Reviewing 5 of the Bad — but Mostly Awkward — Super Bowl Commercials of 2021

By Sara Smida / February 12, 2021 / Advertising

The Super Bowl has been a highly anticipated annual event since the first big game was played on January 15, 1967.

But, year after year, excitement overflows for the commercials. We watch attentively, anxiously waiting to see which will make us laugh, shed a tear, or learn which product to avoid.

Yes, we’re still in it for the game, but for marketers like myself, we want to see what brands are producing and how they’re showcasing themselves, in addition to being entertained from 30 seconds to a minute.

And when a commercial during the big game can cost $5.5 million for a 30-second spot, companies had better put their best foot forward, or best idea on our screens in this case.

Companies like Frito-Lay, Paramount Network, Huggies, and many others went to great lengths and expense to ensure their products or services were front and center during the big game.

But not every commercial can be a success or fan-favorite, right?

Let’s dive into some of the worst Super Bowl ads we saw this year. Whether it was the acting, messaging, or overall delivery, some left our skin crawling.

1. Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade

“When did Bud Light Seltzer start making lemonade?”

“Probably when 2020 handed us all those lemons,” begins the ad for Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade.

When life hands you lemons, well, you know the rest.

Except, unless life also hands you something to mix with the lemon juice, like water or sugar, your lemonade is not going to be good.

Which is essentially how I felt about Bud Light’s commercial.

The commercial proceeds to show people being pelted with the lemons that 2020 handed out, ruining weddings, parties, work, and many other events.

Unless you’ve been under a rock since the start of 2020, you already know that life has “given us lemons.” These unprecedented times is a message many of us have grown weary of hearing.

Not to mention the fact that the people shown in the beginning talking about the lemons of 2020 were not wearing a mask, a hot-button topic throughout 2020 and now into 2021.

It seems as though Bud Light could have created a better commercial with all those lemons. Like Instagrammer — Dude with Sign — who cleverly advertised the product while staying true to his persona.

2. Oatly: Wow No Cow

The ad for oat milk was without a doubt one of the strangest for the evening. It features nothing but Oatly CEO Toni Petersson in the middle of a field singing and playing the keyboard.

The jingle tells us their product is “like milk, but made for humans.” I understand that tongue-in-cheek dig Oatly is trying to convey, but surely someone on the team must have thought “Milk, but made for humans sounds off.”

Maybe it’s beyond my level of understanding, but the performance feels inauthentic and somewhat smug.

I do give Petersson kudos for performing the jingle on his own, but sometimes it can be worth hiring some talent.

It feels as though they could have showcased their product in a different, more engaging way instead of an awkward schtick.

3. Robinhood: We Are All Investors 

January 2021 was a tumultuous and memorable month for the investment company, making the brand top-of-mind for many of us — and not in a good way.

The stock saga began after a community of retail traders came together in the WallStreetBets forum on Reddit and decided to invest in GameStop stocks in order to make money, while simultaneously trolling massive hedge funds. 

As a result, shares of the struggling video game retailer jumped by more than 14,300%. Robinhood then put a freeze on buying or trading GameStop stocks, among others like AMC Theatres.

The debacle has left many of their customers feeling abandoned in favor of hedge funds or other elite investors.

The Super Bowl ad begins with a question; “Don’t think you’re an investor? We make investments morning, noon, and — wait, what time is it exactly?”

Ordinarily, this would be a welcoming opening line for a commercial. But in light of recent events, it felt a bit tone-deaf.

It’s safe to assume Robinhood had this spot wrapped up and ready to go well before the incident.

I can’t help but wonder if they could have pulled the spot and replaced it with something more thoughtful — perhaps an apology to the app’s users.   

And it’s almost as if Reddit anticipated Robinhood running a spot. The platform ran a 5-second spot, so short that if you picked up a slice of pizza, you missed it.

Reddit spent their entire marketing budget on the spot. And if I had to guess, I would think the Robinhood mishap will give them enough free advertising for quite a while.

Reddit’s spot is a win in my book.

4. Skechers: To the Max

Candice and Tony Romo show us different ways they “take it to the max” in their typical day. Supersized sandwiches, mattresses piled high, and a truck you’d need to climb scaffolding to get in.

Then we see the couple wearing Skechers Max Cushioning sneakers.

While the sneakers do indeed look comfortable, the choice of celebrity cameo doesn’t seem to fit. When I think of Tony Romo, comfy shoes do not come to mind.

And even though the couple is smiling, they don’t truly appear to be happy.

Although a celebrity appearance or two can certainly help make a commercial memorable, I think it’s just as important — if not more so, to choose someone who embodies your brand.

5. Amazon: Alexa’s Body

Many of us think of our Alexa as our own little helper, a piece of technology to aide with simple tasks — what’s the weather for the weekend, find me dinner music, add cat treats to my shopping list.

So why wouldn’t Amazon take it one step further and have Michael B. Jordan become “the body” for Alexa?

Throughout the commercial we see an adult woman ask Alexa a series of questions while making lovey-dovey eyes as Jordan answers, all the while with her husband watching, growing more concerned over her love for the virtual assistant.

The sultry tone of the commercial was truly something out of an episode of Black Mirror.

While the production quality of the commercial was superb, it made me want to unplug my Alexa.  

We can only hope that these brands, among many others, take in the criticism from viewers to make their 2022 Super Bowl ads that much better.

With ads like these, these brands are sure to stay top-of-mind, but maybe not in the way they’d like to be.

As marketers, it is our job to help brands avoid pitfalls such as these. To create a commercial that wows your audience while creating a trusting and authoritative persona is all in the name of the game.

If your commercials aren’t doing that for your brand, our video production crew would love to hear from you.