I feel sorry for the people who had to produce ads for the 2021 Super Bowl, and yet, maybe not too sorry. We’re in a pandemic that’s mutating. The US is so not-united that one of the ads was wise enough to mention the Re-United States. Social injustice, climate change, and wealth inequality are becoming more apparent (which is at least better than covering it up.) There are so many opportunities to upset someone, to be accidentally insensitive, and to have an ad backfire as a meme that writing a script can seem impossible. But then, that also means the bar is set so low that something innocuous can be good enough. Considering all of that, here’s my yearly review of the Super Bowl ads.
Some background. Once upon a time I watched football a lot. Then I found hiking and skiing and running and bicycling and – why would I stay inside watching millionaires playing a game for billionaires when I could be out there living my life. But, I watched the ads afterwards because they were fun. Then I realized the ads were an intense opportunity to check market sentiment. What do companies think will sell? Who are they targeting? Do the ads resonate? So, now I watch the ads for those reasons as well as to put some perspective on my investments. Are my investments in areas no one cares about? That can be good or bad, and it’s nice to know which is more likely. For a while my portfolio was diverse enough to include at least one company with an ad. Not so now. Biotechs don’t say much prior to FDA approval. High-tech electronic component manufacturers advertise to other corporations, not the public. And yet, those end products can be reflected.
I make life easier for me by waiting until the game is over, then watching the ads on YouTube. This year I got through most of them, hit the wrong key, lost track, and decided I’d seen enough. Now I hear I missed some good ones but I’m not starting over.
Wince. I know it would be odd to have every person in every ad wear a mask, but I was distracted when I saw maskless faces, hugs, and a lack of social distancing. I guess the advertisers are uncomfortable showing people who can’t show smiles. Hopefully this won’t be an issue next year.
Power! Vroom Vroom continues to rule. Lately I’m thinking more about cars that are more reliable, and would be interested in examples of which ones are best suited for someone working from the road rather than the office. That’s probably too narrow a market, or was. Even the truck ads that show trucks at work have to show them kicking up a lot of dust as they speed away from the job site. I’m a fan of Jeep, and one of their ads showed Jeeps busting through snow and racing around. When I really needed a Jeep’s abilities I was driving slowly, maneuvering around rocks and ruts, and striving to stay in control on snow and ice. So much for practicality and utility.
Electric Power. One of the most positive signs was the tendency to show electric vehicles. Yay! I look forward to owning one some day. Get the kinks worked out for me, please. Buying into that industry might be tough. I feel sorry for a friend who wanted to buy Tesla stock right after the IPO. Buying that now, ouch. Glad to see electric vehicles are so prominent.
Chips Dips and Drinks. Most years there’s a great explosion of ads for party food. Drink Responsibly (but buy and drink a lot, eh?). There was less of that, so maybe there was some restraint of showing people partying. Snacks may be more for comfort food than party food. Will that persist?
I liked the Budweiser ad explaining that they would donate the ad money to fighting the pandemic. I was then surprised to see so many of the other Anheuser-Busch drinks running ads anyways.
Movies. Spoilers! which is why I skipped those ads.
Money. Personal finance got some time on screen as various institutions offered early access to tax rebates, instantly improved credit scores, rocket mortgages, fast, fast, fast, and seemingly free. Now, about those fees. The ads looked like they were targeting the people who had enough to go shopping, but not enough to invest (except for Robinhood, which was interesting considering what’s going on with “Gamestop And Moving Smaller Stocks“. Considering what’s going on with stimulus packages, unemployment, and a bubbly stock market, next year’s ads might be back to those from the Great Recession.
Flowers. Short, sweet, in time for Valentine’s Day. They actually described what they do and how they do it, which is rare in comparison to the others that sell image, ego, and emotion.
Stars. I don’t have the data, but it seemed as if there were more stars and celebrities this year. Is that because they are less likely to be filming a movie or touring with their band? The ads showing them in their houses was distracting, too. You’re problem is that you have to hide in the closet in your mansion to eat your chips? Sad. Also sad was how many celebrities I couldn’t recognize. Getting old, I guess; or, more likely to be engaging on social media or writing my own stories.
Home Security. A sign of fear: the indoor drone that can be launched remotely because the security system sent the homeowner an alarm. That one and some of the others are up for security, but also making it easier for parents to spy on kids for hackers to see inside the house. At least pets and people with health issues can be checked on. Ironically, this is one place where one of my investments (MicroVision, MVIS) might be selling subcomponents. (And that’s a story I’ll be writing about in more depth Real Soon.)
Inspirational. Here was probably one of the toughest tasks. Find the balance between too sappy and sweet versus too real and serious. Jeep did a pretty good job. I think the ads from the Great Recession may have been stronger, but then we had the illusion that we were united, fair, and working towards common goals.
There were more, but I looked for and got a message. Very few ads really tripped up as much as they could have. Despite a few ads that actually choked me up (hey, it happens), the general feeling seemed to be caution with some optimism (maybe things will be better next year, maybe), less extravagance (unless you’re a celebrity), a concentration on home and lawn and security, and a tendency to hold back on the humor as if it is still too early for any of the topics in the news.
2020 made us question many of our societal norms and assumptions. Good. Challenging assumptions can be healthy, especially if those ideas haven’t been checked in years or decades. What we do in 2021 will be reflected in the 2022 Super Bowl ads, assuming there’s a Super Bowl in 2022. Maybe then we can celebrate what we’re doing now. Stay tuned.