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The Big Game garners a disproportionate amount of consumer attention, and in a year where nothing has been normal, the most out of the ordinary ads could be the most culturally relevant or empathetic ones.

Super Bowl ads are historically focused on providing the biggest talkable moment during and after the game, through stories, celebrities and jokes people haven't heard before, balanced out by cultural and social commentary. 

However, after a year that none of us could expect, it seemed likely the balance may tip towards brands providing commentary on the current state of the world, relating to viewers’ daily experiences during the pandemic or national unrest taking place in the U.S.

It seemed likely that brands would use their airtime as a reminder of where we currently are. 

The Super Bowl is a natural moment of consumer escapism, however with the league being so tightly connected to current issues, the pandemic and cultural fault lines, it seemed likely that brands would use their airtime as a reminder of where we currently are. 

This isn't to say that we didn't expect to have a selection of the funniest, most exciting or off-the-wall ads brands can create. However, come Monday morning, the spots that focussed on consumers’ current lives and lived experiences around the world were best positioned to stay in consumers’ minds.

This year's Super Bowl posed the challenge of taking viewers to new and unexpected places, in a year where US culture and its citizens have already been taken down many unfamiliar paths. This year we were more likely to have discussed Super Bowl pods or watched on our own than shared the experience at Super Bowl parties – so the dynamic of how advertisements fit into the game changed. 

There will always be an element of spectacle on the US's largest stage, but this year it was tempered with acknowledgement and empathy.

There will always be an element of spectacle on the US's largest stage, but this year it was tempered with acknowledgement and empathy. When the Monday morning water cooler moment is partially virtual, being discussed the next day is not the only strategic goal. 

DoorDash – The Neighborhood

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To increase staying power, brands’ strategies focused on acts of service – providing help at a time when we are looking to support each other. From VaynerMedia's own Planter's campaign, which eschewed a TV ad to give $5 million dollars to those committing acts of substance, to P&G's pre-game Chore Gap ad, which highlighted the need to address the disproportionate impact of homework on one individual – collective benefit was a value brands banked successfully during the game. 

The nostalgic elements of DoorDash's ad, giving the Sesame Street loving child in all of us a hug after 2020, coupled with a clear community benefit to the takeaway we all order, is especially sharp.

Delivery companies DoorDash and Uber Eats, similarly tapped into this by positioning ‘ordering in’ as helping local business – effectively wrapping altruism in with convenience for our locked down lives. The nostalgic elements of DoorDash's ad, giving the Sesame Street loving child in all of us a hug after 2020, coupled with a clear community benefit to the takeaway we all order, is especially sharp.

Anheuser Busch – Last Year's Lemons

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Brands that acknowledged and built on the events of 2020 also strategically resonated, highlighting how life had changed in a way that means fun is now the elephant in the room. Bud Light's Seltzer Ad Last Year's Lemons smartly pivoted from life giving you lemons to a product benefit, standing out from a range of seltzer ads by mixing the surreal with the culturally relevant. 

Bud Light's Seltzer Ad Last Year's Lemons smartly pivoted from life giving you lemons to a product benefit.

Our own campaign for Scott's Miracle Gro tapped into increased interest in lawns during lockdown, the growth of TikTok as a talking point and even snuck in a Peloton instructor – holding up a mirror and making a joke at the same time. 

Quicken Loans – Certain Is Better

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Finally, despite all the changes in this unusual year, the formula of a smart insight, a celebrity and over the top comedy still won when done perfectly. Rocket Mortgage's Certain is Better is one of my favourites, taking a clear brief to reframe the certainty that Rocket Mortgage can give buyers and wrapping it in a concept and delivery that makes it matter more. 

Not many ads with the traditional Super Bowl formula stood out as much for me this year – but this hit a moving target.

To see all of the spots from this year's Super Bowl, with full credits for Source Creative members, click here.

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