‘Safe, lazy, boring’: How Super Bowl LVII ads mostly fumbled

    Anti-climatic could be one word used to describe Super Bowl LVII. Bracing on-field play between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs ended up hinging on a controversial holding call made with less than 2 minutes left on the clock, setting the Chiefs up for an easy victory. Ads similarly fizzled after weeks of build-up and even swirling controversy, with major teases from marketers like M&M’s failing to deliver on the hype Sunday.

    A-list celebrity cameos and winks to pop culture staples like “Breaking Bad” and “Clueless” came to dominate the night. That’s not an uncommon occurrence for the big game, but the strategy has rarely felt so samey, meaning that even decent concepts got lost in the broader barrage of Hollywood faces. Meanwhile, the flops felt more grating than usual amid an over-reliance on one-note humor that failed to connect back to brand identity.

    “It’s almost as if there was a shared brief style for the scripts,” said Pepe Aguilar, executive creative director at Gallegos United, over email.

    There were still some surprises and clear winners regarding sentiment. Rihanna earned accolades for a high-flying halftime concert, the first to be sponsored by Apple Music. An interruptive spot for streamer Tubi had many watch parties wondering whether someone accidentally sat on the remote. Pets were effectively deployed by both Amazon and The Farmer’s Dog to tug at the heartstrings, with the latter topping USA Today’s closely watched Ad Meter.

    QR codes and commercials for commerce-oriented services also continued to weave their way into the broadcast, speaking to enduring pandemic-driven digital trends. Electric vehicles were pervasive from automakers, charging up the usually staid category after a busy showing last year. Liquor had its first appearance, while Molson Coors made a splash in its first ad back at the Super Bowl in over three decades. And advertisers and the NFL made some strides in better recognizing women, including through a commercial from the league that saw flag football ambassador Diana Flores chased by an army of familiar faces.

    Still, a handful of bright spots and innovative plays couldn’t stem the overriding feeling that Super Bowl LVII’s advertising slate was stale, a possible reflection of marketers being at an uneasy point of transition in relation to the pandemic, the rise of streaming and other seismic industry shifts.

    “I found the majority of the ads to be particularly bad this year. Safe, lazy, boring,” said Douglas Brundage, founder of Kingsland, over email. “It seems as if brands are still figuring out what the national mood is and chose the most conservative routes possible instead of doing the deep strategy work to unlock an opportunity. I hate to see brands waste money like this.”

    Celeb fatigue sets in

    Heavy price tags for Super Bowl commercials probably signal that marketers will continue to rely on Hollywood talent to get the most bang for their buck. Fox, this year’s broadcaster, reportedly commanded up to $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime. But Super Bowl LVII’s output had many commenters at their breaking point in terms of celebrity tolerance, meaning a switch-up in messaging should be in the cards lest people start to tune out.

    Some ideas connected, like Bud Light’s grounded “Hold,” the first Super Bowl output from new creative agency Anomaly. The ad shows real-life couple Miles Teller and Keleigh Sperry inspired to goofily dance around their living room as catchy hold music enlivens an otherwise trying phone call.

    “The ad was sweet and relatable and showed us that something as mundane as being on interminable hold can be made better with a cold beer,” said Deb Gabor, founder and CEO of Sol Marketing, in emailed comments.

    Dunkin’ capitalized on Ben Affleck’s well-established — and much-memed — preference for the Massachusetts-based coffee chain in an ad directed by Affleck himself. He later reappeared to promote his new movie “Air.” In “Drive-Thru,” the filmmaker mans the busy ordering lane at a local Dunkin’ shop, eliciting baffled reactions from customers and, eventually, his wife, Jennifer Lopez. It was the rare instance of a brand drawing a clear connection between its product and the spokesperson in a night of disjointed partnerships.

    “Ben’s famous love of Dunkin’ resonates here,” said Mark DiMassimo, founder and creative chief of DiGo, over email. “In a Super Bowl dominated by celebrity spots, this one transcended the cliches as well as the genre, and worked hard for Dunkin’.”


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