It could have been an event packed with weary facemask wearers, fierce flag-wavers and tense, nail-biting football.
Instead, advertisers flooded the game with celebrities and big laughs, almost entirely ignoring both the pandemic and political upheaval.
And in running away with the game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset predictions, turning the fourth quarter into a snoozefest for some of the most anticipated spots, which this year sold for an estimated cool $5.6 million per 30 seconds.
In ads starring the ferociously funny Tracy Morgan, Rocket Mortgage won both the first and second spots in USA Today’s Ad Meter. Amazon’s “Alexa’s Body,” a steamy fantasy starring Michael B. Jordan, came next. M&M’S “Come Together” and Toyota's “Upstream” also finished in the newspaper’s top five.
“Overall, the ads played out as we expected them to,” says Derek Rucker, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which has organized a panel of live ad-watchers for the last 17 years.
“Brands played it safe and went for a light touch of humor, using lots of familiar faces,” Rucker tells Marketing Daily. “And they avoided the pandemic, politics and social justice.”
A refreshing exception? The deluge of lemons for Bud Light’s Seltzer Lemonade playfully spoofing just how bad a year 2020 was.
Rucker says the lemon-storm hit just the right notes. “It takes a confident brand to try and connect that way, threading the needle between humor and hard times. And it did it really well.”
Overall, the panel of 65 students gave “It Wasn’t Me,” the Cheetos ad starring husband and wife Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, the highest score, with a solid A-plus.
Interestingly, that playing-it-safe approach meant that not a single ad earned an F from this year’s watchers.
It did, however, hand out a lot of Ds, including Square Space’s ad with Dolly Parton, “where many on the panel felt they still didn’t know what the brand does,” and Skechers, starring NFL star Tony Romo: “It’s message got lost.”
Two more with muddled messages, getting a C? Jeep’s “ReUnited States,” starring Bruce Springsteen,” and Robinhood’s “We’re all investors.”
For the Jeep ad, problems included viewers thinking it ran too long and that Springsteen didn’t resonate all that well with younger viewers. “And some felt the whole Western vibe would have been better suited to a pick-up truck ad,” says Rucker.
Separately, the ad is drawing heat in social media for flashing a map that didn’t include the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jeep’s home state.
Robinhood struck out, he says, because of “amplification issues. It seemed to be ignoring the larger story and the struggles the brand is having.”
But perhaps the most surprising outcome of the game so far may be in preliminary TV ratings. Sports Business Daily reports that Tom Brady, the legendary quarterback who left the New England Patriots to head to Tampa Bay, left plenty of broken hearts in New England.
It says 57.6% of all TVs in the Boston market tuned in to the game, surpassing the 52.3% of those in the Tampa market.