February 8, 2021

Intouch Creatives on Super Bowl LV Ads: From High Fives to Face Palms

football on field

If you caught last night’s Super Bowl LV … well … you know how that turned out. For those of us in “Chiefs Kingdom,” it was an unmitigated disaster — and let’s not even talk about what it was like for Tom Brady and his championship ring collection (it’s fine, really). But what about the commercials? What was eye-roll inducing and what was inspiring? What was fire, and what was an abysmal flop? We asked several Intouch creative leads to give us their thoughts on the winners and losers this year — opinions may vary — following are their responses.

What’s your overall reaction to this year’s batch of Super Bowl commercials, in three words?

Marty Canniff, SVP, executive creative director: Nostalgia. Humor. Social impact.

Joanna Friel, VP, group creative director: Business as usual.

Eric Hannula, creative director:  So. Much. Nostalgia!

Kristoffer Koerner, VP, creative: It’s a New World Order (electric cars, crypto currency, personal assistants, food delivery, etc.).

Don Matera, VP, creative: Inclusive. Positive. Human.

Elke Mermis, creative director: Nothing new here.

Susan Perlbachs, chief creative officer: Celebs, celebs, celebs.

David Torres, VP, creative: Good storytelling ingenuity.

Annie Wong, creative director: Strength. Optimism. Courage.

Did you notice any trends this year?

Canniff: Celebrity, celebrity, celebrity (maybe always this way?)

Friel: Doritos “Flat Matthew” was fun; cute interactions (when barista calls out his order but can’t see him because he’s sideways).


Hannula: Nostalgia and multiscreen interactions.

Koerner: Bud Light “Lemons” and Jeep touched on the past, but most story lines stayed far, far away from anything to remind us of it. And I’m glad to see the positivity!

Matera: Support for local and small businesses was a nice and very much-needed trend this year.

Mermis: In a year with so much fuel for really unique cultural commentary, I expected more insightful, interesting approaches rather than the same-old goofy sight-gags and B-list celebrity cameos.

Perlbachs: It seemed like the number of celebs appearing in spots was higher than ever. I was particularly impressed by the Samuel L. Jackson avatar versus Samuel L. Jackson in the Verizon ad. COVID workaround or happy accident? Either way, hearing an onion say, “I peeled myself,” made for a fun spot.

Elizabeth Rooney, SVP, Executive Creative Director: Local (DoorDash, Sesame Street, Colbert bumper, Verizon); political; Gen X has the buying power (UberEats “Wayne’s World; Cadillac “Edgar Scissorhands”; SquareSpace “5-9 soundtrack”; Maya Rudolph, “Klarna”); diversity; leveraging the power of celebrity over the depth of the idea or relevance to the brand.

Torres: Acknowledging the pandemic and political divide in obvious and not so obvious ways with the goal of getting people to come together.

Wong: Positive attitude and hopeful spirits in the face of adversity.

What did you feel was the freshest, most original approach?  

Canniff:  Oatly. Lo-fi. Weird. Singular. Divisive. But completely delivering as an outsider, independent brand.

Hannula: Mountain Dew Watermelon was the freshest for art direction, and for its incentive-driven approach. It begged the viewer to watch over and over to win $1MM by identifying exactly the amount of MDW bottles in the commercial. I thought it was a beautiful-looking, sounding, and exciting concept.

Koerner: Hate to be a downer, but this was not the year for originality.

Mermis: To be honest, most of them felt like rehashes of previous years.

Perlbachs: As a fan of Dolly Parton and Squarespace, “Working 5 to 9” spoke to me and made me smile.

Torres: Rocket Mortgage’s “Be Certain,” with Tracy Morgan, was fun and probably spoke to a lot of people still considering taking advantage of the lower rates right now. I was also entertained by the Squarespace 5 to 9 spot and felt it could speak to anyone considering using this time to reinvent themselves with a new business.

Wong: Toyota’s Jessica Long story was the most original and memorable commercial. The stunning execution, the remarkable storytelling of overcoming the odds, and the delivery of an inspiring and a powerful message at the end. “We believe in the hope and strength in all of us.” The story is authentically well-told, timeless, thoughtfully executed, and made it relevant and relatable to everyone who has experienced struggle, courage, and finally faith to continue forward. Life can be an upstream struggle, but as long as you believe in the strength and the support of your loved ones, you can rewrite your own story. Nothing is impossible.

Which spot set off your “wish I’d done that” jealousy meter?

Canniff: Two that come to mind are Vroom and TurboTax. Vroom nailed the torture of buying a car with humor and demonstrated Vroom as a desirable alternative. TurboTax made tax loopholes funny. The rolling wooden desks with laptops are so odd but memorable and funny.

Friel: The Toyota “Beautiful Story.” Imaginative, engaging story. It held my interest the entire time.

Hannula: Uber Eats “Eat Local” and DoorDash “The Neighborhood” were the most inspiring commercials IMHO. I love when brands use their campaign dollars to promote a cause and not just their services. It’s nice when you can do both!

Door Dash Sesame Street Super Bowl Commercial
Screen capture from Door Dash – Sesame Street 2021 Super Bowl Ad

Koerner: Vroom. Great insight into the emotional stress that comes with buying a car from a dealer. Something we can all — no matter your culture or your generation — can relate to.

Matera: My jealousy meter melted when I saw the Jessica Long spot from Toyota. A beautiful story and heartfelt execution. It’s a reinforcement for everyone to never give up on hope. 

Mermis: The cinematography of Bruce Springsteen’s Jeep spot was gorgeous. (As someone from Kansas, I am possibly biased.)

Rooney: Cadillac’s “Edgar Scissorhands,” for sure. Craft, casting, storytelling and relevancy to the audience with buying power — all tied to a very functional feature.

Perlbachs: The Will Ferrell spot for GM was one I wish I’d done. I would love to meet Will Ferrell! Also, I just wish I’d written the line, “With GM’s new Ultium battery, we’re gonna Crush those lugers!”

Torres: Who wouldn’t have loved an opportunity to be briefed on and create the commercial for Jeep?

Did any of the spots inspire you as a creative, and if so, how?

Canniff: I like the ones that are harder creative and strategic challenges. TurboTax was a really effective creative and strategic solve. Making tax season funny while also delivering a focused product benefit was admirable.

Friel: I loved Toyota’s “Upstream” but wonder, really, what did the spot have to do with Toyota? Beautiful story, interesting execution, very memorable.

Hannula: I loved the art direction and music in the Mountain Dew Watermelon commercial. So much eye candy! Will I buy a MDW soda? Probably not, but it was still a cool commercial.

Mermis: They reinforced how important craft and technique can be. Indeed’s “The Rising” reminds us how standard visual storytelling can be taken to another level by the perfect track. Huggies’ spot used fresh editing, framing and direction to push past simply being a “cute baby” spot.

Rooney: Cadillac’s “Edgar Scissorhands.” Again, craft, casting, storytelling and relevancy to the audience with buying power. Original and incredibly well produced.

Screen capture from Cadillac’s Edgar Scissorhands 2021 Super Bowl commercial

Toyota Olympic Sponsorship: I guarantee no one changed the channel. It was beautiful how they created a compelling visual with the water that was powerfully disruptive but also communicated the emotional tone behind the story. As a viewer, you were taken on a symbolic journey from drowning to the heroism of overcoming adversity. Epic.

Torres: Jeep’s “The Middle” ReUnited States of America with Bruce Springsteen seemed so effortless and poetic that you didn’t realize until after it was over that it was almost 2 minutes long. The spot just muted the noise we’ve been suffering from over the past few years, with a much-needed pause to reflect and appreciate that things can be better. Very nicely done.

Wong: I feel inspired as a creative to tell a story in a simple, compelling and thoughtful way. Jessica Long swam back in time while showing how and where her journey as a Paralympian all started. All the scenes are connected through a thread of Jessica submerged in water. The deliberate creative direction made it easy for the viewers to understand the story of present time blending in with the past through a seamless, well thought-out execution. Nicely done. Wow!

Did your impression of any brand change (for better or worse) after seeing their commercial?

Canniff: I didn’t know Vroom existed. Now I know them, like them, and understand how they can make car buying easy.

Friel: Jeep (worse). It felt so heavy-handed. And old. And sappy. It was the epitome of “in these unprecedented times” trope. Anheuser-Busch (better) “Let’s grab a beer” felt true and relevant to the world at this moment in particular.

Mermis: Pleasantly surprised by Bud Light’s “Last Year’s Lemons” spot, which tackled 2020 in a fresh way. The thousand-yard-stare at the end of the spot while all of the protagonists contemplate 2020 was the kind of dark humor that I expected more of this year.

Hannula: Uber Eats and Door Dash have my attention. The on-demand economy is something I’ve always been interested in, because as consumers we spend money to save time. In this instance, we don’t mind paying surcharges and delivery fees because we’re helping small business owners and their workers during an unprecedented time in humanity.

Koerner: Cadillac. It’s not your grandfathers Cadillac anymore. Cadillac has self-driving cars available. That’s impressive!

Perlbachs: Edgar Scissorhands made me think more of Cadillac. It strikes me as a stuffy brand. But, a spot featuring Winona Ryder and a Scissorhands character selling Cadillac’s hands-free driving is memorable and doesn’t take itself so seriously.

Rooney: Logitech is a very old brand that tried very hard to be a new, fresh brand. It didn’t change my opinion as it has been a long-standing, reliable brand … but I appreciated the attempt.

Torres: I never think about Scotts and Miracle-Gro, but after seeing the spot, I now wish I had a home with a lawn or garden to spend time in. I feel they identified a great opportunity to support mental health (without saying it) during COVID through outdoor space and probably wouldn’t have chosen to buy the spot if we weren’t in this pandemic.

Ford’s #FinishStrong was a decent attempt at unifying an audience through a common cause, left me feeling hopeful for what’s to come and appreciative they’re investing in this message.

GM’s “EVerbody In” campaign using Will Ferrell to lead the spot was fun and engaging. Love how they’re rallying everyone around being environmentally responsible through their electric cars.

Who used celebrities/cultural cues well?

Canniff: Logitech. Lil Nas X addressing creativity in the Covid-19 age. Individuality, a voice of a new generation, defying the logic of the past. It speaks to a different segment of the Super Bowl audience – not the middle-aged dads and moms — but to younger people, and connects to them with a defiant, empowering message.

Friel: While there were many spots that were focused on 2020, the ones that tied back to the realities of the pandemic landed with the most authenticity. Door Dash “Sesame Street/People in your neighborhood” had a brand and personal message of supporting local through ordering food. A common mantra spoken across towns everywhere. In a more humorous approach, Bud Light’s “Last Year’s Lemons” leveraged the unofficial summary of 2020: it sucked. By literally making hard seltzer lemonade, I remembered the spot and the brand.

Hannula: General Motors. I loved the Edgar Scissorhands commercial to promote their autonomous car. Also, GM’s Will Ferrell “No Way Norway” commercial was funny.

Koerner: “Scissors Hands-Free” from Cadillac. Gen Xers seem to be the sweet spot in terms of demographic. And they nailed it with the cultural reference to the beloved Edward Scissorhands, combined with the early adopter persona of that generation!

Matera: Springsteen and Jeep for the win. Never in a million years did I think he’d ever do an ad. Springsteen narrated a poetic story everyone can feel in their bones, and Jeep went along for the ride.

Mermis: Tide’s Jason Alexander hoodie. After spending the last year inside re-watching Seinfeld episodes … this made zero sense to me, but it made me laugh.

Perlbachs: In terms of cultural cues, the M&M spot was great. Not only do I love Dan Levy, a well-placed Karen joke wins my respect.

Rooney: Car companies FTW. GM/Lincoln (Edgar Scissorhands); Toyota (Paralympian support); Jeep; GM’s “EVerbody In” campaign casting with Will Ferrell was just what we needed to help lighten the mood to educate on an important subject like going green. Most people love Will and hopefully he’s changed a few people’s minds to consider electric cars in the near future.

Torres: Jeep nailed it with Bruce Springsteen, everybody pays attention when The Boss comes on the screen.

Will this work still seem Super Bowl-worthy 5 years from now? 

Canniff: No. We will have moved past the novelty of virtual creation and connection as it will be commonplace. It may be a cultural marker though – of a time where young people were looking to make the most out of a crappy new world.

Friel: “Let’s grab a beer” is steeped in such common language and truth that it can continue to make people make good on their “let’s grab a beer” and know that it means more.

Hannula: I would guess probably not because the overall Super Bowl experience was very different this year. But then again, that’s why the commercials may be memorable. I dunno?

Koerner: Most of this year’s post-Super Bowl conversations revolved around the game. Not a good sign for memorable commercials.

Mermis: Doubt it. It’s a recycle of some of the biggest trends of the last few years: piano-soundtrack serious spots; spoofs of infomercials; W+K kitsch; faux-ironic celebrity placements; and self-referencing commercials that rely on viewers’ knowledge of previous ads.

Rooney: Several that address specifics around 2020, yes: Jeep “Lebanon, KS — center”; Bud Light “Lemons”; NFL Effort “Inspire Change.”

Perlbachs: Some of it. Like the Anheuser “It’s not about the beer” spot. But, how much of what we’ve recently endured do we want to hold water 5 years from now?

Torres: Hard to say. Times are changing so rapidly now, there may be a whole new set of problems that require a completely new way of storytelling in five years. However, I think the more sympathetic approaches that didn’t rely on a product, humor or fiction to place themselves in the conversation could still be relevant. Jeep’s “Middle” and Toyota’s “Jessica Long” adoption story are good examples of creative that could easily be referenced as best in class for years to come.

Which spot was the biggest face palm or waste of money?

Canniff: Hellmann’s Mayo. Hilarious, expensive comedian used in a not funny way.

Friel: Weathertech or Sketchers. Just so blah and un-Super Bowl worthy.

Hannula: Cheetos’ “It Wasn’t Me.” So terrible on so many levels.

Koerner: 5-second Reddit spot. With all the press Reddit has gotten from the subreddit group #WallStreet Bets, paying for a Super Bowl spot might have been the biggest waste of money this year.

Perlbachs: As an avid fan of Oatly Oat Milk, I never needed to see their CEO sing about it. But the fact that they’re already selling t-shirts, knowing I’d say that, is making me reconsider.

Rooney: Mathew McConaughey in 3-D Doritos; Miracle Gro with Travolta TikTok; Pringles

Torres: There were so many, but a few that stand out are Pringles Strands Astronauts; Dorito’s Flat Mathew; Mercari sell your stuff app: popcorn maker; and Klarna’s 4 miniature Cowboys.

man in a white shirt with graphic on it sitting in the back of a car