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'People of Jandoli' weigh in on Super Bowl ads

Feb 25, 2021 |

By Kyle Haller

I am sure we are all tired of tagging this year as “unprecedented.”

However, that was exactly the case for this year’s Super Bowl. In so many ways it was a year of firsts. It was the first time a team played it in its home stadium. We saw a halftime show without a true crowd and the game held the honor of seeing the first female Super Bowl official on the field. One thing that did not change, was the beloved Super Bowl commercials. They still provided a moment of laughter or disgust even during these dire times.

People of Jandoli graphicThere is no better topic to kick off our People of Jandoli campaign. The purpose of this campaign is to reach out to Jandoli School of Communication students and alumni to hear their opinions and insights about the predominant stories in journalism and communication. Viewers can follow along on the Jandoli School’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

I connected with Patrick Lafferty, ’88, an ad executive at Acceleration Community of Companies with more than 20 years of experience in the marketing and advertising space. I also reached out to Ciara McGrane, ’22, a junior strategic communication & digital media major who is a member of the American Advertising Federation (AAF) and the cheerleading team.

They offered me their insights into their favorite and least favorite ads, which ones executed well or poorly, and any themes they noticed during Super Bowl LV commercials.

“I think the ad that stood out to me the most was the Toyota ad with Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long,” said McGrane. She highlighted the heralding story of the Paralympian that inspired hope and strength within all of us. “I get goosebumps every time I watch it!”

Lafferty’s favorite was the five-second Reddit ad. “The most efficient ad of the night,” Lafferty proclaimed. Last month the brokerage app Robinhood put a halt on trades involving those pushed by the wallstreetbets Reddit thread, which led to widespread criticism. The ad was a five-second “interruption” that showcased the impact people can make when they come together against all odds.

“It brilliantly tapped into the cultural storm they found themselves in during the past two weeks,” said Lafferty. His opinion of the ad is a simple phrase, “Mic Drop.”

Discussing poor ads, McGrane mentioned the UberEats commercial featuring characters from “Wayne’s World” and Cardi B. The commercial showcased the actors joking that they were NOT forcing those to eat local but made the point quite clear through humorous skits.

“I felt she was out of place and not necessary for the commercial,” McGrane said. McGrane hit on the awkwardness of the group that intended to be humorous and memorable but instead was strange. “By showing Cardi B, I was very confused and missed the point,” said McGrane.

Lafferty offered similar sentiments toward several ads. Perplexing him the most was the Fiverr commercial.

“It was a fantastic device to use the Four Seasons Landscaping,” he said. The ad referenced the newfound fame of Four Seasons Total Landscaping after a blunder by the Trump team after the 2020 Presidential Election, which tried to hold a press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel but instead held it at Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

“Then, they lost me,” said Lafferty. “Why was that woman driving around? What was she exactly showing me? I know what Fiverr is, and I was still confused,” said Lafferty. 

McGrane noted that most years, “the commercials are high production, high cost and funny commercials. However, due to the pandemic, I noticed the commercials were somewhat smaller productions.”

These sentiments are not shocking, given the shrinking advertising budgets and social distance protocols that derailed production.

Lafferty also picked up on a difference from past commercials.

“A prevalent theme was a lot of Generation X nostalgia,” he said. “It signaled a changing of the guard, as one consumer group comes into the forefront of the advertiser’s attention, as another slowly fades away.” Lafferty added that this shift in the industry will not be going away anytime soon.

“This year felt like the torch was passed from the Boomers to the X-ers. This old nostalgia was mocked by younger nostalgia (ex. Sam Adams Guy vs. Budweiser Clydesdales),” Lafferty said.

The challenges of the pandemic, according to McGrane, led to an underwhelming Super Bowl commercial experience.

“I believe COVID took a toll on the consumer world. People have been stuck in their houses for almost a year now, meaning advertising had to take a new approach to entice consumers, and those new tactics were on display at the Super Bowl,” she stated. “Discussing the commercials in many of my classes, I found many people were underwhelmed by what they saw.” 

“There were more above-average ads this year,” Lafferty noted. “And, despite pandemic working situations, marketers found a way to make stronger ads.” He went on to signal the continued importance of Super Bowl Ads in the cultural zeitgeist. “There will always be a place for great ideas brought to life in video. In a world where people can block and skip ads, bad ads will continue to miss, and great ads will get people to talk,” he concluded.

Kyle Haller is a graduate assistant in the Jandoli School of Communication. Currently an MBA student at St. Bonaventure, he majored in marketing with a minor in finance for his undergraduate degree. He is a former runner for the men’s cross country & track team and was named team captain his senior season in 2019-2020.