While this year’s Super Bowl looked different than years past due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer fans in the stands and toned-down watch parties, the stakes were still high when it came to the commercials.
Some of the major players like Coca-Cola, Budweiser, and Pepsi opted out of airing ads this year, but others reportedly shelled out $5.5 million or more for 30-second spots as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Tom Brady won a seventh Super Bowl ring.
Many of the ads were released ahead of Sunday’s big game, while others aired for the first time in between the action on the field. Companies tried to strike the right tone after an unprecedented year, with some ads centering the COVID-19 pandemic and others opting for more light-hearted, upbeat ads.
Here are the ads that had everyone talking:
T-Mobile’s Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski “Big Game Ad”
Before we get to the must-see commercials that hit screens, there’s one ad that didn’t make it to your TV on Sunday — even though the two who starred in it did.
The ad depicts a humorous behind-the-scenes look at how the two former Patriots teammates ended up back on the field together for the Buccaneers — all thanks to a call with a glitchy network connection.
Tom Brady, at home in Boston one year ago, gives Gronk a video call to ask for his advice on whether he should keep playing or hang up his cleats for good. The tight-end is on the call from a sunny golf course, encouraging him to retire (as he briefly chose to do).
“If you retire now, you’ll be walking on soft sand in a week,” Gronkowski told Brady. “Just come to Florida and feel the wind in your hair.”
But that’s not what the quarterback heard.
Due to a patchy connection, Brady hears: “If you retire now, you’re soft and weak. Just come to Florida and win another one. Maybe I’ll even join you.”
But viewers didn’t see the ad on TV Sunday because it was “banned,” the company said.
A description under the video on YouTube reads: “We love the big game. The rivalries. The drama. The build-up. The athleticism. The sportsmanship. The ads. For the last eight years, T-Mobile’s gone big for the big game – Bieber, Tebow, Harvey, Drake, Snoop & Martha, Handler & Silverman, Anthony & Mama Doris and even a Kardashian. But we’ve never been banned. Until now.”
“We made this amazing ad starring the amazing Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Even after editing, the spot was still banned “based on the ... protected telco rights deal.” So, watch and decide for yourself ... what does the “official telco sponsor” not want you to see?”
State Farm’s “Drake from State Farm”
Two other playoff quarterbacks made cameos in one spot, with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers joining Patrick Mahomes on set of a State Farm commercial.
Paul Rudd is a stand-in for Mahomes, while musician Drake appears as “Drake from State Farm,” the stand-in for “Jake from State Farm,” a frequent presence in the insurance company’s ads, decked out in his signature red shirt and khakis.
Samuel Adams’ “Horses”
No, this isn’t a Budweiser ad.
Massachusetts-based Samuel Adams trolls its competitor in the 30-second spot featuring the Clydesdale horses that have become synonymous with Budweiser.
“Your Cousin From Boston,” a frequent presence in recent Sam Adams campaigns, lets the horses free and chaos ensues.
“Whoever came up with this is wicked smaht,” one YouTube comment read.
For the first time in 37 years, Budweiser didn’t air a Super Bowl commercial. Instead, the company said in a video narrated by actress Rashida Jones, it redirected “advertising dollars to raise awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Anheuser-Busch’s “Let’s Grab a Beer”
Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser’s parent company, did air an ad, however, the emotional pitch reminded viewers of the pre-pandemic interactions they’ve been missing, from moments of joy and sadness to the casual interactions in between.
In the ad created by David Fincher, who directed films like “Gone Girl,” “The Social Network,” and “Fight Club,” a couple laughs at their rained-out wedding, strangers commiserate over their delayed flight at the airport, and co-workers chat after work, all with beers in hand.
“It’s never just about the beer,” reads the commercial’s closing message. “It’s about being together.”
Amazon’s “Alexa’s Body”
A woman imagines her Amazon Alexa device is personified as “Black Panther” star Michael B. Jordan — much to her enjoyment. And the disappointment of her husband.
She asks “Alexa” to answer mundane prompts, like how many tablespoons are in a cup or turning the sprinklers on, and the woman’s husband tries to intervenes at every request. When the woman asks “Alexa” to dim the lights, Jordan takes his shirt off, and her husband runs over yelling “lights on!’
Jordan as Alexa even had bright blue eyes to mimic the blue ring that illuminates the device.
Ford’s “Finish Strong”
With scenes of people in masks, doctors and health care workers treating patients in a hospital, and a worker sanitizing his shop before serving a customer, Ford highlights what Americans have sacrificed through the COVID-19 pandemic and urges them to “finish strong.”
“We are so close,” the narrator says, as vaccine vials line up and a health care worker administers a vaccine.
“Soon we will be what we were: Touching, loving, living.”
Cheetos’ “It Wasn’t Me”
The evidence (in this case: Cheetos’ distinctive orange dust) is all over actress Mila Kunis’s face. And fingers. And home.
But she still manages to convince her husband, actor Ashton Kutcher, that she didn’t swipe the snack with a little help from Shaggy, who remixes his famous “It Wasn’t Me” for the ad.
“Mila and I both remember when ‘It Wasn’t Me’ came out 20 years ago when we were first working together on ‘That 70s Show,’ so it’s really cool to come full circle with Cheetos, work together again and remix this song,” Kutcher said in a statement.
The oat milk company’s CEO, Toni Petersson, sings and plays a keyboard in an empty field during its 30-second ad. And that’s about it.
A number of people took to social media to say they didn’t exactly like Oatly’s commercial.
That Oatly commercial was the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life...— Jack “CouRage” Dunlop (@CouRageJD) February 8, 2021
That made me not want Oatly— Dylan Barbour (@therealDBcoop) February 8, 2021
Having a hard time enjoying this drive bc I'm still mad about the Oatly commercial— Sam Morril (@sammorril) February 8, 2021
But that seemed to have been the point. At the URL https://us.oatly.com/products/tshirtsforhaters, the company offered a free shirt that reads: “I totally hated that Oatly commercial.”
“The rules of time and space make it impossible to give you back the 30 seconds you just spent watching our Super Bowl commercial, but at least we can give you this free t-shirt that lets the world know where you stand on our attempt to promote Toni’s singing skills to a wider audience,” the t-shirt’s description reads.
If you just watched our CEO sing in an oat field on the big game, we can’t give you back those 30 seconds but we can give you a free t-shirt that lets the world know where you stand on our attempt to promote Toni’s singing skills to a wider audience. https://t.co/5s9EoK2ALW pic.twitter.com/XDcxPckvys— OatlyUS (@OatlyUS) February 8, 2021
Uber Eats’ “Wayne’s World & Cardi B’s Shameless Manipulation”
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reprised their roles as Wayne and Garth with the help of Cardi B.
The commercial, based on the “Saturday Night Live” sketch of the same name, shows “just a local access show,” encouraging people to support local restaurants through Uber Eats.
“We’d never manipulate you the way all these other commercials do,” Carvey said, as the ad goes on to do just that, with block-lettered words flashing across the screen and wind moving through Carvey’s hair in slow motion.
“We’d never shamelessly rely on a celebrity cameo, right Cardi B?” the ad continues, before panning to the rapper.
Fiverr’s “Opportunity Knocks” at Four Seasons Total Landscaping
Four Seasons Total Landscaping had another moment in the spotlight when the company was featured in a Super Bowl ad for Fiverr, a business that connects businesses with freelancers.
If you recall, Rudy Guiliani — former president Donald Trump’s personal lawyer — stood in front of a garage at the Philadelphia landscaping company in November and falsely claimed President Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania was fraudulent. It began when Trump tweeted there would be a press conference at the Philadelphia Four Seasons. He then clarified that he meant Four Seasons landscaping, not the swanky hotel.
In the ad, the owner of the company Marie Siravo says, “Success. It’s often right place, right time,” before she enters the now-infamous garage.
“When opportunity knocks at your corrugated garage door, you roll that puppy up,” she continues.
At one point, a woman in a suit walks into the facility and asks: “Is this the lobby?”
“This is not a hotel,” Siravo replies.
Amanda Kaufman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.