Using Super Bowl Ad Themes To Score With Your Audiences

An abbreviated take on this year's themes and what they mean for us as marketers.

February 11, 2021  

As the Super Bowl LV commercial chatter winds down, here’s an abbreviated take on this year’s themes from Associate Strategy Director Amanda Gibson.

Were you one of the 100 million people who watched the big game this year? Me too. And while I was personally more excited about eating snacks for dinner and hearing poet Amanda Gorman than watching the football, the fanfare of the evening was not lost on me for another reason: the Super Bowl ads.

Every year, marketers and advertisers pose the question, “Is a Super Bowl ad really worth it?” A valid question — this year, 30-second spots went for an estimated $5.5 million each. Some brands opted out for 2021, choosing to reallocate that budget toward doing good in their communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for the brands that chose to make the investment, it’s safe to assume that the marketers behind these ads asked themselves the same questions that we’ve all been asking ourselves: What are people looking for in a time of division, loss, and instability? Is everyone tired of hearing about the pandemic? Is it okay to make people laugh? Is it better to make them cry? Does everyone we show need to be wearing a mask? And perhaps most of all: What if we get it wrong? 

Don’t worry. You probably won’t find Ologie recommending a Super Bowl spot for your brand. But we can look at these ads to gain valuable insights into what people want to see and hear at this moment.

So, if you spent the commercial breaks refreshing your buffalo chicken dip and your beverage of choice, we’ve got your back. Here are the key themes of the 2021 Super Bowl ads and how they can help you find the right message and tone for your marketing and communication efforts:

Theme 1 — Good, Pure Escapism:
Laughable moments that make you say, “What the heck was that?”
  • See: Oatly, “Wow No Cow”; Bud Light, “Legends”; Doritos 3D, “Flat Matthew (Flat Stanley)”
  • What it means: This was the go-to tone of many of the ads. A safe approach? Perhaps. But it’s a solid reminder that, in a time where many brands are struggling to get it “right,” sometimes the best thing you can do to break through the clutter is to just be wholly and authentically you.
Theme 2 — The American Spirit:
Celebrating resilience and calling for unity.
  • See: Jeep, “The Middle”; Toyota, “Upstream”; Indeed, “The Rising”
  • What it means: We’re living in a very divided country. These brands were looking to capture and elevate the resilience that marks the American spirit. They didn’t speak pointedly about the pandemic or the politics — rather, they shared stories of our people and the power we have when we stand together.
Theme 3 — The Sequels:
Modern takes on memorable cultural throwback moments. 
  • See: Cadillac, “Edgar Scissorhands”; UberEats, “Wayne’s World”
  • What it means: Aren’t we all a little nostalgic for normalcy? Many of the year’s major cultural moments have centered on division, strife, and loss. They sparked important, but difficult, conversations. Looking back to pop culture of the past might feel weird, but it can bring moments of warmth, familiarity, and joy to our audiences.
Theme 4 — Pandemic Humor:
A humorous look at how the pandemic has affected our everyday lives. 
  • See: Bud Light, “Last Year’s Lemons”; Cheetos, “Wasn’t Me”
  • What it means: This is a delicate line to walk. The key is not to make light of the loss that 2020 brought, but rather to capture the universal human truths (and often the humor) that come from our shared experiences.