The Quilted Squirrel

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Top Trends and Takeaways from the 2020 Super Bowl Ads

Three nights ago, Americans decked their folding tables with myriad iterations of taco dip and smorgasbords of buffalo-style food items, stocked their coolers with cheap beer and settled in for the unofficial holiday event of the season—Super Bowl Sunday. And if you watched the Super Bowl, you probably did so for any possible combination of the following three reasons—the teams, the halftime show or the commercials. The Super Bowl is obviously the Super Bowl for the Super Bowl (it’s the Super Bowl, after all), but it’s also the Super Bowl for ads.

Now that we’ve seen the commercials, many of which featured big celebrity cameos and even bigger budgets, and the dust has settled, we took a look at a few of the advertising trends that stood out to us this year. This list is by no means definitive, but it does reflect a few things that sparked our interest in between scoops of bean dip and way too many chicken wings. 

Movie Nostalgia

Lately, it seems that every new movie that comes out is either a remake or a sequel. There’s a simple explanation for this—nostalgia sells. When advertisers reference classic films, they’re taking advantage of the fact that their audience is already familiar with and has an affinity for certain concepts and characters. One of the most successful ads of the evening was Jeep’s take on “Groundhog’s Day,” which reprised Bill Murray’s famous role with one small edit—access to a Jeep Gladiator in which he and his furry friend make the most of their situation. Bryan Cranston did his best Danny Torrence in Mtn Dew Zero Sugar’s take on the Shining. Less successfully, Squarespace channeled Fargo in their ad featuring Winona Ryder creating a website for Winona, Minnesota. There wasn’t much more to the gag, however, and the spot fell flat.

 Self-Awareness and Meta-Narratives

With the rise of social media and all of the anxiety around security and identity that it fosters, we’ve become increasingly self-conscious about our public image and appearing “authentic” to others This year, this hyper self-awareness manifested in ads that knew they were ads and seemed to kind of wink at their audience from behind their production. As part of a multi-commercial advertising campaign for Tide, actor Charlie Day appeared and attempted to do his laundry in other recognizable ads (i.e. Bud Light and Wonder Woman) throughout the night. In an ad for Hulu, Tom Brady references “the script they just gave me.” In a 30 second spot for Pringles, Grandpa Rick (of animated cult favorite TV show Rick and Morty) tries to save his family from the commercial itself—playfully nodding at the ubiquity of corporate influence and the existential futility of attempting to escape.

Surrealism

Over the years, Super Bowl ads have become weirder and weirder. It only follows that, as our headlines and national politics become increasingly surreal, so do our ads. In an ad for Bud Light’s new mango seltzer, we’re exposed to the inner command center of Post Malone, who ends the spot by yelling at his spleen. In a Rocket Mortgage ad, we watch super-buff Aquaman star Jason Momoa literally remove his muscles (and signature flowing locks) to reveal his true self—a gangly armature of his former figure—and it’s truly a cursed image. M.C. Hammer’s head on a baby’s body in the ad for Cheeto’s popcorn? How did we get here?

Space

 Outer space, like favorite old movies, is generally a pretty safe topic. It’s not too political and it harkens back to the feel-good patriotism of the Space Race, which was maybe the last time a majority of Americans agreed that America was crushing it. Ads for Olay urged viewers to “make space for women” by sending Busy Phillips and Lily Singh into orbit, though the empowerment message was lost to some heavy-handedness. Walmart nailed two trends in one by channeling “famous visitors” from classic space movies, and Sodastream imagined finding water on Mars and played on viewers’ nostalgia with a science lesson from Bill Nye.

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