February 13, 2021

Your Guide to the Emotional Language of 2021 Super Bowl Ads

Despite some brands choosing to warm the bench for the 2021 Super Bowl ads, the big game still remains a major venue for creative teams to showcase creativity with ambitious ads that often set the tone for campaigns throughout the year. But which language elements were in play and why? How was this year different than past years from a messaging perspective?

We highlight some of the most relevant emotions used by brands in their Super Bowl slots to promote messages that felt fresh and relevant for the current moment. 2021 game-day ads didn’t shy away from the current reality. References to the challenges faced by society were everywhere, as were cameo appearances by top celebrities.

“We” joins “You” as a dominant theme

Messages that focus on “You” — as in, you the customer —  have historically seen high performance in brand campaigns. This trend is so powerful that Persado predicted 2020 would be the Year of You.

That prediction held true, with some variation, especially in the early months of the pandemic. The collective effort to thrive in uncertain times motivated some brands to experiment with messages that emphasized connection and intimacy. In April and May, 2020, these solidarity-focused messages became top-performers.

That shift took many by surprise, since “we” messages have historically produced only middling performance. As the pandemic continues to take its toll on our daily lives, a number of brands leaned into messaging about solidarity with “we”-centric messaging in their 2021 Super Bowl slots.

Jeep reminds us to embrace “The Middle”

Jeep’s Super Bowl ad featuring Bruce Springsteen is a prime example, extending a long tradition of ambitious, emotionally resonant messages during the big game. The message emphasized the need for unity in difficult times — “We need the middle. We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground so we can get there. And we will.” 

(Editor’s note: The Jeep ad has since been pulled off the air due to legal issues with Bruce Springsteen but the underlying intent and positioning of the ad still rings true.)

Logitech gives a shout out for innovation

Logitech also emphasized the power of the collective with a message that emphasized the exponential power of combining individual ideas (the “you”) into a larger breakthrough enabled by collaboration (the “we”). A push for Achievement — another pandemic-era high performer — weaves throughout  the community-oriented message, “We the makers, we the groundbreakers, we the creators … yes, we will.”

Everyone needs a bit of Reassurance

It’s been a hard year for a lot of people. A number of ads acknowledged the health crisis, job loss, and financial concerns with reassuring messaging to make viewers feel protected and taken care of. The overall tone was one of hope and help in a context that acknowledged uncertainty.

Indeed.com tells job seekers that they have help

The employment website crafted a powerful message that strikes a reassuring tone by showcasing different types of job seekers — those who are “starting out,” “starting over,” and “experienced,” to name a few — to ultimately land on the final, cohesive message that “we help people get jobs.” It’s a way of saying “you’re not alone and we’re here to help” in an emotionally resonant way.

TurboTax offers personalized advice

TurboTax leans on the theme of reassurance as well, but with a humorous bent. In a nod to our virtual lives (and TurboTax’s online business), the spot shows desks with computers as they travel through streets and towns featuring a face on the computer screen singing about uncommon tax breaks. The bottom line message is, whatever your situation, TurboTax has answers and personalized tax advice.

Remember the joy

The Super Bowl itself is a reminder that many are missing their traditions of watching live sports or getting together with friends — but that even in alarming and uncertain times we can still experience joy.

Michelob Ultra puts joy center-stage

In a nod to those who have had to put parts of their lives on hold, Michelob offers a reminder that there is pleasure to be found in all experiences. The spot artfully mixes imagery with words, by showing images of successful artists and athletes winning medals and honors as well as everyday people experiencing everyday victories. The voiceover reinforces the idea of choosing joy with some thought-provoking words:

What if we were wrong this whole time, wrong in thinking that joy happens only at the end? What if joy is the whole game, not just the end game? Are you happy because you win? Or do you win because you’re happy?

The spot ends with a call-to-action to choose joy: It’s only worth it if you enjoy it.

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