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Super Bowl Ads That Scored—Even When the Game Didn’t

UMD Marketing Experts Break Down Which Commercials Flourished, Flopped or Found the Right Tone

By Annie Krakower

Screengrabs from Oatly, Anheuser-Busch, DoorDash, Amazon and General Motors Super Bowl ads

Videos and screengrabs courtesy of Oatly, Anheuser-Busch, DoorDash, Amazon and General Motors

Super Bowl ads this year included plenty of cameos, cuteness and a little more kookiness than usual.

Before football fans got to see Tom Brady’s latest hoisting of the Lombardi Trophy, they watched Will Ferrell (attempt to) journey to Norway, Drake from State Farm stand in for the khaki-panted Jake, Flat Matthew McConaughey reach for some 3D Doritos and a much-older “Wayne’s World” duo dance with Cardi B.

While Super Bowl LV did not live up to the hype—the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t score a touchdown as the Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers won handily, 31-9, in their home stadium—companies still brought their A game to the commercial breaks, shelling out an estimated $5.5 million per 30-second spot. The result: A variety of cameos, cuteness—and maybe a little more kookiness than usual after a challenging year.

“I was looking for, what are the positive COVID messages that are coming up?” said Amna Kirmani, Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Marketing in UMD’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “There were a lot of these hope ads—(but) not as many as I would have expected.”

Kirmani joined clinical professors of marketing Judy Frels and Hank Boyd for a little Monday morning quarterbacking with Maryland Today, discussing which ads from the big game scored big, and which fumbled. Here are five that stood out:

Amazon | “Alexa’s Body”

Amazon found a new body for its popular virtual assistant, Alexa: handsome actor Michael B. Jordan, who puts a sexy spin on fact dumps—“There are 16 tablespoons in a cup”—and reveals his six-pack abs while dimming the light with his T-shirt, to the delight of one user, and the dismay of her husband.

Boyd: “My wife knows him. For some reason, he’s the sexiest man alive, not me.”

Frels: “I thought that was hysterical and really tied to the brand, because he’s talking to her like he’s Alexa. That would make me get Alexa.”

Kirmani: “That also brings up another theme I saw this year. Last year we saw a lot of women empowerment ads. This year, it was more about diversity—a lot more Black Americans featured in ads, celebrities and everyday people.”


DoorDash | “The Neighborhood”

Who can’t relate to having food delivered during the pandemic? Actor Daveed Diggs strolls down Sesame Street with Big Bird, Cookie Monster and other Muppets to remind us that “you can get all sorts of things delivered from the neighborhood.”

Boyd: “They had Daveed Diggs from ‘Clipping’ and, of course, ‘Hamilton.’ So that was a nice, established star.”

Frels: “He seems like the kind who would be on ‘Sesame Street,’ you know? He’s clever.”

Kirmani: “And think about the broader appeal of ‘Sesame Street.’ So many people grew up on ‘Sesame Street’ and are much older now, versus the younger group who would know the ‘Hamilton’ guy. It’s a mass market for DoorDash—they were trying to blend different age groups, and also this neighborhood feeling.”

Boyd: “Maybe that’s what they were trying to do with “Wayne’s World,” bringing in Cardi B, trying to hit different genres.”


Oatly | “Wow No Cow”

The CEO of Oatly, a Swedish food company that produces oat-based dairy alternatives, appropriately—but somewhat oddly—stands in an oat field, playing a keyboard and singing a self-written song about the product. The awkwardness may have been a strategy, though: The company is already selling “I Totally Hated that Oatly Commercial” shirts.

Kirmani: “Strange, but it gets you thinking. … I went to the Oatly website after that, and it said, ‘Our ad has succeeded. It brought you here.’”

Frels: “It also kind of speaks to the whole TikTok (phenomenon)—get yourself out there, play your music. I thought that was pretty funny.”


General Motors | “No Way Norway”

Will Ferrell, quite upset upon learning that Norway sells more electric cars per capita than the U.S., storms off to “crush those lugers” across the globe, recruiting actors Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina to join him. (They take a wrong turn or two on the way, though.)

Kirmani: “I thought he was advertising Norway. I thought it was funny, but I thought, ‘Why are they doing that about Norway?’”

Boyd: “He kept trying to underscore, ‘Get your EV.’”

Kirmani: “But if you didn’t know what an EV was …”

Boyd: “You’re in trouble.”


Anheuser-Busch | “Let’s Grab a Beer”

In one of the ads that did play on hope and unity this year, Anheuser-Busch—which scrapped its usual Budweiser ad and instead donated money toward COVID vaccine awareness—showed that once we’re able to grab a beer with friends again, the best part will be enjoying the company.

Frels: “They didn’t do any of their Clydesdales or dogs or any of that stuff. … I thought it was a really sweet ad and really spoke to the times. … Of course, it doesn’t speak to COVID in that people are riding the elevator together and working together.”

Kirmani: “But it does, because I think their point was it’s not the beer, it’s the social get-together. And so the beer is important in terms of connecting to other people, and that’s what we’re missing.”

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