By Haley Rey, Head Copyeditor
Photos from gq.com, today.com, freep.com, usatoday.com, nfl.com, and azcentral.com
Advertisements and entertainment in the age of COVID-19 have been strange, to say the least. There have been more animations, graphic designs, and puppets (yikes). The biggest night for advertisers in the US is the Super Bowl, because it has always guaranteed a sizable audience. Commercials and halftime performances are usually top-notch, which is great news for people that want in on the fun of the Super Bowl but don’t care much about football. That said, let’s take a look at the top five commercials from last night’s game.
(This is my personal ranking, based only on my individual opinion.)
Number 5: Toyota Big Game: Jessica Long’s Story
Toyota’s commercial casts a spotlight on Jessica Long, an American Paralympic swimmer. It shared a remake of the phone call her adoptive mother received when she was first told about Jessica. Her mother was extremely excited to have a daughter, and knew that the experience would be an incredible one despite the hardships that life threw their way. The commercial didn’t have much to do with cars, but Toyota promoted that they are proud to be a supporter of the Olympics and Paralympics. Jessica Long is a living legend that deserves the recognition she received.
Number 4: All-Electric Cadillac LYRIQ
This adorable commercial features Timothée Chalamet and Winona Ryder, who play Edgar Scissorhands and his mother. Edgar struggles to live happily with his hands; all he wants is to be in control of his life by being able to drive a car. His mother notices, and eventually finds him a car that allows for hands-free driving with the click of a button—an all-electric Cadillac LYRIQ. The commercial has theme music, costumes, and even an actress from the original film. It’s a great audience-pleaser, since so many people know and love Edward Scissorhands.
Number 3: Cheetos
Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are one of the most iconic couples, and Cheetos was smart to include them in this lighthearted advertisement. The commercial also features Shaggy and is scored with a parody of his song “It Wasn’t Me”. In the ad, Mila has a bad habit of stealing Ashton’s Cheetos. He catches her multiple times, but she denies it each time with lyrics from the song. This playful dynamic is reminding of how the two acted around one another on the show at which they met, That 70s Show. The commercial brought lots of laughter and was the favorite for many viewers.
Number 2: Anheuser-Busch (Let’s Grab a Beer)
Just weeks ago, news spread that Anheuser-Busch would refrain from making ads and instead donate their Super Bowl funds to vaccine efforts. They may have held back on commercials, but they still threw in some advertisement. The one that caught my attention was their “let’s grab a beer” commercial. It shows several pure, human moments (a wedding, a promotion, a concert band rehearsal, etc.), each involving the sharing of a beer. In the end, it appeals to our emotions by explaining that it hasn’t ever been about the beer, but instead the acknowledgement that “we need each other.” Given what the last year has entailed, this commercial was very heartwarming and comforting; its energy is what we all needed.
Number 1: Inspire Change NFL
In my eyes, the best commercial from this year’s Super Bowl was from Inspire Change. The commercial was put together by the NFL, portraying several symbols from the current social justice movement. It showed footage from protests that took place in summer of 2020, posters with powerful messages on them, and videos of NFL players and staff wearing important phrases on their clothing. A hat read “end racism”. Three NFL helmets showed the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Eric Garner. T-shirts and signs read “We Won’t Be Silent!!” The NFL promoted the idea that we should all stand together in the name of social justice to create a better future. The commercial concluded with the notion that the NFL is committing $250 million to help the cause. After everything that has recently happened in hopes of ending systemic racism, this commercial helped to keep some momentum in that idea.
The commercials were very well done this year, considering the many limitations faced by advertisers. How many people had to quarantine just to be in a few seconds of a Super Bowl commercial? How much did they have to pay celebrities to cameo when they had to deal with precautions? The fact that so many commercials were successfully entertaining proves how important the Super Bowl is to marketers and advertisers.
People that don’t watch the Super Bowl for the football are usually big fans of the halftime show, as well. Let’s turn our focus to what the Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) did for the audience last night.
The Weeknd’s halftime show was decently COVID appropriate, with the supporting performers socially distanced and/or in masks for the entire show. The team managed to put it all together without a field-covering stage or a special guest. Abel’s voice remained strong throughout the whole show—which ran through several of his greatest hits—despite his fast-paced dancing and probable sprint from set to field near the end.
The only part of the halftime show that was a bit off-putting was when Abel ran into the golden-lit hallway to sing “Can’t Feel My Face”. This part was dizzying, and was likely not watchable for people that are prone to seizures. Of course, anyone watching any halftime show should be wary of flashing lights and the like, but in this day and age, it seems slightly inappropriate that this was overlooked. Still, for those that were not affected, it was a cool idea. Perhaps it was merely the rough camera movement that messed up the aesthetic.
Fortunately, the aforementioned COVID precautions taken during the show fell in line with the artistic message the Weeknd has been creating as of late. In his recent music videos, he has portrayed a character going through some sort of facial change. He has worn different bandages, some covering his face and some covering portions of huge bruises created with makeup. His recent music video for “Save Your Tears” features the character’s new plastic surgery-effected face, consisting of exaggerated lips and cheek bones. He has not yet explained to his audience what the point of this character progression is, but there are plenty of theories out there. Many think that he means to show that the media has beaten him down, and that the only way to sell yourself today is to fit in with society’s beauty standards. In the meantime, The Weeknd leaned into his message for the sake of the artistic halftime show. His show is one that will not long be forgotten.
Although they were different from previous years, the 2021 Super Bowl commercials and halftime show were quite enjoyable. Each found ways to make things feel slightly normal, even if it was just for a few moments. I wonder what will change next year, and whether or not COVID-19 will be something that these creators will have to worry about. I guess we’ll see!