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How Covid-19 has shaped a sober Super Bowl ad lineup


By Kenneth Hein, US Editor

January 27, 2021 | 9 min read

Sure, there will still be laughs. But Indeed, Chipotle, Budweiser and others are tackling tough topics in a moment when many consumers are looking for more than just a little entertainment. Here’s what’s on deck and why.


Indeed will strike a serious tone in this year's Super Bowl / Indeed/72andSunny

While many are looking to Super Bowl LV for escapism, reality will be hard to avoid. There will be plenty of humor, celebrities and a strong dose of nostalgia. But, at the same time, the sobering themes that are impacting our lives will also be in the spotlight.

Job loss, finances, vaccines and the plight of farmers have all entered the Super Bowl conversation. So have other big picture topics like sustainability and the shift to electric cars.

Case in point: Indeed, announced today that it is launching its first-ever Super Bowl spot. As one of the world’s largest career sites, Indeed recognized that job loss has reached historic levels. Earlier this month, US unemployment claims registered the biggest weekly gain since the pandemic hit.

“People need help more than ever,” Jennifer Warren, vice-president of global brand marketing at Indeed, told The Drum. “It was the right time, and a super relevant message to put out into the world, that there is hope for job seekers. A lot of people are struggling.”

Indeed has already begun pushing out some of the creative for its “We help people get jobs” campaign during the NFL Playoffs. It features Indeed users who successfully found new careers. Warren says the spot, airing in the first quarter, will also feature real stories. Andra Day’s song Rise Up, performed by Christian Shelton of YouTube and TikTok fame, will provide the soundtrack. 72andSunny created the ad.

Warren says going the humor route was considered. It wouldn’t have been the first time she pursued that strategy as she was behind RadioShack’s funny ’The 80’s called’ Super Bowl ad in 2014. “We know people are getting tired of just reflecting on the pandemic, but our category right now is serious,” she says. “There are people who are hurting so we had to step back and say ‘what is the role of our brand?’ We want to provide hope and inspiration to those out of work.” Indeed will also run a social activation with the hashtag #nowhiring which will point out job opportunities throughout the game.

DoorDash, Chipotle call in a play for cause marketing

DoorDash, which benefited greatly from the pandemic, is using its first Super Bowl ad as an opportunity to support community connections and celebrate local heroes, “particularly at a time when many local businesses have been hard hit,” according to the company. It will also promote the fact that DoorDash has expanded beyond just restaurant takeout. Consumers can now order in groceries, pet supplies and the like.

The ad, handled by The Martin Agency, will team Grammy/Tony award-winning actor and rapper Daveed Diggs with Sesame Street’s Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover, and Rosita in a remake of People In Your Neighborhood.

As part of the effort, DoorDash announced it will donate up to $1 million to Sesame Workshop. This charitable element is part of DoorDash’s five-year, $200m Main Street Strong pledge to support business, communities and employees.

“DoorDash’s mission has always been to empower any business on Main Street to thrive online, and last year we meaningfully accelerated that mission as we extended our platform to offer more to your door,” says DoorDash’s head of consumer marketing, David Bornoff. “Now is the time to expand awareness and shift consumer expectations of what they can come to DoorDash for while spotlighting the local neighbors and businesses we serve, from the restaurateurs to corner store owners who shape our communities and fuel our local economies.”

Another first-time Super Bowl advertiser, Chipotle Mexican Grill, is also looking to give back. Chipotle has pledged to donate $5 million to the National Young Farmers Coalition. Its 60-second spot asks “can a burrito change the world?” The ad, created by Venables Bell & Partners, aims to illustrate how making mindful food choices can impact the future. It will run in the second quarter.

“Now, more than ever, consumers want to know about a brand’s values and what they are doing to promote sustainability,” says Chris Brandt, chief marketer at Chipotle Mexican Grill. “Since its founding, Chipotle has been dedicated to responsible sourcing, real ingredients, and high animal welfare standards, and we hope that this message comes through in an engaging way via our spot in the Super Bowl. In addition, we hope to increase awareness of how difficult the hurdles are for young farmers—and how we’re taking real action — through our $5 million commitment over five years to help new farmers get started.”

Sustainability, in the form of shifting to electric vehicles (EVs), will also be central to General Motors’ two Super Bowl spots. While details of the executions have yet to be revealed, GM global chief marketing officer Deborah Wahl said in a statement: “General Motors is creating a movement by making EVs fun, desirable and accessible for people from every walk of life. We’re excited to demonstrate the tremendous energy and enthusiasm behind our EV commitment by showing up big at this year’s Super Bowl with both GM and Cadillac.” McCann Worldgroup is the agency behind the work. Earlier this week, Wahl shared her vision for GM with The Drum.

E*Trade returns to focus on finance, Budweiser goes all in on vaccines

E*Trade is back in the Super Bowl after a three year hiatus, albeit with new owners. Morgan Stanley purchased the company last year. E*Trade is tackling the tough topic of taking control of personal finances by leveraging humor. The teaser features a kid working out to the song You’re the Best from The Karate Kid thus capitalizing on the success of the binge-friendly Cobra Kai series. MullenLowe US created the spot, called ’The Workout,’ which will run in the second quarter.

“After the continued challenges the world faced in 2020, we know that our customers are looking to take back control in 2021 — especially when it comes to their finances,” says Andrea Zaretsky, managing director and chief marketer of E*Trade Financial.

“With ‘Workout,’ we highlight that desire to take back control, as we see a determined young man take his fitness journey into his own hands. He is getting off the bench to bulk up, much like how E*Trade is positioned to expertly help our customers get off the bench and in the financial game. With the majority of our audience watching the Super Bowl, as well as our record consumer engagement with trading in 2020, we knew Super Bowl LV was the ideal time to reach our audience and offer them support.”

Perhaps the most sobering statement has come from Budweiser which opted to donate the $5 million-plus it would have spent on securing an ad to raising awareness about vaccinations throughout the year. Bud joins Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Ford and a host of other brands that bowed out this year.

Instead, Budweiser released a film talking about America’s resilience. It touts the fact Bud has partnered with the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative Vaccine Education Initiative, one of the largest public education campaigns in US history.

“We were very much designing a spot for in-game advertising,” says Monica Rustgi, vice-president, marketing for Budweiser. “Once the FDA formally approved the vaccine, that really got us thinking that there's a need here. The more we spoke with Ad Council, and those that are subject matter experts, the more we quickly learned that the biggest gap right now is awareness. We quickly realized that was really something that we wanted to lean in on. We made the decision to say, ‘okay maybe we sit out at the big game this year and proactively get ahead with the many ways in which we're going to help raise vaccine awareness.’”

After 37 years, Budweiser will not be in the line-up on the evening of the Super Bowl, but its decision could impact families for generations. That’s pretty serious.

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