The latest casualty of the pandemic? This year’s crop of Super Bowl ads.
Most Super Bowl LV commercials succumbed to the typical pitfalls of Super Sunday, critics said — they either were overly safe and formulaic, or they were bogged down with celebrities and bad ideas. Experts blamed production challenges well as the tightrope advertisers had to walk given the divided political climate and COVID’s rising death toll.
“Every year in Super Bowl advertising, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Rob Schwartz, chief executive of ad agency TBWAChiatDay. “This year, there was wasn’t enough good and there was more ugly.”
A key exhibit was the Scott’s Miracle-Gro ad which — despite being one of the few spots to allude to the pandemic, saying backyards had “quite a year” — got bogged down with odd mix of celebs from Martha Stewart, NASCAR driver Kyle Busch and an almost unrecognizable John Travolta.
“That was a train wreck,” Schwartz said. “The Super Bowl is a celebrity arms race but the problem is the random celebrity for the backyard garden party. I was thinking: ‘What am I watching?’ It was very confusing.”
On top of the past year’s slew of grim and taboo headlines, advertisers this year were forced to grapple with the persistent “hype” and pressure that comes with having a Super Bowl spot and the hefty $5.5 million price tag for a 30 second ad, he said.
“The amount of money you pay alone makes people conservative,” Schwartz said. “Everyone looks at what has been successful in the past: celebrity, puppy and baby.”
That may have been a problem for trading app Robinhood, which fumbled with an ad that clearly was conceived before the recent GameStop frenzy. Using stock images of average people doing normal things like petting a stranger’s dog, jogging and FaceTiming with a friend, Robinhood attempted to appeal to the everyman.
“You don’t need to become an investor, you were born one,” the narrator concludes the ad.
Calling the 30-second spot a “real flop,” the exec said: “Robinhood actually delivered the biggest sin of the Super Bowl Spot. What they made was boring. If you’re boring, you’re done.”
“If you’re reading this, it means our bets paid off,” the message read. “One thing we learned from our communities last week is that underdogs can accomplish just about anything when we come together around a common area.”
Another whiff was Fiverr’s spot that featured the Four Seasons Total Landscaping company in Philadelphia where, in an apparent screwup, Rudy Giuliani had staged a press conference for Trump’s presidential campaign instead of at the Four Seasons Hotel. The ad featured the landscaping company’s president Marie Siravo riding a futuristic golf cart into the now-famously dingy garage entrance to reveal a lush botanical dreamscape filled with busy workers tending to butterflies and waterfalls.
In addition to being polarizing, Fiverr’s commercial lacked clarity on who Siravo was, what Fiverr does and how her company fits in, said Bill Oberlander, co-founder and executive creative director of ad agency Oberland.
“There’s a saying, ‘it’s a long way to go for a ham sandwich,’” Oberlander said. “If those are the hoops you have to go through to make a point maybe it’s not worth a Super Bowl ad.”
M&M’s generally garnered top marks for its funny ad, featuring Dan Levy, in which a bag of M&M’s is offered as an apology.
“I’m sorry for mansplaining,” said a man, while offering a bag of M&M’s to a younger woman.
“That’s when a man,” he said before the woman interrupts him from mansplaining further. “I know what it is,” she said.
GM’s ad pushing Americans to buy more electric cars, which featured Will Ferrell and fellow comedians Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina, also got top marks from Oberlander for its ability to weave in a purpose-driven message with humor.
Currently, Norway outranks the US in electric car sales. “Well I won’t stand for it,” Ferrell says as he punches a globe in the ad. “With GM’s new Ultium battery, we’re going to crush those lugers. Crush them! Let’s go America.”