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2021 Super Bowl Ad Review

Amplification / 2.8.21 / By Josh Smith

Leading up to the 2021 Super Bowl, the advertising world was abuzz about the revolutionary approach brands were taking for the big game. There's been a dramatic shift in priorities throughout the country since Super Bowl 2020, and that “new normal” includes millions without work, constant worry about the health of loved ones and remembering the ones we've lost. This change in culture has caused a ripple effect that's felt from local stores to major conglomerates. Brands have needed to shift their priorities not only to stay relevant but to truly provide the goods and services the world needs right now.

Dixon Schwabl Chief Creative Officer Mark Stone explains: “2020 was a disrupter of a year, and the unpredictability will continue well into 2021. Just as every person on the planet has had to adapt, brands were also forced pivot to remain relevant when people are changing their behavior so drastically. They’ve had to adjust their marketing to the nearly constant change and have to continue to adapt in near real time to remain viable." And the outcome of all of that was front and center during the Super Bowl.

This shift was apparent with brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Budweiser, who decided to put their advertising funds toward COVID-19 relief instead of the Super Bowl this year. This allowed others to step into the spotlight with a message of hope and drive a sense of community in our country. Whether companies were using celebrity endorsements or good old-fashioned emotional branding to gain audience trust, almost every commercial provided a sense of inclusion and togetherness that was needed after a year of chaos.

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Dixon Schwabl’s Super Bowl Ad Reactions

With that background on this year's Super Bowl ads, here's Dixon Schwab’s consensus on a few of the most popular from 2021:

Given the challenges facing our nation, hopefulness was a message that really resonated for me. From the dry humor M&M used to position themselves as a way to make life’s awkward moments just a little better (even if your name is Karen) to the way Indeed captured the emotional journey from joblessness to landing your dream job. From start to finish, I felt that story in my heart.

—Robin Lohkamp, Creative Director

What stood out to me was the decision to not include masks. Brands avoided showing masks to not distract from their message, and as a viewer I appreciated the break from it all. As a producer, I know how incredibly hard that must have been to pull off and commend the participants for the protocols I know they went through to shoot those spots. Humor has always been the predominant approach with Super Bowl commercials. In the past three years, we’ve seen that pendulum swing in favor of an emotional, tug-at-the-heartstrings approach. That pendulum swung back to humor because we’ve seen so many serious messages over the year, and viewers were ready for some laughs.

—Connor Dixon-Schwabl, Managing Partner, Studio Production

There were three standouts for me last night: the Bruce Springsteen Jeep ad, the Will Ferrell GM ad and the Toyota adopted Olympian ad. I think it was the Americana in the three that struck me. The Jeep spot stood out in particular because I was amazed that it could so emotionally convey the need, now more than ever, for humanity and Americans to find common ground with only portraying one human (the narrator, Springsteen himself).

—Kim Allen, CEO

If you’re a celebrity influencer in a Super Bowl spot, you can leverage your vast social media network to get the word out before, during and after the spot airs! Shaggy did a much better job than Springsteen in this regard.

He pinned a tweet on January 19, teasing the ad. He then engaged with @ChesterCheetah and directed fans to the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter to vote for it as top Super Bowl ad (like his song “It Wasn’t Me” was 20 years ago). He also shared how fans can get a bag of Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix for free by scanning the ad with Snapchat. Bruce shared content during the game simply with the title of the spot and the video of the commercial. A very different approach from Mr. Boombastic!

—Jon Alhart, Managing Partner, Demand Generation

I loved that Amanda Gorman was asked to recite (another) original poem, “Chorus of Captains,” and it focused on three poignant elements that our country depends on to be the great nation that it is—our military, teachers and healthcare professionals—especially so profoundly this past year.

For me, her presence and contribution were more memorable than any of the spots aired and a fitting foray into seeing brands sit this one out. What would be really cool is to see where the brands invested their ad dollars to fight the pandemic or other public/health crises vs. the Super Bowl. That’d definitely garner awareness and I’m sure deepen their brand loyalty and ambassadorship by their dedicated consumers and drive new prospects/consumers.

—Nadine General, Managing Partner, Communications

In today's ever-changing environment, brands have proven that they can be pliable and adapt to the times. Critics will argue that advertising is for the faint of heart. Others will understand that advertisers establish a much-needed emotional connection to the companies that provide for and serve us. If this is the direction brands are heading in for the upcoming year, we support it. Like the actual scoreboard, the advertising game for Super Bowl LV was a blowout.


Josh Smith

Josh Smith is DS+CO’s content and SEO manager, building digital information strategies to reach the right people the right way.