Super Bowl Sunday is one of our nation’s biggest cultural moments, and over the past week, the media has been abuzz about the Patriots’ historical comeback, the first-ever Super Bowl overtime, and, of course, the Super Bowl ads. Some of the commercials this year have received more hype than others, and due to the current political atmosphere, many ads struggled to avoid negative attention. On the other hand, some were intentionally controversial and aimed to get people talking. Now that the big day itself has passed, we’re going to look at some of the high-profile ads that really caught viewers’ attention and talk about approaches that different brands took, as well as some struggles and highlights for each ad.
This ad is not only beautifully shot, but also culturally relevant. Budweiser decided to break from its traditional lighthearted ads featuring Clydesdales to show the cinematic journey of the brand’s founder, Adolphus Busch, as he migrated from Germany to the US with the goal of making great beer. The spot is great storytelling and it connects directly with the brand’s product and origin story. However, because of current political issues, the ad received some pushback, which the brand skirted. Marcel Marcondes, vice president for marketing at Anheuser-Busch InBev, explained, “We believe beer should be bipartisan, and did not set out to create a piece of political commentary. Our focus this week is on our Super Bowl ads and our brands.”
This creative ad blends humor, inspiration, and star power. It shows celebrities speaking as their younger selves from the pages of their high school yearbooks, where they share messages meant to motivate and provoke laughter. For example, a young Jimmy Kimmel clad in a frilly blue tuxedo says, “If you want to play the clarinet, maybe don’t dress like this, but play the clarinet!” The ad encourages viewers to believe in themselves, embrace failure, and keep moving forward. Our only caveat is that the connection to the product, the “all-new Honda CR-V,” was tangential at best. Rather than promote any benefits of the car, the spot ended with a call out to “chasing dreams, and the amazing places they lead,” meant to associate the Honda brand with hard work that pays off.
This spot portrays Melissa McCarthy as an environmentally conscious Kia driver who is called upon to save whales, rhinos, giraffes, and more. Her ill-fated adventures, complete with a heavy dose of slapstick humor, entertain viewers and advocate for a cause without becoming too serious or controversial. Between escapades, McCarthy drives her Kia through beautiful landscapes, allowing the ad to show off the product in a more traditional way. Overall, Kia does a better job than Honda at connecting humor with the benefits that its product offers. The end tagline explains, “It’s hard to be an eco warrior, but it’s easy to drive like one,” creating a clear connection with the product: the fuel-fficient Kia Niro.
This was easily this year’s most controversial Super Bowl ad. Like, the Anheuser-Busch commercial, 84 Lumber chose to directly address the hot-button topic of immigration. However, this ad is so clearly directed at current immigration issues that Fox originally rejected the ad for being too political. 84 Lumber remade the ad and aired a cinematic teaser telling viewers to watch the original on its website. The tactic of posting an enticing clip was incredibly successful: in the first 12 hours after the spot aired, the original and director’s cut had a combined 3.4 million views on YouTube—and there was so much traffic to the website that it crashed. There are pros and cons of 84 Lumber’s approach: people are certainly talking about the brand, but with such a polarizing message, it is unclear how much business they will actually gain from the venture.
This is another car commercial that had almost nothing to do with cars—there weren’t even any Hyundai vehicles in the ad. The spot, which focuses on bringing people together during the Super Bowl, shares individual stories and then unites those in the military with their families via a surrounding screen. The spot is a tearjerker, stirring up feelings of patriotism and empathy for separated families. Another reason this ad is so impressive is that it was shot during the game, with real people—they even had a backup ad prepared in case something went awry. Although the ad doesn’t feature a specific product, the end tagline is “Better drives us,” which positions Hyundai as a brand not only concerned about quality, but about social responsibility as well.
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