Feb 14, 2022 - Economy

Super Bowl 2022 ads disconnected from reality

football player with a TV for a head

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Advertisers during last night’s Super Bowl painted a picture of what the future might hold.

  • Ad spots were filled overwhelmingly with still-nascent trends like VR and crypto, areas that businesses hope to make mainstream.

Why it matters: Companies that dropped millions for a spot wanted to strike an upbeat, forward-looking tone while the world is just barely easing out of the pandemic. 

  • The game remains one of the few chances companies have to make a positive, lasting impression on a massive number of people, so the stakes are high. 

Catch up quick: Through their ads, companies across the board — Big Tech (Amazon, Facebook/Meta), auto (Kia, BMW), food (Pringles), crypto and digital services (FTX, Criteo) — told stories against a non-pandemic (and often dystopian) setting.

  • There was no mention of the health crisis or masking, and instead there were stories about people being out and about, whether it was bowling, weddings or parties, notes Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Flashback: Companies last year were careful to avoid the “p” word too, even as ads focused on spending time outdoors or alone.

What they’re saying: “I was struck by the positive tone of a lot of the ads,” Calkins tells Axios. 

  • “The reality is a lot of people are still very much working through the pandemic … so there was [a split] between what people are experiencing and what advertisers were talking about.” 

Between the lines: Marketers likely leaned into the positive tone because even though “we're still working through this pandemic, people don't want to talk about it. They don't want to think about it. They want to focus on other things right now,” he adds. 

The intrigue: Among the most-watched ads from the night, based on YouTube views, was Amazon’s Alexa ad featuring celebrity couple Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost at home, mostly alone. 

The big picture: Super Bowl advertisers generally focus on a cheery or even idealized view of the world. 

  • "You have to arouse emotion and warm positive emotions are better than negative,” Gerard Tellis, professor at the USC Marshall School of Business, tells Axios. 

For those keeping their own score: Meta, parent company of Facebook, ran one of the few ads with darker moments, including the “very disturbing downfall” of stuffed animals, says Calkins.  

  • The ad portrayed the metaverse as “the place you go when everything is falling apart in your life, which is not maybe the best way to sell [it],” he adds.
  • On the other hand, the return of a Clydesdale in Budweiser’s ad ended on an inspirational “down never means out” message, and is a type of ad that lingers on the mind for a long time, says Tellis.
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