As we can say about much of the past year’s events, last night’s Super Bowl spectacle was one that will go down in history. From the COVID-19 safety, the ad landscape, inclusion and diversity efforts, to the ways that everyone at home was watching – the biggest night in sports kept us on our toes from The National Anthem to the Buccaneers’ winning celebration. One thing that didn’t waver, TB12’s performance. After an unprecedented 2020 and an eventful start to 2021, it finally feels like things are starting to shift upward. Although there is much work still to be done to combat the novel coronavirus and unite our greatly divided country, today, we’re focusing in on how Super Bowl LV was different, as a result of the events of 2020.
So, following a year that spurred change, hardship, setbacks and, yes, some successes, what about America’s most-watched sporting event stood out this year?
The Super Bowl ad purchasing process was, as expected, different from anything TV networks have seen in years prior. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many companies and brands have struggled to financially to stay afloat, and others chose to disperse those funds in other directions, like donating toward a cause. And with that, CBS still managed to sell out its ad spots during the game this year. Veteran Super Bowl ad purchasers PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch InBev, among others, all made the decision to bench their ads this year. Having said this, Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo did commit to buying ad slots for a number of other products during the big game. Still, that meant the audience had to forgo their beloved Clydesdale Horses during the, usually reliable, Budweiser commercial. Luckily, we weren’t disappointed to see many of the usual suspects on our screens—M&Ms, T-Mobile, Toyota, Jeep, E-Trade and more didn’t let us down.
If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that the underdog can make a comeback. And Reddit did just that. After recent stock market-related news surrounding chatter on the community-discussion website went live, Reddit had a bright spotlight shown on it. This national attention prompted it to shoot their shot with a five-second Super Bowl ad – if you blinked, you missed it! And with the hefty price of an ad going for $5.5 million for 30-seconds, five seconds was all that they could muster. And still, it worked, the quick ad garnered attention for viewers.
Another company that had a light shone on it in 2020, Four Seasons Total Landscaping, who made its Super Bowl debut in an ad for Fiverr. Comes to prove that when opportunity knocks on your door—whether intentional or not—you answer it…and run with it.
Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. Words that many brands and organizations have been striving to lean into this year. From raising up Black voices, like Amanda Gorman, to spotlighting female success in the sports industry, Super Bowl LV did just that…lean in. NFL history was made last night when a record-breaking three women took to the field. Down judge Sarah Thomas was the first female referee to officiate a Super Bowl game, while Tampa Bay had two female coaches to help lead the Buccaneers to victory. In the past, the NFL has found itself in some trouble regarding the topic of social injustice (i.e. Colin Kaepernick), and some would consider anything the NFL does in this light to be performative, which was found in some backlash after last night’s game. Although, last summer it was announced that the league will be donating 250 million over 10 years to a variety of social justice organizations, which they highlighted in a commercial last night.
Arguably the brightest light during Super Bowl last night, Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old poet who captured everyone’s heart during the inauguration of President Joe Biden last month, performed a heartfelt poem that honored COVID-19 healthcare heroes and discussed our countries losses. The tribute was hopeful and shed light on the pain and loss brought on by the pandemic.
The elephant in the room – looked like Raymond James stadium was packed with fans, didn’t it? In reality, there were 25,000 spectators and 30,000 cardboard cutouts in attendance for the game. Included in that 25,000 number were 7,500 health-care workers who have been vaccinated for COVID-19. According to Reuters, “the decision to allow fans to attend Super Bowl LV was made in accordance with public health officials, the Florida Department of Health, and area hospitals and health care systems. Florida does not have an attendance limit for sporting events during the coronavirus pandemic.” Fans were given face masks and hand sanitizer as they entered the stadium.
Political and Social Divide
If anyone can do it, “The Boss” can. In last night’s Jeep ad, Bruce Springsteen called for unity and political centrism among our nation. In a voiceover, the singer says, “All are more than welcome to come meet here in the middle, it’s no secret the middle has been a hard place to get to lately, between red and blue, between servant and citizen, between our freedom and our fear.” And while much of our country remains divided and we have much work to do, the ad ended with a hopeful dedication: “To the ReUnited States of America.”
Wrapping up this recap, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay homage to the social media frenzy that resulted from The Weeknd’s half-time performance. A surge of memes appeared last night and today poking fun at the chaotic filming during a portion of the artist’s set. A few of my favorites are below, and here’s to hoping Super Bowl LVI consists of mask-less spectators and indoor Super Bowl parties.