.”
Micah Walker: “Will Farrell shouting anything is still funny.”
Runner-up (tie): Oatly, "Wow No Cow"
Victoria Gates-Fleming: “Low value production, irreverent, weird and memorable—it was polarizing but distinctive. T-shirts reading ‘I totally hated that Oatly commercial’ sold out in minutes.”
Erika Marlor, Jr. Copywriter, Night After Night: “As a Gen Z cusp-er, Oatly ads never disappoint. Whether it’s social, OOH or now their Super Bowl ad, it’s delightful to see their weird and wonderful sense of humor out in the world.”
Douglas Brundage: “Personally, I liked it and think it will resonate positively with their current fans.”
Jeep, “The Middle”
Jeff Rosenblum: “I loved that Jeep didn't go back to the well and try for another humorous ad like they did last year with Bill Murray. They recognized an unmet emotional need and told a compelling story about the country coming together."
Kelsey Sullivan: “Not because of its creative execution, but for its strategy. The poetic voiceover was decidedly neutral, and in a world where brands increasingly feel pressure to take sides on major issues, the stance to not take a stance was a breath of fresh air. The call-to-action to set aside divisive hate and look to the future together was welcomed, resonant and needed."
Uber Eats, “Eat Local”
Lizzie Burton: “For bringing back 'Wayne’s World' and making a Cardi B cameo work. The original movie gave Wayne and Garth influential powers by incorporating very obvious product placements, and it was great to see their powers come back to life with a positive message: 'Eat Local.'”
Scotts Miracle-Gro, “Keep Growing” (Travis Peters, Jordan Coff); Anheuser-Busch, “Let’s Grab a Beer” (Christy Hiler, Eric Kallman); Toyota, “Upstream” (Jorge Murillor, Eric Kallman); State Farm, “Drake from State Farm” (Erin Lentz); Jimmy John’s, “Meet the King” (Douglas Brundage); Mtn Dew, “Mtn Dew Major Melon Bottle Count” (Fred Levron); Paramount+, "Paramount Mountain" (Britt Fero); Cadillac, “Scissor Hands-Free” (Sean Huang); Amazon, "Alexa's Body" (John Trahar); Reddit, "Wow, This Actually Worked" (Lindsey Allison)