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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

ADdicted: Super Bowl 2021 Edition

I'm really excited to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday. Just don't ask me which two teams are playing, because I honestly couldn't tell you.

After all, I don't watch the Super Bowl for the football.

I watch it for the ads.

It's a safe bet the majority of this year's Super Bowl ads will be entertaining. After all, you wouldn't decide to spend $5.5 million US to air a 30-second spot and then intentionally choose to produce and show a terrible commercial, right?

But when it comes to advertising, "entertaining" doesn't mean "effective".

The best ads are those that start with strong consumer insights, then deliver clear and compelling messages to well-defined target audiences.

They also leverage something about a brand that's unique and distinctive. I never want to watch an ad and think, "you could swap out the brand's logo with its closest competitor's logo, and the spot would still make perfect sense." I want to watch it and think, "That's obviously an ad for {BRAND}" even if I don't see that brand's logo.

I want to remember not only the commercial but also the brand the day after the commercial has aired. And I want to feel so good about that brand as a result of that commercial that it changes my mind, and my behaviour, the next time I'm looking to make a purchase.

And if a popular celebrity stars in the ad, or the commercial taps into some nostalgic pop culture moment? That's terrific... but it's a bonus. Everything else has to be there first.

Am I asking a lot? Most certainly.

But great brands manage to pull it off.

And the five spots below are excellent examples.

Here are the Top Seven 2021 Super Bowl commercials I've watched so far, along with why I think they're so good.


#7. ‘Twas the Night Before Super Bowl | Frito-Lay 2:00

I'm not a sports fan, and I have to admit I wouldn't have recognized many of the legendary football players in this commercial had it not been for the narration.

But this is a Super Bowl ad. And any person tuning in on Sunday to actually watch the football game instead of just the ads (read: most people) are likely to love this fun spot.

It's light on "insight", but heavy on product placement and usage occasion, which in this case might make up for it. I might argue people already believed that "chips" and "Super Bowl" went together like "peanut butter" and "jam", but if you didn't already connect the two, you probably do now.

And releasing the ad early enough for people to have time to visit the grocery store before the big game was certainly a smart idea... because getting you to buy more chips is what the ad is intended to do in the first place.

Insight: 1 / 5

Clear & Compelling Message: 4 / 5

Unique & Distinctive: 3 / 5

Expected Day-After Recall: 4 / 5

Persuasion: 4 / 5

Total Score: 16 / 25


#6: We are all investors | Robinhood

The Robinhood brand has taken a beating over the past few months as a result of decisions they made around the Reddit r/WallStreetStocks situation.

Fortunately, "changing your mind about a brand" is something good advertising can actually do, which is why their decision to purchase a Super Bowl ad actually makes sense.

Robinhood's target audience would perhaps best be described as "inexperienced investors", because the platform's reason-for-being is to make it easy for novices to trade stocks... too easy, according to many critics. Why wouldn't you use Robinhood? One good reason would be because you don't think that investing in stocks is for people like you... but it's clearly in Robinhood's best interests to change your mind about that.

The ad begins with a voiceover asking, "don't think you're an investor?" And then proceeds to outline every way that regular people "invest" every single day. When the commercial ends with, "you don't need to become an investor... you were born one," you're likely to concede that Robinhood has made a compelling case... and perhaps consider opening a Robinhood account.

And if an ad can convince you that you actually need something you didn't think you really needed before watching it? That's a good ad.

Insight: 2 / 5

Clear & Compelling Message: 4 / 5

Unique & Distinctive: 4 / 5

Expected Day-After Recall: 4 / 5

Persuasion: 4 / 5

Total Score: 18 / 25


#5 - M&M’S Super Bowl 2021 (featuring Dan Levy) - “Come Together”:30

After a long year of people being "apart", both physically and philosophically, it's nice to see an ad leveraging the insight that people are better versions of themselves when they're able to "Come Together".

M&M's uses this spot to implicitly state there's tremendous value in the candy-covered chocolate, and thus position itself as the ultimate peace offering. It uses gentle humour to deliver the message that things get better when you have M&M's.

Was Dan Levy necessary in this spot? Well... no. But Dan Levy is a national treasure, and after binging all six seasons of Schitt's Creek last year, it's absolutely clear that everything is better when he's involved... and don't waste your time trying to convince me otherwise.

Insight: 3 / 5

Clear & Compelling Message: 4 / 5

Unique & Distinctive: 4 / 5

Expected Day-After Recall: 4 / 5

Persuasion: 4 / 5

Total Score: 19 / 25


#4: The Rising - 2021 Big Game Commercial | Indeed

What does "Indeed" do? It helps people get jobs. That message could not be more clear from this ad.

There isn't a lot of insight to be found in this ad, but I think this is one of the very rare cases where perhaps none is needed.

We instinctively know that we all need a purpose. If you've ever been unemployed, you know that it can feel terrible... and that you try and do whatever you can to change that situation. And all the while, you do your very best to maintain a sense of hope and a belief that things will eventually work out for you and your family.

The uplifting music, imagery, and message of this spot are exactly what a job-seeker will want to see, and serve to associate "Indeed" with "hope for a better future".

And if you were "Indeed", isn't that exactly the association you'd want to have?

Insight: 1 / 5

Clear & Compelling Message: 5 / 5

Unique & Distinctive: 5 / 5

Expected Day-After Recall: 5 / 5

Persuasion: 5 / 5

Total Score: 21 / 25


#2: 5 to 9 by Dolly Parton – Extended | Big Game Commercial 2021 | Squarespace (Tie)

I'm not a fan of country music, but I have a tremendous appreciation for how Squarespace cleverly adapted Dolly Parton's classic "9 to 5" song in this ad.

The insight here is both terrific and relatable: "the most meaningful work you do will happen outside of the office." And of course, Squarespace can make it easy for you to build a website that supports that meaningful work. It's a simple message, delivered in a clear, effective, and (dare I say it) catchy way. Sigh... I'm going to be humming this song for days.

Insight: 5 / 5

Clear & Compelling Message: 5 / 5

Unique & Distinctive: 5 / 5

Expected Day-After Recall: 4 / 5

Persuasion: 4 / 5

Total Score: 23 / 25


#2: Let's Grab a Beer | Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl LV Commercial |:90 (Tie)

The simple insight of this ad -- that "going out for beers isn't actually about the beer" -- is both profound and incredibly relevant after almost a full year of quarantine.

The spot does a wonderful job of showcasing slices of life where "going for a beer" (ideally a beer in the Anheuser-Busch portfolio of brands) really helps to make things better.

Insight: 5 / 5