Last night’s Super Bowl was a frustrating, tedious four hours of viewing for much of the American public. (Kansas City, please accept our condolences.) That was even true for those of us who don’t watch for the football as much as the ads, which ranged from overly self-serious ruminations on COVID-19 to overstuffed, weird-for-the-sake-of-weird showcases of just how much money a brand is willing to spend to score 30 seconds with your eyeballs. If every year’s Super Bowl ads leave us with a distinct overall impression (remember in 2015 when the theme seemed to be “death and destruction”?), then 2021 will surely be remembered as the year when companies paraded famous people across the screen in a sweaty effort to say, Remember them? You love them! They’re here to remind you that the pandemic will be over soon! If you blink, we crumble!
Don’t get me wrong, some of the ads were mildly entertaining. I appreciate Cheetos’ commitment to getting Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” stuck in our heads 21 years after its initial release, though the ad would have been funnier as a more concentrated 30-second spot instead of teasing the joke out for an entire minute; Ashton Kutcher had to put way too much silence in between the intended rapid-fire lines of the song. And M&M’s had fun with a simple concept—use M&M’s to apologize to people—that didn’t get bloated with celebrity cameos, focusing instead on one delightful appearance by Dan Levy. We have made our opinions on Flat Matthew McConaughey known to the world. Beyond that, though, I found most ads pretty forgettable.
What we, the viewers, want from an ad is to be entertained, to have something fun to chat about with friends and actually enjoy when it pops up on TV again. But all these commercials really have to do is remind us of the existence of a product, which they can do in meaningless, flashy, uninteresting ways and still technically succeed. They don’t need to convince or endear us. They just need to seep into us. Money well spent, in that case.
Did you enjoy any Super Bowl commercials this year? Were there any that you hope you never have to see or think about ever again? Where do you stand on the Jason Alexander hoodie? Discuss.