Super Bowl Commercial Recap Part 2

April 28, 2016

We're continuing our recap, this time focusing on the use of nostalgia and patriotism in this year's Super Bowl ads.

If you missed Part 1, see it here.

This was a year of looking back on decades past, with some brands laying on the nostalgia for Super Bowl viewers:

'90s: Oikos featured a reunion of beloved Full House's cast with spokesman John Stamos getting a hand from Bob Saget and Dave Coulier in a dire yogurt emergency.

'80s: Radio Shack is revamping its stores to take them out of the past and into the modern age, reflected in their commercial of '80s icons ransacking a Radio Shack alongside their promotional giveaway on Twitter, rewarding retweeters with sweet VCRs and other outdated tech.

This ad wins for the most effective of the night, here at Oxford, due to an Oxfordite exclaiming at the very start of the commercial, “Who goes to Radio Shack?!” only to get her answer a second later.

'00s: Kia reminded us that the Matrix is endlessly parody-able … and still effective as a tool to frame a brand not known for its tech as a futuristic product.

Patriotism is nothing new to Super Bowl ads, but 2014 took it to the next level … with some using the tried-and-true method of placing voiceovers over shots of sprawling, Western America landscapes to great effect, while others were cookie-cutter versions of their competitors and felt less inspired.

The (American) car adverts were the biggest perpetrators of this trend. Both Chevy ads of the night featured cowboy/Western/sepia-colored desert imagery, but did not have the same blatant “patriotism” message seen in many others – however, both still got the hard-working spirit of America message across. Jeep continued by telling us to get out and seek adventure with an inspirational voiceover speaking over images of people driving, diving into water and staring out over the land, taking in the sunset over rolling hills of wheat… but it ended up being the same bland, happy-driving montage we've come to expect from a car commercial seen on TV any day of the week.

Chrysler is the last of the car ads to use this same format, but boy, do they blow it up to the level of “YES, THIS IS AMERICA” that is needed to outshine the thick domestic car competition, a tactic that was also effective in their infamous Clint Eastwood ad from the Super Bowl two years ago. It starts with the ridiculous, but perfectly suited line, “Is there anything more American than America?” then builds and builds until the viewer can't help but answer, “DARN RIGHT, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING MORE AMERICAN THAN AMERICA!”

It shouldn't work, but it does. We've seen this ad a million times, but taking it to the extreme worked in their favor, with many websites listing it on their top Super Bowl commercials countdowns as one of the best.

Incidentally, next to all of the American car manufacturing pride, Jaguar's ad featured suave, sophisticated British villains explaining why it's “good to be bad” and why that equals a more superior car.

America went for grit while England went for class.

Besides auto, other industries went the way of patriotism, with Budweiser's “Homecoming” ad featuring a soldier's fanfare reunion with his hometown, while Alex and Ani's and WeatherTech both took on the cookie-cutter inspirational manufacturing in America montages.

Coca-Cola's ad was innocent, with the melting pot of America represented through images of all different races and cultures within America enjoying the soda to lines of “America the Beautiful” sung in many languages. However, this ad ended up being the most controversial of the night for unexpected reasons.

After the video aired, social media blew up with differing opinions on the message of the commercial, with the sentiment of “we speak English in America” being an overarching theme, which has led to an effort by holders of this opinion to boycott the company. Coca-Cola has always had the theme in their marketing of bringing people together with the power of Coke – “I'd like to buy the world a Coke” anyone? This is not new territory for the company, and it's interesting/unfortunate that an ad meant to show off America's wonderful diversity ended up showing us how divided we still are. Cheerios had the same problem earlier this year with its first commercial featuring an interracial family, but instead of bowing to hate, they instead brought that family back with a Super Bowl ad that solidified them as a family-focused, principled brand … and had a huge return on that courage.

In summary, brands seemed to take a tamer route in general with their commercials this year. Sure, there were some token weird ones that harken to an internet meme sense of humor – Butterfinger's “Couples Counseling” and Audi's “Doberhauhua” – and the aforementioned “sexy” ones, but they were in the minority this year. Patriotism was the clear winner with nontraditional ads right behind. To examine Sunday's broadcast in a Petri dish is to see that ads are evolving into unexpected branding tools, ones that don't play by the rules of what a Super Bowl ad is “supposed” to be.