Super Bowl Commercials Lean Into Nostalgia After Tough Year
A worker installs laces on a Super Bowl XLIX branded football in Ohio. (Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Super Bowl Commercials Lean Into Nostalgia After Tough Year

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This year’s Super Bowl ads went heavy on nostalgia, largely avoiding the thorny issues of today in favor of movies, songs and characters from decades ago.

Shaggy’s 20-year-old reggae hit “It Wasn’t Me” was used to hawk Cheetos. The characters from past Bud Light ads helped get a toppled beer truck back on the road. In another callback, rapper Drake appeared as “Drake from State Farm,” a riff on the insurance company’s longstanding “Jake from State Farm” pitchman.

With 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, even the game seemed like a nostalgia trip.

Mike Myers and Dana Carvey resurrected their 1990s “Wayne’s World” roles to promote Uber Eats. E-Trade’s commercial featured a song from the 1980s film “The Karate Kid.” Dolly Parton reimagined her 1980 hit song “9 to 5” for Squarespace.

Nostalgia marketing is nothing new, of course, especially during the Super Bowl. But after a year of pandemic and polarization, brands seemed especially keen to hark back to earlier times.

Companies spent an average of about $5.5 million for each 30-second slot, and CBS said it “virtually sold out” its ad inventory. The game itself turned into a blowout, which may have hurt marketers that gambled on third- and fourth-quarter slots.

Several ads promoted the way more and more people are viewing entertainment: streaming services. Walt Disney Co. touted its series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and the movie “Raya and the Last Dragon,” both of which will appear on Disney+.

ViacomCBS Inc., which broadcast the game on CBS, ran several spots for its new Paramount+ streaming service, set to debut next month. Meanwhile, some users complained of glitches watching the game on the company’s current platform, CBS All Access. But the disruption was temporary.

Users complained of glitches with the game’s online service, but the disruption was temporary.

Some ads alluded to the tumult of 2020, which included a pandemic, racial strife, a contentious U.S. presidential election and a battered economy.

In its first Super Bowl ad, Scotts Miracle-Gro featured Martha Stewart, John Travolta and other celebrities in backyards, noting how such spaces “have had quite a year.” Bruce Springsteen appeared in a Jeep ad, promising that “there’s hope on the road up ahead.”

Procter & Gamble Co. explored another dimension of the pandemic in a shared spot for Dawn dish soap and Swiffer floor-cleaning supplies. It noted how household chores have ballooned for “one person” and calling on viewers to “close the chore gap.” Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade reminded viewers that 2020 “was a lemon of a year.”

Online brokerage Robinhood and discussion site Reddit also ran spots, both of which championed the power of regular people but didn’t reference their roles in the recent GameStop stock saga. Robinhood’s commercial told potential customers, “You don’t need to become an investor, you were born one.”

Reddit aimed for social-media buzz with a five-second ad that said “underdogs can accomplish just about anything when they come together around a common idea.”

Though NFL ratings have declined this year, the Super Bowl matchup of the Bucs and Chiefs -- with star quarterbacks Brady and Patrick Mahomes -- appeared to be an ideal scenario for marketers. CBS will release the ratings Monday, showing if the decisive victory by the Bucs hurt viewership.

The ads were rife with celebrities, though not always in their usual forms. Will Ferrell starred in a General Motors ad about electric vehicles. A two-dimensional Matthew McConaughey appeared on behalf of Doritos 3D. A computer-animated Samuel L. Jackson promoted Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, before getting gobbled up by a shark -- another ’90s reference, since he met the same fate in “Deep Blue Sea.”

And Michael B. Jordan embodied the new, sexier form of Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa.

It doesn’t always take long to know whether a Super Bowl spot is a good use of marketing dollars. Take it from streaming service Quibi, which advertised in last year’s game. It shut down before the end of the year.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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