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Lackluster Super Bowl ads in tough year, exec says

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Indeed’s first Super Bowl ad struck the right tone for 2021, according to AB&C Chief Creative Officer Steve Merino. | PHOTO COURTESY OF INDEED

WILMINGTON – In a year when companies had to weigh the $5.5 million cost of a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement amid a global pandemic and economic slowdown, one local ad executive said the results Sunday night were a lackluster collection of good but not great TV spots.

Steve Merino

Steve Merino, chief creative officer and managing partner of the Wilmington-based ad firm Aloysius Butler & Clark (AB&C), said that because the Super Bowl is really the last annual TV event that all parts of America tune in for, it tends to “become reflective of our times.” With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, facemasks and social distancing a part of our everyday lives, and many businesses struggling, that messaging came through.

“What you saw last night was a little bit of Super Bowl over-the-top-ness, but also a lot of companies showing you that ‘We’re in this with you,’” he said Monday morning. “There were a lot more somber and sober spots than in a traditional year.”

Because of the difficult times and tightrope walk needed on messaging, many of the largest perennial Super Bowl advertisers decided to sit out this year, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Budweiser. Meanwhile, other industries that typically advertise, including automakers, movie studios and destination travel, also sat out due largely to decimated revenues this past year, Merino said.

“While the Superbowl is an entertainment show, it’s also an economics lesson. You can actually see what’s going on in the marketplace,” he said, noting that streaming services, food delivery companies and consumer products made up a number of ads this year.

Here are some of Merino’s thoughts on the spots from Sunday’s big game:

Winners

Reddit

I actually thought that that was one of the most clever and strategic ads of the entire Super Bowl, because it’s the one where it forced you to pause it, rewind and rewatch what just happened. The fact that you were able to control an audience like that is genius, and the fact that they spent less money, not more, to do that was very savvy. I think it also reinforced their branding. Reddit is a disruptor, so you expect them to do a disruptive spot. It really played well in their brand.

GM

GM announced recently that it’s going to go fully electric by 2035, so this is when you want to use the Super Bowl; you’re talking to all of America. I also think anything Will Ferrell does is hilarious; I’m biased in that. I actually thought the car showed really well too.

Indeed

It really felt like a company that had their finger on the pulse of what Americans are thinking and feeling right now, and it had a spot that really reflected that. I think they did a nice job.

Toyota

You have to capture people’s attention, and you can either do it with Wayne and Garth or you can do it with a legless woman swimming. They both do the exact same job: make you stop what you’re doing and pay attention. That’s what good advertising does anytime, but it’s what it has to do during the Super Bowl because the stakes and cost are so high. Toyota, as the sponsor of the Olympics and Paralympics, connects the thread to their product.

Losers

Robinhood

Talk about bad timing. You can tell that spot was done weeks and weeks before, and I think they’re probably locked into the buy and they certainly didn’t want to take that time to do damage control. But what an ill-timed ad to be running the week after your entire reputation blew up. On one hand, you had Reddit, a savvy internet company, taking advantage of an opportunity and on the other you had an online financial brokerage not recognizing that they should be quiet.

Jeep

I thought that this was a gamble for them because it wasn’t all just about Americana. There was definitely politics woven into the “ReUnite America” [tag line]. If you do that, I think you have to have someone that feels like they’re straight up the middle, and honestly Bruce Springsteen has been political now for years. I don’t know if he was the right person to authentically say, ‘I’m a straight shooter, down the middle. Let’s all come together.’

He was also talking about coming together, but he’s the only person in this ad. A lot of the visual cues were around Judeo-Christian churches, which also then isolates a lot of other Americans.

It’s almost an impossible [idea] to pull off and they didn’t get it perfectly, so I think that was a big gamble for them.

Cheetos

Nostalgia, like animation, is a technique that you can use, but it almost feels like a crutch sometimes. If it’s not done perfectly or if it doesn’t tie in perfectly to the brand, you might remember the spot, but you don’t remember what it was for. I thought the Shaggy commercial didn’t quite connect to the product that well.

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