Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Super Bowl 2021: A Changing of the Guard?

London, UK
As some of the event’s advertising stalwarts sit this year out, LBB’s Addison Capper rounds up Big Game predictions from ad folk across the US
In a year quite like no other, one thing we can dutifully rely on is the Super Bowl and the possibility of Tom Brady winning again (ahem, go Chiefs cough cough splutter). But this year’s ad landscape is shaping up a little differently. Budweiser is sitting out for the first time in 37 years to focus its efforts (and dollars) on vaccine awareness with the Ad Council. Coca-Cola and Audi are sitting it out. Pepsi is sponsoring the half-time show but not actually taking any media slots during the commercial breaks. Brands like Huggies, Robinhood and UberEats are advertising for the first time. THERE WILL BE NO AVOCADOS FROM MEXICO.

So, what does this mean for the Super Bowl 2021? Is it an open opportunity for new brands to thrive on the biggest stage? Are these bigger, traditional Super Bowl advertisers making the right decision? And more broadly from who’s advertising and who isn’t, what are your predictions for this year? There will likely be more people watching at home with bars closed and the game being played behind closed doors. And the general mood of the US almost one year into varying Covid restrictions and as a new president takes charge is a potentially tricky line to follow. 

LBB’s Addison Capper picked the brains of ad folk from across the US to get their feelings on the matter. 

Luis Miguel Messianu 
Founder-Creative Chairman-CEO, Alma, Miami

I guess 2020 and so far 2021 have given new meaning to the buzz word ‘unprecedented’. Oddly enough Super Bowl LV will feature two of the biggest names in football. But we will most certainly miss the biggest names in Super Bowl ads!

It’s an ‘unprecedented’ move for traditional Super Bowl showcase brands like Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Audi and in a way also Pepsi, to sideline themselves from the biggest advertising event, and I cannot help but to think of this as a new form of purpose driven marketing. By the way, I wholeheartedly celebrate Budweiser’s decision to instead support the Ad Council vaccination campaign (in fact Alma is part of this key initiative). 

If we think about it, the official announcement of not running ads is in itself a unique form of advertising, or at least it can be seen as an innovative marketing approach. While I’ll miss those great brands and their awesome spots, this time around I might end up paying more attention to the game itself, and I really look forward to seeing Brady against Mahomes. They will certainly be this Super Bowl’s biggest attraction! Wouldn’t be surprised if they come at the very top of the USA Today Ad Meter!!!

Nathalie Brown
Executive Creative Director, VMLY&R

For Super Bowl 2021 we have a captive audience looking for some levity and entertainment. With bars closed across the country, the majority of Americans will be watching the big game from their home screens and brands such as Tide, Bud Light Lemonade, Cheetos and Chipotle are taking that into account, and leaning in with humour and smart wit.

With other brands such as Pepsi, Coke, Budweiser (no Clydesdales???) taking a year out to support Covid-19 relief efforts, it’s also a great time for brands that hadn’t previously advertised during SB to get in the game and perhaps stand out without their competitors vying for our attention. Huggies, the first diaper brand to ever advertise on SB, who after a sharp decline in US births noticed an search uptick for pregnancy and home pregnancy tests, are airing on SB for the first time. Another Super Bowl first-timer, Indeed, wanted to use their commercial slot to show people how their platform can help Americans find all kinds of jobs, following a year of devastating job loss.  

So, while we may not be able to gather all our friends and have that usual potluck to watch the game, we all need that connection that the Super Bowl commercials bring us - even if it’s a Zoom watch party with your buddies. And, of course, fun conversation around the virtual watercooler the next day!

Now, go grab some guacamole (although there won’t be Avocados from Mexico ads) and Let’s Go Chiefs!

James Robinson
Executive Creative Director, Momentum Worldwide, New York

So, here we are at another unprecedented moment in our unprecedented times.

The first Super Bowl played for a nation in various states of lockdown. 

Fewer fans in stands and in bars, and fewer parties.

So, unsurprisingly, fewer brands are participating.

The arguments are truly reasonable for sitting this one out; some companies are redirecting resources toward vaccine awareness, some are just exhausted, while others are conscious that spending millions while people are financially suffering is in bad taste. 

But I’m going to offer a counter:

This year, we need those frivolous, lavish horn-tootings more than ever.

We need stupid jokes and song parodies. We need commercials that we love and post about on social media. We need commercials that we hate and post about on social media. We need frikkin’ Daveed Diggs and the frikkin’ Muppets.

But we need more than just things to watch. We need things to do. 

Virtual experiences that transport us out of our living rooms. Virtual watch parties, gaming experiences, live-stream concerts and celebrity Zoom drop-ins.

They are our escape when we are locked inside. Experiences help us forget what we are missing, just for a few hours or even for a two-minute commercial break. We need them because, let’s face it, if 2020 has taught us anything, the worst will happen, the game will suck and Brady will win.

So, who is going to win this year’s Super Bowl? The brands who choose entertainment over flogging their wares. The ones that forget copy testing and focus groups and focus on the fun. The ones that do something great.

So spend that money, shoot that commercial, sign that talent, build that virtual playland. Give us the win of laughter, fun, argument and play. 

Because we all deserve a win, don’t we?

Adam Wiese
VP, Strategy Director, Giant Spoon

Whatever brands do during the game on February 7th - whether they make us laugh, cry, or turn down the TV volume - the real winners will be determined the remaining days of 2021.

Because like a perfectly-thrown spiral, it’s all about the follow-through.

If you say you’re pro-joy on Sunday, what are you doing to create it on Monday? If you support parents during the game, how are you there for them in the middle of the night? Or, if you’re committed to creative excellence for your Super Bowl spot, how might you apply that same creativity to all of your other tactics?

The Super Bowl is the end of the NFL’s season but the beginning of our year. Let’s see which brands can make an early statement and, most importantly, follow-through.

Hannes Ciatti
Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Alto

This year, viewers will be less distracted than in years past because they’ll likely be at home in smaller gatherings. So any brand that’s participating has an outsized opportunity to capture that attention and make the spend well worth it by truly entertaining us. Immediate failure status will go to brands that remind us we’re all in this together. Ironically, you [brand] just spent $10m while NOT helping. This is the exact thinking we used to help three of our clients decide not to buy-in this year and instead go out there and help their communities.

Ira Maher
Vice President, The Basement

In a year so defined by what divides Americans, our country’s last true collective ‘shared’ experience is the Super Bowl. A memorable activation in prior years drove a hearty shared physical experience - an infectious laugh, tear or otherwise - among friends, buoyed by copious earned coverage post-game. This year, that laugh, at best is shared by weary housemates between thumb taps on a 2nd or 3rd screen. 

The chance to make a lasting impression is through uplifting, in-the-moment, intentional, cross-screen brand activations that leverage the reach of the broadcast, and second-screen creativity to engage consumers in a differentiated brand experience. Specifically, activations that extend to connection - like messaging (social media) platforms or sports-aligned (betting) communities will enable the advertiser to capture first-party audience data and win the night.

Matt Horton
Creative Director, Public Label

Today, it’s not about what your brand SAYS, but what your brand DOES and how it makes the world a better place. Not just in a Super Bowl spot but off the field too. From donating a million surgical masks to support the fight against Covid-19 to Budweiser using prime Super Bowl marketing dollars to support vaccine awareness and access, brands are showing they can do more than in-your-face halftime commercials to make a statement. Research supports this too, as Deloitte found that more than 80% of consumers would be willing to pay more and support brands that raise their prices to be more environmentally and socially responsible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there will be some gut buster ads during the Big Game this year. And with brands like Budweiser, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Ford side-lining themselves, it’ll open the door for new up-and-comers to get in on the action. People will still enjoy watching the commercials, they’ll laugh, shed a tear, and hopefully, they’ll think about how we’re all trying to get to a better place in this world. Except this year, they’ll do it right in the comfort of their own homes.

Paul Anastasiadis
Executive Vice President, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment North America

The Super Bowl superseded football a long time ago. It’s a unifying moment in culture that takes on even greater significance in 2021. Brands that choose to run campaigns around the Super Bowl have an interesting creative challenge: find a compelling and authentic way to present an optimistic point of view on our future, while acknowledging the real challenges of the present. 

The Super Bowl is an unrivalled platform because it’s one of the few moments that brings us all together – it should inform, educate and most importantly inspire. Smart marketers have recognised the Super Bowl isn’t a singular day, but a moment that can be activated against a longer time scale. The brands that master the timeline AND intersection between hope and honesty will be the ones that dominate the airwaves in the days preceding and following the game.

Beyond the ads, the digital engagement experience around the game is momentous. It’s easy to predict an unprecedented number of consumers to be tuning in via broadcast, social media and streaming channels. Each platform is a different way to experience the game and the most effective brands will design bespoke experiences to match the channel.

Matt Baker
Chief Strategy Officer, Deutsch NY

Much brow-furrowing and hand-wringing has accompanied Super Bowl planning meetings this year. It’s hard to ignore the many harbingers of doom predicting inevitable failure, rampant insensitivity or oversensitivity; it almost seems as if we root for our own failure. And some of the big guns are sitting it out. It’s hard not to be sceptical - are they making an ethical statement of solidarity or dodging a tough brief? I like to think they’re doing what they think is a good corporate deed, but I’d rather see them in the game because, we forget sometimes, this is one of the few forums where people receive our work with open arms, open minds and handfuls of chips. They’re primed to enjoy our work, to laugh, to cry, to even - wait a minute - talk about the work! And damn, if there were ever a time when we’d appreciate a shared moment of levity, another Bill Murray cameo or Dilly Dilly, it’s now. So to those brands that step up, tackle the tough brief and bring us the smiles, I salute you. We need a good laugh.

Paul Fung
Associate Creative Director, RPA

First, let me confess I’m the last person that should be commenting about football. Who’s playing again this year? The red and white team versus the pirate team? Here’s the thing, though, regardless of a global pandemic or not, Super Bowl spots have always been outliers in advertising. It’s the one time of year people actively look forward to watching commercials. And why not? They’re splashy, celeb-studded, high-production affairs. Sure, a lot of brands chose to take a timeout from in-game advertising in 2021 (did I use that analogy right?). But that should be a question they ask themselves every year. Is the multimillion-dollar price tag worth the reward in viewership which is moving more and more online? Ultimately, if you’re a brand that managed the Herculean task of shooting a big game commercial in spite of Covid conditions under drastically shorter lead times all while working from home… bravo! I’m hoping for lots of funny, bombastic, comedy-filled spots that bring a hint of normalcy back to our lives and make me forget about this pandemic – even if it’s only for a few innings.

Michael Pavone
President & CEO, Pavone Marketing Group

Now more than ever, America needs the Super Bowl. More specifically, America needs Super Bowl commercials, and we need them badly.

After the now infamous 2020 dumpster-fire, we need the collective healing that only the Super Bowl can provide. That’s because the Super Bowl is the last remaining American campfire. It’s the last place where the entire nation comes together for one common goal - to be entertained. In those three or four hours, we are all the same and together we defeat and defy the problems of the world and make ourselves human again.

In fact, for 17 years now we have been Super Bowl advertising aficionados and we have witnessed the reflection of America in the mirror of the Big Game ads via SpotBowl (a national Super Bowl ad-poll created by us in 2004). And it's even more true now.

With this year’s ad line-up, the Super Bowl commercials will do what they’ve always done so well. They serve as a reflection of who America is at that very moment and what we’re feeling (or what we NEED to feel) in order to come together around a common passion - even if it’s just for four quarters and a halftime show on a Sunday night in February.

Lindsey Allison
Head of Strategy, ENGINE

What is winning the Super Bowl this year? We know winning will be different, but we didn’t know how it would be different. To find some answers, we engaged with the audience in real time through our Digital Hive, ENGINE’s always-on community. Turns out, the Super Bowl will be more challenging than ever.

Challenge 1. People want to be entertained, but over the top goofball humour of years past will feel tone-deaf.
“I think some commercials will push a hopeful vibe. I think this will be different, as many of the commercials from previous years have been goofy, and a bit over the top” – CTV and Linear TV Viewer

Challenge 2. People expect for Super Bowl Spots to create an emotional impact, but not if that impact is self-serving.
“Give us some meaning, what have you done to improve our lives, keep us safe, keep your people safe, or make the world a safer place - make a difference!” – Linear TV Viewer

Challenge 3. People want great storytelling, but don’t want brands to attempt to wow them with ‘wasted’ production dollars during a struggling economy.
“I am expecting the ads to be more subdued given all that has happened.” – CTV Viewer

People above all are looking for empathy. The brands that bring an empathetic take to these challenges will emerge as the winners.

Thibaut Estellon
Founder/Executive Producer, REVERSE

For many, the Super Bowl is similar to a religious mass; a communion where people gather around the event, observing a tradition to watch for the game... and for the ads. Traditionally, there’s been a lot of amazing comedic and anthemic campaigns that truly stand out.

But this is such a weird year… I think we'll see more of a mix of anthemic ‘We're here for you’ type of campaigns and the usual comedy/entertainment pieces. If anything, it’ll be a good reminder to laugh and to forget the hardship - a remedy, albeit brief, for these sad times. While there may be a long road to recovery ahead of us, let this be a moment to elevate us, to reflect on, and to rejoice.

Having said all this, let us also not forget that Super Bowl ads are a huge financial commitment for brands; a risky bet, in general, and even riskier during Covid. With the economic uncertainty and mass layoffs across industries, such as travel, live entertainment, and amusement parks - it’s even harder for big brands and the usual game advertisers to justify such investments.

On the flip side, for the rising tech and e-commerce companies like DoorDash and Vroom to double down on the Big Game makes sense because they’ve benefitted from new consumer behaviours during the pandemic.

John McKelvey 
Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Mirimar, Los Angeles

It’s certainly going to be a different Super Bowl, especially during the ad breaks with some big, traditional brands sitting on the sidelines. On the flip side, we’re also going to see a new breed of Super Bowl advertisers, with many emerging, tech-centric brands making their debut. It feels like a bit of a ‘changing of the guard’ moment, and I think the story is as much about these brands coming in as it is about who is sitting it out. I’m really excited to see what the work looks like from these brands gaining momentum. At Mirimar, we are creating a Super Bowl campaign that fits this profile, an exciting breakthrough moment for a fast-rising tech brand, done in modern partnership with celebrity talent. I think, overall, the Super Bowl is still going to be about big, funny spots. We’re going to see some emotional, important ‘coming together’ type work in tune with of course - but overall, I don’t anticipate a major shift away from the type of work people expect, and want, during the big game. And that’s a good thing. We can all use a laugh and an optimistic path ahead.

Bee Reynolds
SVP + Group Creative Director, EP+Co

2021 is a really interesting Super Bowl year. On top of the ongoing shift away from traditional network TV, the pandemic is accelerating the use of digital platforms and generally pushing fans into new viewing habits and more second-screen behaviour. Of course, everyone loves a classic 30-second Super Bowl spot, but we predict this year will be landmark for everything BUT that. Some big, iconic brands are opting out of the TV-buy; plenty of other brands never had the cash for it in the first place. In that way, this shift may be an equalizer of sorts, an opportunity for the clever-est and best-placed messages to break through. Who will do that best? I’m looking at those with the strongest, most engaged social audiences that can be leveraged for action and amplification.

Glenn Geller
Director Planning and Insights, Propac

I think we can all now stop hand wringing about how this year will be a tough sell to brands now that ViacomCBS has “virtually” sold out their Super Bowl ad inventory. 

Say what you want about the value of Super Bowl advertising, but there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s a strategic decision each company makes based on the brand’s marketing budget and whether $5.5 million is justified for a high-exposure spot.

With Super Bowl mainstays like Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi sitting on the sidelines this year, inventory made slots available to first-time advertisers like DoorDash, Chipotle, Fiverr, and Hellmann’s. 

Super Bowl viewers want to be entertained - especially this year. After a tumultuous 2020, people are looking for an escape. Commercials like Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade’s ‘Lots of Lemons’ and Pringles ‘More Stacking’ follow through on that while Chipotle does a good job addressing current issues without being pandering. Still, it’s hard to imagine a Super Bowl without a cheeky Cheetos ad or a message from Mountain Dew…

The established brands opting out are simply shifting spending to other marketing efforts, such as social and sweepstakes. One example: a Corona effort in which the beer is soliciting fans to upload videos of themselves to social media with a corresponding hashtag. Budweiser isn’t running an in-game ad for the first time since 1983. Instead, it’s donating its Super Bowl advertising funds to a vaccine-education initiative by the Ad Council. 

The pandemic could affect measurement this year. Nielsen still hasn’t cracked the code on incorporating bars and other gathering spots into their numbers, so statistics have likely been low in the past. If more people watch at homes that can be tracked, might advertisers get a false sense that more people viewed this year? Also, Super Bowl ads have always benefited from ‘water cooler’ talk on Monday, which extends the reach of commercials. Brands won’t be building on that buzz in the current WFH environment.

Neil Luplow
Senior Project Manager, Watts Media

This year’s Super Bowl ads will be missing some familiar faces with brands like Budweiser and Coca-Cola opting out of the big game. While this provides a unique opportunity for new players to step in and make an impression, the biggest winners are perhaps those that are sitting out. 

Let’s face it, when it comes to brand recognition, a Super Bowl commercial likely isn’t going to move the needle for Budweiser or Coca-Cola, but we’ve come to adore the puppies, Clydesdale horses, and friendly polar bears. However, fuzzy feelings aren’t going to make up for lost revenue with continued restrictions on group gatherings, movie theatres, and sporting events. Saving millions of dollars by sitting out this year is a no-brainer and the right decision for these brands.  

Zach Hinden
Editor, Hooligan

The Super Bowl is always an opportunity for brands to reach the masses – this year, more than ever as viewers will be more glued to the action. They won’t be at bars or parties with big groups. Instead, they’ll be at home with fewer distractions than normal. 

With big advertisers like Budweiser opting out this year, new brands have an opening to get into the mix, which is exciting. Many will represent a consumer need in the market around navigating the pandemic, no doubt. 

We won’t see as many big-budget celebrity ads typical of years past or the usual tropes of traditional Super Bowl advertising. I’m eager to see new talent and what they come up with. It’s a chance for smaller agencies and production companies to show what they can do for the big event. 

That said, I think we’re well past the Covid ‘in this together’ stock footage-type of advertising. Instead, the ads will reflect more of where we’re all at right now, mentally, being stuck at home. I expect the stories will capture a sense of warmth; something to look forward to (like vacations) with an overall tone of hope and lightheartedness. 

Of course, the brands that are bowing out know what they’re doing. They’re making some PR waves by rallying around different strategies and causes with their spends. 

David Kleinman
Executive Producer, Giantstep

This pandemic has exacerbated a sense of dread and foreboding many have felt for some time. We’re frustrated at the disruption, the disconnection of remote work and lockdowns, watching in dismay as friends and family dismiss the danger we’re living through. Add the two separate information universes dividing us further and it’s like, “Holy crap. Can’t we just disagree about Mahomes and Brady?” 
We want normalcy and reassurance things are going to be okay; that, at some point, we’ll look back and gain renewed empathy. Maybe we’re at the beginning of the end…time for some event marketing.
Advertisers using the real-time platform of the Super Bowl, who recognise this cultural moment will benefit, especially those evoking a forward-thinking sensibility. I’m most interested in seeing what GM will be offering in its spot profiling their electric vehicles.
Though I don’t have vested interest in who wins (GO CHIEFS!), I’m excited to see this year’s broadcast for the sense of normalcy it can provide. Advertisers can take the opportunity to instill a sense of joy, maybe provide some laughs, and a few emotional moments reminding us we’re part of a community…that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. That will be great.

Work from LBB Editorial
Hero: Focus
Full Story