We all know that ads try to influence our decisions, but what about our impact on the evolution of ads themselves? Nothing speaks to this more than Super Bowl commercials. You don’t have to be embedded in the industry (like me, a voiceover artist) to look forward to these ads and what they’ve come to mean to us. You could hate football and still tune in for the star-studded micro-movies because they don’t feel like ads.
They speak to us personally and reflect on what’s going on in the world; they make us laugh and tug at our hearts in a way that regular commercials just can’t. But they do something else – they make us care. It doesn’t take more than a quick Google search to see that just about everybody has made a top ten list. Comedic or serious, heartfelt or impactful, Super Bowl ads usually have something for everybody, but what about how they’ve changed with each passing year? If we were to look at the last ten years, could we find a symbiotic relationship between the ads and our societal growth?
Let’s look at the last ten years of memorable Super Bowl ads.
Super Bowl Commercials by GoDaddy
In 2012 this commercial starred Danica Patrick, and body paint is a bit of a doozy. It spoke to the climate of 2012 when sex, cars, and shock value were still (mostly) all it took to get oohs and ahs. But funnily enough, the reaction from critics was a somber “more of the same” and marked a turning point for Super Bowl Ads after decades of racey fluff – people wanted to see something different – something meaningful.
2013 Jeep Ad
With voiceover done by Oprah herself, “Whole Again” demonstrates a shift in sentiments of the time. People didn’t want to be pitched sex in a bottle anymore – they wanted greater emotional depth, and “Whole Again” delivers precisely that. This ad doesn’t feel like a commercial as it makes a statement about unity, gratitude, and coming home. It speaks to the part of us that just wants to experience something real and inclusive. The fact that it’s a Jeep commercial doesn’t even show until the last eight seconds.
Coca-Coal Ad in 2014
This ad uses simplicity to make an impact by diving deep into the themes of unity and diversity with meaningful, captivating content. A simple voiceover of “America the Beautiful” (in a successive medley of different languages) set to a montage of how diverse the United States is, sparked an outpour of admiration and appreciation for the inclusive message behind it. People that were accustomed to being under-represented finally felt seen and heard. While Coca-Cola was slightly more liberal in promoting their product than Jeep was the year before, the intent was to show how the melting pot of many different people (Americans) are connected by something relatable and straightforward – a bottle of Coke.
2015 Super Bowl Commercial by Dove Men+Care’s
Keeping up with the trend of impactful content, “#RealStrength” took the theme a step further. It unified people in a way very few commercials have ever done before. Instead of depicting fathers as absentee parents, head nodders, or doddering bill payers, it portrayed them as caring Dads. It showed them as loving and being there for their children. It showed children, teens, and adults needing their Dads. It’s a message that transcends the divide of race, status, or gender.
Even the entirety of the voiceover for this ad is simply different words for Dad. It’s a message that tells us masculinity is more than just being male, paying the bills, or playing sports – it’s love. The fact that this aired as a commercial for the nation’s most popular contact sport, let alone the Super Bowl, is just incredible and speaks volumes to the changing sentiments of the country. It sought to redefine the concept of masculinity.
Super Bowl Commercials With Themes
2016 started pretty rough, and by the time the Super Bowl rolled around, the world had already lost David Bowie and Alan Rickman, with still more yet to come. While “Commander” is an ad for a high-end dream car, the Audi R8, it also pulls on our heartstrings. It shows off a more nostalgic side to the Super Bowl in a way that holds on to that theme of unity. This ad doesn’t just reflect a nation reeling from the sudden loss of an icon but basks in the memory of pop culture history and manages to bridge generational divides through the use of music. It is uplifting with a focus on memorializing instead of loss.
Making a Statment
Audi seriously stepped their game up for their 2017 “Daughter” spot. Following the example Jeep set in 2013, this ad serves as more of a social commentary that heralds an all-too-real need for social justice than an actual commercial. Audi is not the first to use a megastar in voiceover but continued the use of narration in Super Bowl spots. It opens with A-lister George Clooney’s voiceover of a concerned father. He wonders how to tell his daughter that no matter what she does, society will see her life as being less meaningful than a man’s. It’s interesting to note that the #metoo movement picked up some real steam and the Harvey Weinstein scandals came to light later that year.
Star-Studded and Lighthearted Super Bowl Commercials
In hindsight, 2018 – Tourism Australia was really fun and super indicative of a pre-pandemic world where borders were open, and tourism was encouraged. It was also the end of Trump’s first year in office, and with tensions high, some people looked for an escape. The ad itself plays like a movie trailer, and you kind of get lost in it. You don’t even realize it’s an ad until Danny McBride breaks the fourth wall in the last twenty-five seconds with “Wait, hold up – this isn’t a movie… it’s a tourism ad for Australia”. It’s interesting to see how star-studded content starts to pick up steam over the next couple of years as the trend begins to shift again from heartfelt and meaningful to funny, fourth-wall-breaking, and escapist.
Ads Responding to Troubled Times
Speaking of breaking the fourth wall, 2019 – Is Pepsi Ok sets us up for an all-too-familiar setting: Sitting down at a restaurant to order your favorite soda, only to be asked if the runner-up is ok instead. While this one doesn’t seem so much a meta-commentary, on the surface, it reflects the idea of trying to make the best out of a bad situation and speaks to the notion of embracing something that we don’t necessarily want but need to accept.
Holding onto the idea of things we don’t want but need to accept, it’s 2020, and Covid is on the horizon and fast approaching. People are starting to worry, and Tide’s: “Super Bowl Now, Laundry Later” ad reflects that by weaving together the pop-culture events of 2019 with a collective existential crisis in multiple parts.
Super Bowl Commercials and Social Commentary
If ever there was a Super Bowl ad that made a blunt and direct social commentary about the events of the past year, it’d be Uber Eats: “Wayne’s World” and Cardi B’s shameless manipulation. Not only does it open as an outright flashback to Wayne’s World (further embracing the trend of nostalgic fourth wall breaks), but it sums up a collective sigh in the face of a global pandemic. We can all relate to the opening lines: “And we’re back! 2020 man, that was a great year – NOT! Yeah, it really sucked – it sucked donkey”. As if this wasn’t enough of a nod to the Covid crisis, Uber Eats, in itself, became something of a symbol for dining throughout the entire ordeal.
So yes, Virginia, there is important social commentary and a reflection or barometer measure of where we stand in our collective views. At least, that’s my opinion. Oh, and while you’re here, if you want to see one more ad, here’s a (local) Super Bowl ad I voiced during the games a couple of years ago. No heavy commentary there – just warmth, a wink, and a nod.