ANALYSIS - The 2021 Super Bowl advertising dilemma

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 15 January 2021

Thirty second spots at next month's 2021 Super Bowl, the annual platform for some of the world's best creative ads, are reportedly going for $US5.5 million (AUD7.11 million). 

The price being charged by CBS is about the same as last year when there wasn't a pandemic but there are reports that some spots took a while to sell when usually these are all gone several months before the event. 

The Super Bowl is still THE event to reach a mass television audience -- around 100 million -- but industry insiders say this year the challenge is getting the right tone and that has caused some brand to hesitate. 

Some, including SodaStream which last year had a sustainability message in a commercial about water on Mars, have decided to miss this year.   

The danger is, with so much gloom in the world, that well-intentioned messaging could backfire. 

Those staying in the game are expected to pick up on the serious issues of the day including COVID-19 and black lives matter.  

Bill Oberlander, co-founder of for purpose ad agency OBERLAND: "I can’t imagine that advertisers are not going to use this as an opportunity to speak up on behalf of their brands — or on behalf of the social impact that’s going on all around.” 

Terence Scroope, VP, insights and solutions at programmatic video marketplace Unruly, says Super Bowl LV has the potential to make certain topics very polarising depending upon how they are addressed. 

"However, throughout the years, we have seen several major advertisers directly tackle serious topics, such as Black Lives Matter and COVID, in their advertising that has had a positive effect on their brand and business metrics," he told AdNews.   

“Staying silent is also a risk, with a lot of recent research suggesting that consumers are increasingly looking to brands to take firm stances on social and political issues. The fact remains that the US is a very divided nation at this moment and regardless of the position a brand chooses to take in this moment they will end up isolating some of their consumers. 

“I would recommend brands test and tweak their content in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl Sunday to ensure their messaging is as effective as it can be and remains right at the heartbeat of shifting consumer opinion. 

"Buying airtime at the Super Bowl is very expensive, so brands need to ensure they are maximising their moment in the sun as much as they possible can.”  

For consumers, the big event will have a different feel this year with the social urge to have a Super Bowl party with lots of beer and snacks subdued by the pandemic. 

Timothy Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern who created the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review in 2005, says anyone with the slight interest in advertising should tune into this year’s Super Bowl. 

“Bold brands may attempt to reference the COVID-19 impact directly in their messaging,” he says

“More tame brands may not confront the issue directly, but they are likely to be extra sensitive to not send the wrong tone.

“The challenge for every Super Bowl advertiser is to balance the rather somber environment we find ourselves in with consumers’ desire for some much-needed entertainment and distraction.” 

Scroope at Unruly says he knows about a handful of committed advertisers and they all appear to be returning brands from past years, including Toyota, Pringles and TurboTax. 

"WeatherTech is another frequent Super Bowl advertiser that has a track record of leaning into the patriotic space in its messaging, so it will be interesting to see the tone it chooses to take with its 2021 spot," he says.   

“One advertising category that will likely look a bit different this year are the movie studios and theatrical releases. It's very common to have a handful of blockbuster trailers included in the Super Bowl ad breaks, but with the current state of cinemas during the COVID pandemic, we may see the streaming studios like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime fill this void by highlighting their original content.” 

Those brands already announced to be deploying Super Bowl commercials are looking at ways to shrug off the mood dampening of COVID-19.

Mars Wrigley is using the iconic humour and colourful fun of M&M'S, the brand's sixth Super Bowl ad in the past decade. 

"The biggest moments deserve the biggest brands, and after an unprecedented and unexpected year, we're excited to bring M&M'S back to the Super Bowl to bring fans better moments and more smiles," says Sarah Long, CMO, Mars Wrigley North America.

Mars Wrigley has been a part of the Super Bowl for more than 10 years with award winning ads such as the SNICKERS Betty White spot which was ranked by USA Today as the number one best Super Bowl commercial of the last twenty-five years.

The 2021 30-second spot, produced by BBDO New York, will air during the first commercial break following the kickoff of Super Bowl LV, which will be broadcast on CBS on Sunday, February 7.

Pringles at Kellogg's will also return to the Super Bowl. The 30 second spot is being brought to life by the Grey Group and will be supported by a fully integrated campaign including PR, digital and social media.

"We're really happy that Pringles will be back in the Big Game in 2021," says Gareth Maguire, senior director of marketing for Pringles.

"We know that this coming year's Big Game day experience will be different, with more fans watching from home, it will definitely be huge TV and social media day for us to showcase the fun consumers can have creating Pringles Flavor Stacks."

Fiverr has announced that it will run its first Super Bowl ad this year, an evolution of the company’s recently launched “It Starts Here” compaign which went live in September 2020 and focused on small businesses as they navigated digital transformation with support from freelancers on Fiverr.

“It doesn’t get any bigger than the Super Bowl from a branding and marketing perspective,” says Gali Arnon, CMO at Fiverr.

“This is a major opportunity for us to introduce the world to Fiverr in a unique and creative way. The spot will get to the very heart of how Fiverr supports businesses around the world. We can’t wait for everyone to see what we’ve created.”


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