A Big Game Chock-Full of Celebrities

Every year, envious creatives like me who sadly don’t get to create commercials for the Big Game are asked to critique those commercials. And every year we say, “Yeah, I don’t care about the game. I’m just watching for the commercials.” But this year was different. I wanted to see if Old Man Brady could pull it off. And boy—Brady did not disappoint.

What did disappoint were the ads shown during the Big Game. As an advertising creative, we have high expectations on the level of creativity we expect to see in these commercials, and after the year everyone has had, I expected even more.

Instead, yesterday’s ads relied heavily on the use of surprise celebrities and the ideas themselves felt recycled; they were less about the brand and more about the featured celebrity. While some constraints are clearly understandable—these commercials were made during unprecedented times and brands likely had smaller production budgets, limited resources and unplanned pivots due to the pandemic—these ads were simply lacking. And while my eyes never left the screen, I also never went out of my way to shush anyone so I could hear the spots. So now, rather than talking about how bold a brand was, I’m left talking about how many celebrities I counted in each ad (more than two dozen, if you’re curious). With that disclaimer in mind, here are my favorites and flops from the 2021 “Big Ad Game”. (Please don’t send hate mail.)


M&M’s “Come Together”
You can’t go wrong with simple, relatable humor. M&M’s commercial this year was a pleasant departure from the oddball, quirky humor of a Snickers or Skittles spot of years past but every person in the room could relate to every scenario in the spot. Not only was this spot relatable, but it poked fun at some major pop culture events and trends in a subtle way. I give it four out of five stars.

Anheuser-Busch “Let’s Grab a Beer”
I love commercials that don’t force product benefits down your throat. This spot tells a great story with a simple human insight – we need each other. Anheuser-Busch did a great job of showing that “grabbing a beer” can bring people together and foster a sense of community, especially after a year like 2020. I give it five out of five stars.

Amanda Gorman Honors Pandemic Heroes
This wasn’t technically during the Big Game, but it deserves recognition. If the name Amanda Gorman sounds familiar, that’s because she recited a stunning poem at President Biden’s inauguration last month. Her story is a powerful one, and I was excited to see her shine in this ad honoring pandemic heroes. I give it five out of five stars.


Jeep’s “The Middle”, Featuring Bruce Springsteen
I’m going to get a lot of slack for this, but I wasn’t a big fan of this commercial. It’s always a gamble for brands to tout a unifying message—you never know how people will react to it. There’s no denying that it was beautifully shot, but I thought Bruce Springsteen’s delivery was lackluster. In my opinion, Chryslers “It’s Halftime, America” with Clint Eastwood was more moving because it told a more moving story about the unification of our country. I give it a three out of five stars.

Cheetos’ “It Wasn’t Me”
I don’t need to say much about this one – Ashton’s singing ruined it for me. I give it a one out of five stars. Pro tip: let Shaggy do the singing.

Scotts & Miracle-Gro’s “Keep Growing”
Of the few brands that promoted giveaways through their commercials, this one missed the mark and focused too much on the talent. Am I the only one who forgot about the brand halfway through the spot? On the bright side, we now know how many celebrities you can squeeze into an ad about lawn care – seven. The star power distracts from the brand and their message, especially when you end it with John Travolta attempting to do a Tik Tok dance. I give it a two out of five stars.

This was a tough year for commercials. Should it be inspiring, humorous or empowering? Everyone had high expectations because of the year we just had. However, I thought this year’s lineup was full of missed opportunities. Maybe there was more pressure on the commercials to entertain because fans weren’t satisfied by the lackluster, blow-out of a championship game. But I believe brands should build long-lasting connections with their audience. Stuffing celebrities into every spot who have no real tie to the brand seems a bit forced to me. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter what I think. I wasn’t the target audience for half of those commercials. So I’d rather hear what you thought of the commercials. Send me an email and let’s chat it up.

About the Author:

Ken currently holds the unofficial world record* for most Chicken McNuggets devoured in a minute. When he’s not smashing nuggets down left and right, he is VP, Executive Creative Director at OH Partners where he crafts strategy, and leads innovation and creative development. He holds a MBA from Benedictine University along with a BS in Marketing from ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business. Ken has worked across an enormous range of clients with different desires and budgets, always striving to rethink the way consumers engage with brands.  

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