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DJ Super Bowl Ads Go for Comedic Catharsis -- 2nd Update

· 02/07/2021 22:53
By Alexandra Bruell

Most Super Bowl advertisers took a cautious approach with their commercials Sunday night, often trying to project a sunny tone on television's most-watched night of the year amid a global pandemic, deep political divisions and movements for social justice.

Some of the ads reflected the effects of the pandemic and its lockdowns. A batch of marketers that did well in the past year bought Super Bowl commercials for the first time, including online food-delivery services DoorDash Inc. and Uber Eats; lawn-care marketer Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.; online auto retailer Vroom Inc.; buy-now, pay-later service Klarna and freelance network Fiverr International Ltd.

Most chose to keep the pandemic out of their ads, though not all. Scotts Miracle-Gro, for one, acknowledged in its ad that backyards have had "quite a year."

Several other brands alluded to the pandemic, as Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade did with a comedic ad depicting 2020 as a relentless storm of lemons from the sky.

And streaming services were plentiful in the ad breaks, as commercials for theatrical releases all but disappeared.

Jeep shunned the light mood of many other ads, running a somber two-minute ad starring Bruce Springsteen and acknowledging the division in the country. The last frame shows the outline of the U.S. with the phrase: "To the ReUnited States of America."

"I'm not shooting for funny or serious. I don't care," said Olivier Francois, global chief marketing officer at Stellantis NV, parent company to brands including Jeep and Chrysler. "I'm shooting for a lasting message."

And Reddit capitalized on the recent GameStop investment saga, which was propelled in part by sentiment on its WallStreetBets forum, with a five-second regional ad.

But Robinhood Markets Inc., the online brokerage that many amateur investors used to buy GameStop shares, didn't refer to the recent headlines; instead it delivered a message that anyone can invest.

Many marketers that went for laughs and escapism relied on celebrities to break through.

This year's commercials showed Amy Schumer selling Hellmann's Mayonnaise; Michael B. Jordan embodying Alexa for Amazon.com Inc.; Maya Rudolph as four quarter-sized cowboys for Klarna; a two-dimensional Matthew McConaughey pitching Doritos 3-D Crunch; and Post Malone and Cedric the Entertainer promoting Bud Light, alongside ad characters like the Bud Knight.

In addition to the Doritos ad, PepsiCo Inc.'s Frito-Lay ran a Cheetos ad reprising Shaggy's 2000 hit song "It Wasn't Me" with Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher and another multibrand commercial showing star Super Bowl players fighting over its snacks.

"When we looked at the Super Bowl and were trying to understand what consumers are looking for, it was this moment of joy and release," said Rachel Ferdinando, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America.

Advertisers coughed up as much as $5.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime during the matchup Sunday between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, hoping to take advantage of one of the few remaining TV events that reaches a swath of consumers at once.

This year's game was the culmination of a season pummeled by the coronavirus, which forced disruptions like the delay of a marquee game scheduled for Thanksgiving because of an outbreak on the Baltimore Ravens.

The game was still expected to blow other TV programming out of the water. Last year, it reached roughly 100 million viewers.

While attempts at humor have always dominated the Super Bowl ad roster, historically the commercials have encompassed a range of themes and tones, including serious and emotional approaches. This year there appeared to be much less variation, said Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

"Advertisers are reflecting our behaviors and the life we're leading, but only in the most positive way," Prof. Calkins said.

"Some of the ads that ran on the Super Bowl last year would never run this year," he added, citing a 2020 Super Bowl ad for Google that featured an older man who lost his wife, and New York Life's emotional ad about love as an action.

"There's more pressure this year," said Eliza Yvette Esquivel, North America chief strategy officer at branding agency FutureBrand. "Human beings are fatigued by the onslaught of what's happened to us over the last 12 months, and there have been very few united-eyeball moments where we've been provided any relief from that."

Mountain Dew recruited actor John Cena for a playful Super Bowl ad promoting its Major Melon flavor.

"A tone-deaf brand is one that does not have empathy for what consumers are going through. We spent a lot of time on that," said Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer of Mountain Dew parent PepsiCo Beverages North America. "Over the past few years, with racial inequality, with politics, it's been harder to make sure you're striking the right tone, and Covid just added to that."

Some brands attempted to promote their social responsibility efforts while keeping the tone sunny.

General Motors Co. enlisted comedians Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina to deliver its promise of new electric vehicles; the trio sets out to warn Norway that America will crush its EV record.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. featured a boy talking about how a burrito can change the world, based on "how we plant things, water things and grow things..."

Chipotle had planned a campaign this year that raises awareness of its food standards and support for farmers, but initially hadn't intended to buy a Super Bowl spot, said Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt.

When the chain's ad agency, Venables Bell & Partners, showed him the spot, he changed his mind.

"We spent a lot of time on the tone of this spot to make it right, not so serious and depressing, but a bit of optimism and talk about what we think about farming," Mr. Brandt said. "It just felt like it was big enough, but still had a good lighthearted tone."

Write to Alexandra Bruell at alexandra.bruell@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 07, 2021 22:53 ET (03:53 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.