Marketer and sustainability expert Thomas Kolster shares his view on the do-good commercials from Super Bowl you shouldn’t miss.
As the Buccaneers delivered a convincing victory over the Chiefs, brands picked up the fight in the world’s most expensive advertising break and one loser was clear: our climate – and our health.
This was an unusual Super Bowl with fewer examples of ‘goodvertising’ (advertising with an aim to influence the planet and people positively) than in the last couple of years. Most brands chose slapstick and old-school “foot-in-the-door” product focus rather than aiming to play a bigger role in our lives.
Notably, some brands, like Hyundai and Coke, stayed away altogether. Budweiser skipped their famous Clydesdale horses and instead decided to donate to a vaccine-awareness ad campaign, yet still promoting “Bud Light”, “Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade” and “Michelob Ultra”. That said, brands seemed for the most ignorant about basic health precautions like physical distancing and face masks – so a loss for me and you. But let me share some of the brands that aimed to make a positive impact.
Can someone please save Chipotle?
Chipotle had an important message about the carbon-reducing potential of agriculture with its commercial “Can a burrito save the world?”. I was anxious as Chipotle got a serious record of ground-breaking ads like “Back to the Start” and “Scarecrow”, but if something needed saving, it was definitely this ad.
The storytelling was contrived, inauthentic and seemed like reading a passage from a sustainability report delivered by the usual spokesperson when it comes to climate messaging: a kid. Maybe Chipotle needs saving?
If you’re committed, this is how it’s done!
One of my only highlights in the goodvertising space was General Motors’ “No Way Norway” featuring comedian Will Ferrell picking up a fight with Norway being the country in the world with the most EVs sold. It’s one of the best-executed ads around a corporate commitment I’ve seen: “30 new EVs by 2025”. Most commitment ads should never have aired.
Who honestly cares about what your brand is going to do in 2025 or 2030? I have a choice, now. It’s like catching my girlfriend cheating and she promises me that she’ll gradually be more and more faithful towards 2030. If you want to share your commitments, stealing people’s precious time with a 30-second ad is most likely not the answer. But hey, GM gets away with it and I’m even cheering for them.
In fact, GM took one step closer by airing a commercial “ScissorHandsFree” starring Winona Ryder and Timothée Chalamet in an ‘Edward Scissorhands’ reboot for its all-electric Cadillac Lyric. The focus was not the usual eco message, we’ve seen earlier years from car brands like the “Hero’s Journey” by Kia Niro, but instead they went for an often-used industry tactic; a new feature.
Wow, no waste, no cows
There were other refreshing commercials in the climate space. Swedish oat milk brand, Oatly, known for their tongue-in-cheek ads was a newcomer to Super Bowl with a commercial featuring their piano playing and singing CEO. Their message was simple, on-brand and refreshing “Wow, no cow”.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Oatly needs a less generic message going forward as competition rises in the category. Hellmann’s “Fairy Godmayo” entered the fight against food waste “Make taste, not waste” armed with a fairy and trying to be funny, but kudos for trying and thank you for avoiding the usual finger-pointing tactics.
Hope on steroids
Quite a few car brands have stayed clear of environmental messaging to avoid green-washing and instead focused on social issues. Toyota’s “Upstream” shared an inspiring story about Jessica Long, their support of Team USA and about believing in hope: “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us”. And this is a definitely a time we all could need an injection of hope, but I still feel Toyota never really succeeded connecting their sponsorship to the health emergency or the despair of average Americans.
Jeep’s “The Middle” turned to Bruce Springsteen to touch our hearts and minds and encouraging us to put the divisiveness behind and find common ground with the mantra: “ReUnited States of America”. I do think Jeep succeeded walking the thin line, but obviously, when you have Bruce on board, you’re already touching the American soul. I was surprised not to see more brands try to strike a tone of unity as it seemed like a much-needed message.
You are what you portray
Hope won’t cut it in the fight against the pandemic and it was disappointing and quite frankly disheartening, to see brands ignore this important time to share some common sense such as wearing face masks or physical distancing. Most commercials shared a fairytale world where the pandemic didn’t seem to exist or where people didn’t give a damn about those life-saving basics. As a minimum, I do think brands should use their voice to encourage the right behavior. They didn’t and that was a big fail!
Even as I laughed at the Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade commercial “Last Year’s Lemons” and its portrayal of 2020 as a real lemon, I’ve been hit by quite a few myself, I still couldn’t help thinking where are the facemasks? The social distancing? The handwashing?
One thing is the key message or the storytelling, but brands should always aim to showcase positive behaviors as we have witnessed with advertisers coming together in the “Unstereotype Alliance” aiming to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content. We need the same more than ever when looking at the right health behaviors and the right climate behaviors. You’re not sacrificing the storytelling of a beer commercial if the actors are wearing a facemask or if they opt for a bicycle rather than a car. It’s just common sense like you don’t see actors smoking on screen.
Ready to leave for space – or give this planet your best shot?
Super Bowl 2021 won’t be remembered as a year where brands showed leadership, but in the wake of the divisiveness, the climate emergency and a ramping health crisis, I must admit, it was a relief to have a laugh and for once just keep my mind distracted from those hard-hitting lemons.
The real work awaits ahead for brands to do their part. The clock is ticking, and the health emergency and the divisiveness is not stopping the ramping climate emergency and as brands are faced with a battle from multiple sides, it demands focus. I’m an optimist, but I got to admit when a commercial rolled for a trip to space by “Inspiration4” I thought, yes, I’m in!
Wonder if there’s a one-way option? But isn’t that the beauty of it all, we’re stuck here (and inside, for now). We all share this home on a tiny blue planet, we have to give it our best shot to make it work, together.