UPDATED with additional ads: This year’s Super Bowl shaped up as — let us all hope — a one-of-a-kind experience. But the seventh career championship for Tom Brady, who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a win over the Kansas City Chiefs (last year’s champs), had plenty of familiar elements for viewers in this unfamiliar moment.
The title game capped an NFL season that survived the pandemic but saw its sense of spectacle shrink. Many viewers, of course, tune into the Super Bowl mostly for the ads, and they were rewarded with a healthy amount of razzle-dazzle. An array of A-list stars were marshaled by brands, with more talent freed up during 2020 as film and TV shoots got interrupted by the Covid-19 surge.
A high degree of uncertainty faced marketers, with large viewing parties out the window and a host of viewer sensitivities coming off a nerve-shredding year. Mainstays such as Budweiser and Coca-Cola headed to the sidelines and, as Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro has noted, movie studios also took a step back — a logical pause given ongoing theater closures.
Nevertheless, inventory was virtually sold out at $5.5 million per 30 seconds, and many spots circulating online in recent days– a pre-game custom as advertisers seek extra bang for the buck — showed customary sparkle. The roster of stars included Bruce Springsteen, Amy Schumer, Michael B. Jordan, Tracy Morgan, Will Ferrell, Winona Ryder, Timothée Chalamet, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, John Travolta, Matthew McConaughey, Martha Stewart, Serena Williams, Cedric the Entertainer, Don Cheadle and Dolly Parton, to name just a few. David Fincher and Peter Berg are among the notable directors who got behind the camera. Tim Burton, director of Edward Scissorhands, consulted with Cadillac on a spot revisiting the film’s characters.
What follows is a sampling of star-driven ads that aired during the telecast. Many of the online versions are up to two minutes, generally longer than the cuts that got airtime.
Amy Schumer / Hellman’s
Donning wings to play a “fairy god-mayo,” the comedian works magic with a refrigerator’s contents and stays securely (even suspiciously?) in a PG-rated lane.
Bruce Springsteen / Jeep
There’s nothing flashy here to distract from a monologue about repairing division in America, delivered in an even but emphatic tone by Springsteen. The Boss lights a candle, puts his hands in the soil and tools around in his Jeep, exploring a sparsely populated landscape while ruminating on the character of the nation. His promise: “We can make it to the mountaintop, through the desert, and we will cross this divide.”
Winona Ryder and Timothée Chalamet / Cadillac LYRIQ
Ryder reprises her role as Kim from Tim Burton’s 1990 classic Edward Scissorhands along with Kim’s “son” Edgar, played by Chalamet, who looks just like Johnny Depp’s Edward (“This is the story of a boy with scissors for hands — no, not that one,” Ryder’s Kim says). Instead, it is Edgar eventually making use of the all-electric (and hands-free) LYRIQ.
Matthew McConaughey / Doritos
The pandemic gets a gentle nod in this imagining of the star moping through life as a not-alright, two-dimensional figure. Why is he 2-D? Because he hasn’t yet tasted Doritos 3D, silly! Jimmy Kimmel, guesting as his late-night self, delivers the best line, asking the paper-thin star if he drove to the studio, “or did you travel here by fax?”
Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson, Awkwafina / General Motors
After stunning the business world with its announcement that it would make no more combustion engines by 2035, General Motors follows up with this loopy paean to electric vehicles. Ferrell, in faux-rage and full beard, ridicules Norway’s lead over the U.S. in EV sales per capita and then recruits Thompson and Awkwafina for a trip to Scandinavia to settle the score. As long as they find the right country.
John and Emma Travolta, Martha Stewart, Leslie David Baker / Miracle-Gro
The location of this spot doesn’t recall tropical Corona beaches. Instead, it’s the corona setting where many Americans have spent the past year: their back yard. In the breezy contest promo, John Travolta gets schooled by daughter Emma, Stewart brags on her green thumb, and The Office‘s Baker mans the grill.
John Cena / Mountain Dew
Another contest featured during the big game was a $1 million giveaway from Mountain Dew, awarded to whoever counts every bottle of “Major Melon” flavor soda featured in the ad. Meta!
Tracy Morgan / Rocket Mortgage
“Pretty sure” doesn’t cut it for Morgan in these twin plugs, which enlist Dave Bautista, Joey Bosa and Liza Koshy to help show homebuyers why Rocket Mortgage is the path to certainty.
Serena Williams, Anthony Davis, Peyton Manning, Brooks Koepka, Jimmy Butler, Alex Morgan / Michelob Ultra
Athletes, we’re reminded in this earnest and abundantly toothsome piece, often win because they’re happy, not the other way around. And, in the fine tradition of the Super Bowl, they apparently feel truly happy with a light beer at their side.
Don Cheadle / Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer
If you didn’t buy the idea of athletes drinking Michelob Ultra, then an easier sell might be that celebrity impersonators enjoy kicking back with Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer. Cheadle is the only, er, organic star in this spot, joined by faux Serena Williams, phony Sylvester Stallone and several phony others.
Dolly Parton / SquareSpace
The country legend turns her day-shift classic on its head in a tribute to SquareSpace and the role the digital services company plays in side hustles.
David Fincher (director) / Anheuser-Busch
Much has been made of Budweiser skipping the game for the first time since 1983, but Anheuser-Busch still has four minutes of total commercial time during the game. In a first, the company touts its entire portfolio of beer brands in this Fincher-directed spot, titled “Let’s Grab a Beer.” No masks or social distancing here — the point is the universal value of bonding over beers, now and forever (or whenever “forever” is allowed to resume).
Cedric the Entertainer, Post Malone / Bud Light
A gallery of past pitchmen for the brand travel through a time-warp portal to respond to an emergency and keep the supply chain moving:
Dana Carvey, Mike Myers / UberEats
The Wayne’s World duo return to the basement a callback to the original films’ pokes at product placement and a “shameless” cameo by Cardi B. At least a cause is involved this time: UberEats’ $20 million “eat local” relief effort, with $4.5 million in micro grants to local restaurants in major U.S. cities.
Michael B. Jordan / Amazon
Jordan’s cred as a swoon-worthy lead in films like Creed, Black Panther and Just Mercy takes center stage in this Amazon spot, “Alexa’s Body.” Instead of its usual table-top device, one Alexa user imagines the voice-recognition system taking human form as Jordan. The actor is shown teaching her phrases in French, joining her in a candlelit bath and patiently standing still while she asks Alexa to aim lawn sprinklers at his chiseled torso.
Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Archie Manning, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Jerome Bettis, Deion Sanders and Marshawn Lynch / Frito-Lay
Created by Frito-Lay’s creative agency and directed by Peter Berg, the spot crams 10 football greats into a riff on “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” narrated by Lynch, aka “Beast Mode.”
Lenny Kravitz / Stella Artois
The rock singer sincerely shouts out “heartbeat billionaires,” meaning all of us with that number of ticks left in our tickers. But who’s counting? (Don’t answer that.)
Patrick Stewart, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell, Tom Selleck, Christine Baranski, Iain Armitage, animated characters & more / Paramount+
Synergy (and green-screen technology) bring together the many luminaries of ViacomCBS, atop “Paramount Mountain,” for a celebratory toast and awkward dance. The spot touts the launch next month of streaming service Paramount+, a rebrand and expansion of CBS All Access.
Jason Alexander / Tide
The Seinfeld star gets the ultimate sign of teen-age respect — his face on a hoodie — only to see said garment put through a gauntlet of stains and spills that apparently only Tide can fix.