Insights from Curiosity Creative Directors: Matt Cragnolin, Katie Gerdes and Lee Taylor
The Super Bowl. An annual opportunity to eat loads of junk food, take bets on the length of the National Anthem, critique the halftime show and, yes, tune into the ads. It’s like the Oscars for advertising and the ads are often the best and most entertaining portion of the evening. To honor this year’s collection of ads, we asked our Curiosity creative directors to dish on their favorite spots. Here’s what they had to say.
Which ad(s) stood out from the rest for you?
I’m not sure what I expected from this year’s batch of Super Bowl spots. Maybe I assumed they’d be a bit more...Covid-y? A little more now-more-than-ever-y? I was pleasantly surprised by how few “2020 sucked” ads there ended up being. There were, of course, a couple in the mix (looking at you, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade). But even it turned out ok and not too cringey. All in all, this year’s Super Bowl spots felt...normal. Thank you. We all needed that.
So which spots stood out to me? There were a handful I’d classify as good to quite good. Maybe not best-of-all-time-level stuff here. But good golly, it could’ve been way, way worse. Ok, the spots that tickled me most were:
This one felt really nice. And not just because of Dan Levy. Although his presence can’t help but transport you to a place of pure Schittiness (which is a good thing). Well-written, beautifully executed, great casting, super relatable. It had all the things. But it was the double-Karen joke that sealed the deal for me. (Sorry to any and all Karens I know).
Flat Matthew? Ok, that’s weird. But not just weird for the sake of being weird. It was actually smart-weird, and totally product-relevant, and hilarious. Not to mention the spot was executed perfectly. Surprising concept + funny script + juicy execution + Queen = one steamy and delicious commercial stew. Oh, and McConaughey getting sucked into a Roomba is the best McConaughey thing since McConaughey staring down a bull in a Lincoln.
Also loved the amazing awkwardness of Michael B. Jordan as Alexa, enjoyed AB’s “Let’s Grab a Beer,” and appreciated the sentiment of the Bruce spot. And how could you not love Dolly?
But if I had to pick one favorite...I’d go with:
Now look, I fully acknowledge that this could be a totally subjective choice. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, afterall. But what a memorable and beautifully-executed story this was. Using Edgar, the son of Edward Scissorhands who also happens to be cursed with deadly digits and therefore cannot touch a steering wheel, to tee-up hands-free technology in a car? Simply brilliant. I couldn’t look away from the screen. And I felt sad when it was over because I wanted more. I’d be interested to hear how those who’ve never seen or heard of Edward Scissorhands felt about the spot. Unless they say it sucked. Then, I’d be less interested to hear how they felt. (Dang kids - get off my lawn!)
Wow, a diabetes-related Super Bowl spot!? As a Type 1 diabetic myself, I was interested to find out about this one. Sadly, Nick Jonas is the only famous Type 1 diabetic out there. Well, not sadly, I guess. I’m not wishing diabetes upon more people. But can you imagine if McConaughey had diabetes? Or Michael B. Jordan? What if Edgar Scissorhands had had T1D but never had to prick his scissory fingers again? Ahh, I miss the days of Wilford Brimley talking about diabeetus and testing supplies, telling us to check our blood sugar and check it often...there’s just no reason not to. RIP, Wilford B.
JK, the Dexcom spot was fine. Good job, Nick Jonas. Way to represent the T1D’s of the world! You made us proud(ish).
Which ad(s) stood out from the rest for you?
So this one, I’ll admit, pulled me in. A spot that didn’t feel like a trillion dollar Super Bowl ad. I couldn’t look away or stop listening. A random guy (come to find out it’s Oatly’s CEO) in a field singing off-key about the benefits of oat milk. But then I did some digging and looked at their IG feed and saw they were giving away free t-shirts that said “I totally hated that Oatly commercial.” They were self-aware, telling fans, “we know we can’t give you back those 30 seconds, but we can give you this free t-shirt that will attempt to let the world know where you stand on our attempt to promote Toni’s singing skills…” and mentioned they wouldn’t be offended at all when you were it, because they “believe having different opinions in what moves society forward.” I appreciated the self-awareness here and just love a non-traditional looking Super Bowl ad.
This to me was the simplest and purest spot that reflected a human truth, in my opinion. Not only was it fun to watch and hear Dolly sing this new rendition, but it was inspired by all the hustlers who have a nine to five, then have to take the rest of the night to work on their true passion. Smart for the brand. High five.
This one just made me smile and was entertaining to watch. Perfectly summed up 2020 in a nutshell with so many relatable moments (empty sport stadiums, ruined weddings) that many can relate to while all being drowned out by raining lemons. Loved it. A fun way to play up the sh*t show that was 2020.
Here’s the spot I was totally wanting to love, but was completely conflicted on: Uber Eats. I was so excited to see Wayne and Garth. Who wouldn’t be? I thought the spot was relevant, well executed and entertaining, but what I couldn’t get behind was the “eat local” message. Here’s why: Apps like UberEats, DoorDash, etc. are taking big chunks of money from local restaurants who, as we know, are already struggling to survive through this pandemic. It didn’t feel right to me. So needless to say, I was bummed by this one.
Which ad(s) stood out from the rest for you?
I agree with Matt in terms of expectations for spots this year. Brands were walking into a potential minefield this year, but overall, I’m really glad they didn’t over-extend into COVID messages. While COVID-19 is still (and should be) top of mind for us as a country, it was nice to have a little break from it and let the Super Bowl feel like it normally does. That said, I think we are past the time where brands can just make an entertaining ad. I was happy to see a few brands also donating to small businesses, bars and breweries and to organizations aimed at addressing systemic racism, because if there’s one thing our world needs right now, it’s meaningful action.
To me the overall winner of the Super Bowl was M&M’s. Their spot gave me everything I hoped for in a commercial this year - a message of unity and hope wrapped in hilarious and very relatable jokes. Plus, who doesn’t love Dan Levy? The M&M’s spot this year reminded me of Snickers’s “Fix the World” spot from last year in the sense they were both charmingly self-aware. M&M’s didn’t shy away from the realities of the world but it also addressed hard times in a way that felt very authentic to the brand. It stayed true to itself and the world at large and, to me, that’s a win.
Following closely behind M&M’s for me are Squarespace “5 to 9” and Cadillac’s “Scissorhands Free”. I thought Squarespace’s 5 to 9 spot was brilliant. While it doesn’t make my list of best Super Bowl spots ever created, I think it wins points for being strategically smart and beautifully executed. The brand’s remake of Dolly Parton’s famous 9 to 5 song to tell a story of following your creative passions outside of your day job is perfect for their platform and the product/services they create. I love when a brand’s message feels perfectly ownable to them and Squarespace did this flawlessly. Also, the fact Dolly Parton is having a bit of a reemergence among younger audiences makes this one perfectly timed as well.
While GM’s “No Way Norway” spot created a lot of discussion this year, I feel the real winner in the auto category was Cadillac’s “Edgar Scissorhands”. While self-driving capabilities on cars isn’t new at this point, the brand did a great job of highlighting this feature in an entertaining and unexpected way. Also, as a fan of the original Edward Scissorhands movie, I loved the continuation of the story. While other brands threw celebrity cameos in at random, Cadillac perfectly cast Timothee Chalamet and Winona Ryder for many reasons. Plus, the spot was beautiful to watch. I felt it really captured the magic of the original film in something as short as a commercial.
While I wouldn’t put it in my top three, I have to give a shout out to Toyota. An emotional spot this year could've gone really wrong, but Toyota tackled the heart-tugging true story of Jessica Long flawlessly. While I found it a bit strange for the brand to plug an Olympic & Team USA endorsement during the Super Bowl, this spot made me misty-eyed and the art direction was beautiful. I felt it hit the right emotional chord and delivered a relatable message of hope and human perseverance through the lens of Long’s life story.
Which ones fell short?
I felt the Jeep spot with Bruce Springsteen was off. On one hand, I appreciated the overall message of unity and hope, but on the other, it trivialized some of the reasons behind the current divides in our country. While “meeting in the middle” and respecting the ways we are different from each other is a noble message, I feel it wrongfully smooths over some of the harsh realities of our time. Realities I think we as society need to deal with before positive growth and renewal can truly happen. But that’s a deeper discussion. Talking about the spot specifically, the execution just felt odd. Seeing Bruce Springsteen drive around in an open air Jeep in the dead of winter was a distracting visual. Plus, the URL at the end only led to a landing page where viewers could learn more about Jeep’s future models. For such a grand message, I was really hoping for something more. Instead, I only got Jeep leveraging very real problems in our country in order to show off their new cars. Big miss in my opinion.