Published 3 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: General Motors/YouTube
Super Bowl LV wasn’t a year in which brands showed leadership with their sustainability messaging; but after the divisiveness, the climate emergency and the rampaging health crisis of 2020, it was a relief to have a laugh.
As the Buccaneers delivered a convincing victory over the Chiefs, brands
picked up the fight in the world’s most expensive advertising
and one loser was clear: our climate — and our health. This was an unusual Super
Bowl, with fewer examples of
than in the last couple of years — most brands this year chose slapstick and
old-school “foot-in-the-door” product focus, rather than aiming to play a bigger
role in our lives.
Notably, some Super Bowl regulars — including Hyundai and Coke — stayed
away altogether, doubting the return on investment. Budweiser skipped its
famous Clydesdale horses; and instead, decided to donate to a vaccine-awareness
ad campaign — yet still promoted “Bud Light,” “Bud Light Seltzer
Lemonade” and “Michelob Ultra.” That said, this year’s ads ignored basic
heath precautions such as physical distancing and face masks. But here are some
of the brands that aimed to make a positive impact:
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 has a serious
record of groundbreaking ads including "Back to the
but if something needed saving, it was 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?
One of my only highlights in the goodvertising space was General Motors’
“No Way, Norway” — featuring comedians Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina picking a fight with
Norway, for being the country with the most EVs sold in the world. It’s one
of the best executed ads around a corporate commitment — 30 new EVs by
— that I’ve seen: 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 it one step closer with its
“ScissorHandsFree” ad, 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, such as the “Hero’s
Journey” for the Kia Niro; but
instead highlighting a new feature: an often-used industry tactic.
There were other refreshing commercials in the climate space. Swedish oat
— known for its tongue-in-cheek ads — was a newcomer to Super Bowl with a
commercial featuring its singing, piano-playing CEO. The 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 turned Amy Schumer into a “Fairy
Godmayo” — a weapon in the fight against food
waste (“Make taste, not waste”); I appreciated the lack of the usual
finger-pointing tactics around the message.
Quite a few car brands have stayed clear of environmental messaging to avoid
green-washing and instead focused on social issues. Toyota’s
“Upstream” ad shared an inspiring story about
record-breaking Paralympic swimmer Jessica
the company’s support of Team USA, and an uplifting message: “We believe
there is hope and strength in all of us.” We all could need an injection of hope
during these times, but I still feel Toyota didn’t succeed in connecting its
sponsorship to the global health emergency or the despair of average Americans.
Jeep’s “The Middle” turned to Bruce
Springsteen to touch hearts and minds, and encourage us to find common ground
during this divisive time with the mantra: “ReUnited States of America.” I do
think Jeep succeeded in walking the thin line; but obviously, with 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’s a much-needed message.
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 behaviors, such as wearing face masks or physical
distancing. Most commercials portrayed a fairy-tale world, where the pandemic
didn’t seem to exist or people didn’t give a damn about those life-saving
basics. At a minimum, I do think brands should use their voices to encourage
healthy behaviors — they didn’t, and that was a big fail! Even as I laughed at
the Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade’s “Last Year’s
Lemons” and its portrayal of 2020 as a real
lemon, I still couldn’t help thinking: Where are the face masks? 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, aimed at eradicating harmful
gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content. We need the same
more than ever, when looking at the right health and climate behaviors. You’re
not sacrificing the storytelling of a beer commercial if the actors are wearing
a face mask or if they opt for a bicycle rather than a car. Like, you don’t see
actors smoking on screen — it’s just common sense.
Super Bowl LV 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 be 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 are 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 — 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, while we still can.
Published Feb 8, 2021 1pm EST / 10am PST / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET
Thomas Kolster is an internationally recognised marketing & sustainability expert, author and keynote speaker, and founder of the global Goodvertising movement that’s inspired a shift in advertising for the better.