The general understanding going into the 2021 Super Bowl was that the ads would be … less than entertaining.
With renowned brands like Budweiser and Coca-Cola bowing out this year, viewers weren’t sure what to expect. We wouldn’t be seeing the iconic Clydesdale horses or polar bears enjoying a Coke — but rightfully and respectfully so.
The majority of these iconic brands chose to keep things “safe” this year after the devastating COVID-19 case counts that the world and the United States faced since the early days of 2020. Instead, many of these giants allocated their Super Bowl commercials budget to initiatives to help combat COVID-19 or raise vaccine awareness. Other brands opted to keep things light without commenting on racial injustices, political issues, or the global pandemic.
This shift in strategy allowed 15 first-time advertisers to eagerly fill the void.
The team at Uhuru felt neutral or mildly entertained by the commercials. No commercials or messaging stood out too far on either side of the spectrum — good or bad. Everything was just middle-of-the-road.
In my experience, as the Super Bowl night went on, the people around me got less and less interested in both the game and commercials — but after the year and a half we had, what else can you expect?
I don’t mean to sound too harsh about this year’s Super Bowl commercials; many of them offered a good laugh and nice sentiments, but a lot of them blended together in the end.
In the aftermath of the 2021 Super Bowl, viewers referenced the advertisements based on who was in them, not the company or product on-screen — seems to miss the whole point of a highly viewed advertising slot, doesn’t it?
Here is a look at the trends we saw during the 2021 Super Bowl commercials, and which ones we think lead the pack and ones that fell short.
Trends and Themes of the 2021 Super Bowl Commercials
There were apparent trends in this year’s batch of Super Bowl commercials.
Psychedelic and acid-inducing designs were one of the leaders in advertising trends. We saw a lot of unrealistic color choices, fantasy-like scenery, and over-saturated scenes.
Another major trend in the commercials this year focused on “at-home” services, like streaming and food delivery. In my opinion, it was a genius idea for brands like DoorDash, Hulu, and Paramount+ to spend millions on a sought-after spot during the Super Bowl. At-home services are thriving during the pandemic and seem to be becoming our new normal.
The third trend seen in ads this year was celebrity features, especially couples. While distinguished celebs are always a staple for Super Bowl commercials, seeing them in a more “real-life” atmosphere — like enjoying popular snacks and ordering food delivery — resonated with many Americans. A few famous couples seen in this year’s commercials were Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, and Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton.
3 of Our Favorite Super Bowl Commercials
As one of the most raved about commercials and fan favorite of the 2021 Super Bowl, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Shaggy hit home in their Cheetos commercial. It was the highest searched Super Bowl Ad after the fact and is a favorite of the Uhuru team as well.
The Kellogg School notes that “the spot succeeded because it provided a clear, on-brand message,” and I think that’s the perfect way to summarize it.
Showcasing a catchy hit from 2000, this ad brought up nostalgic feelings that struck a chord with its largest demographic, 24-44-year-olds. While the song might be 20+ years old, the actors are still highly relevant. Shaggy has made his name more relevant by appearing in the latest live-action rendition of The Little Mermaid, while the couple-goals duo appears in modern films and shows like Shark Tank and Bad Moms.
One of my favorite parts of this commercial is that Cheetos plays off their infamous Cheeto-fingers persona. Cheeto-fingers are a well-known side effect of eating the puffs, and I like that the brand can not only poke fun at themselves but embrace the messy-ness of their snack.
Side note: How many people do you think were humming “It Wasn’t Me” the morning after the Super Bowl?
The T-Mobile feature included the crew from the television show, The Voice.
With 19 seasons under their belt, it’s safe to say the judges and teachers on this show are a hit with Americans.
Oryna Schiffman, Senior Copywriter at Uhuru, “liked how a bad phone connection enabled a live date connection for Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani.”
It insinuates that even though we live in a digital age and seeing the effects of quarantine and limited human-to-human contact, a personal connection is still possible for our future. This commercial gave a cute message and brought a smile to faces around the country.
“Don’t trust your love life to just any network” was a great play on T-Mobile’s part, showing how a lousy connection can change the course of your life forever — thankfully, for Gwen and Blake, it was for the better.
This year, McDonald’s provided a good old-fashioned, feel-good commercial.
In the simple and sweet commercial, McDonald’s gave a thankful nod to their valued customers who have continued visiting their drive-thru, even through a pandemic and challenging times — while not putting much focus on the pandemic.
Customer appreciation is a great advertising tactic.
Even if you’re not a fan of Mickey D’s food, you can appreciate the camaraderie they were going for with this commercial.
Our Honorable Mentions for the 2021 Super Bowl Commercials:
3 Super Bowl Commercials That Could Have Been Better
#FlatMatthew did exactly that — fell flat.
Doritos is known for its bold brand and loud voice, but their Super Bowl commercial came across dull and muted in 2021.
My biggest complaint is that Matthew McConaughey seems like a weird choice of spokesperson for Doritos and their target market.
Doritos’ target market is teens and young adults — how does that demographic relate to Matthew McConaughey? They are not buying Lincolns or watching Dallas Buyers Club.
However, the concept of the commercial didn’t bother me. The pump-up idea to showcase Doritos’ new 3D design had major potential, but many of us can’t get past the poor celebrity choice.
Matthew would have Dorito dust all over his Lincoln!
I think that if they switched out Matthew for a younger actor or TikTok star as their spokesperson, this could have been a home run.
Rita Fitzgerald, a Uhuru Senior Digital Marketing Consultant, weighs in on the celebrity choice: “He doesn’t seem like a person known for snacking, so the idea of him crawling into a vending machine to get some seems too random. To me, it would’ve landed better to have someone like Chrissy Teigen, who’s open about her love of junk food, or even just someone younger who’s known for their sense of humor, like Anna Kendrick.”
The third commercial on our list that fell a little flat was for Bud Light Legends.
CBS News rated this Bud Light commercial a “C” — and we agree.
While they didn’t do anything cringe-worthy or offensive, this commercial wasn’t up to par for a witty brand with noteworthy and memorable commercials spanning decades. Anyone who watches the Super Bowl commercials knows that Bud Light has had some epic commercials — from Dilly Dilly to the many secret/revolving refrigerator setups.
Bud Light is one of the brands I look forward to seeing during the Super Bowl commercials. Their options were endless, especially with the country and the world spending most of their time at home right now drinking and hanging out.
I can respect what they were going for, but it felt more like a brag than a smart marketing move.
I would have much rather seen a catchy commercial featuring one spokesperson, like Post Malone, a new skit with Bud Knight, or a new animal as their spokesperson. Budweiser and Bud Light have featured a long line of animals in their commercials over the years — from frogs and iguanas to ferrets, zebras, and dogs.
Overall, I’m disappointed that this one lacks the humor and puns we usually see in their commercials.
While Southwest Kia played into a common trend (psychedelic/fantasy), it was the most cringe-worthy of the Super Bowl commercials this year.
They attempted to give a nod to Willy Wonka, but if you’re going to emulate an imaginative movie like that, you should have higher standards.
Unless there is some underlying joke that I (and the rest of the internet) don’t know about, I think this commercial was lacking.
I imagine there may have been a better way to utilize their budget — like with targeted social
ads — than by paying millions on a Super Bowl commercial; I’d be interested to see their return on ad spend for this one.
Ethan Whittiker, one of Uhuru’s Digital Marketing Consultants, thought, “If they were going to make a Willy Wonka connection, they should have made him go all out with a colorful suit and top hat. They also didn’t focus enough on the vehicles they have; half of the video is the salesman saying ‘250’ over and over.”
Will These Trends Be Part of Our Advertising Future?
From a design and advertising standpoint, we’ve seen bright, artistic, and creative ads on the rise for years now, and it seems like they’re finally making their way to more mainstream brands. We foresee this trend sticking around for a little longer and soon overstaying its welcome.
I’d like to see more celebrities as spokespeople for long periods instead of on a one-time basis, like Jennifer Aniston supporting Aveeno.
Also, remember that advertising is a long-term strategy. While a single advertisement might get your brand on the map, one viral hit will not drive consistent revenue — it takes having a strategy in place, knowing your target audience, and partnering with the right agency to help in your endeavors.
Key Takeaways From the Super Bowl Commercials of 2021
Overall, even though the Super Bowl Commercials weren’t up to par with previous years, there were still key takeaways and a few laughs to take away from them.
The use of vibrant colors, humor, and relevant celebrities are some of the trends we are currently seeing and should be implemented in your marketing efforts — only if it fits your target audience.
If you’re interested in leveling up your advertising game, get in touch with us, we work with clients every day to drive traffic & exposure to their website, and ultimately reach new heights.