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#Fisher Expert: Super Bowl LV Ads Will Embrace Unity, Humor in 2021

February 4, 2021

Advertising guru and expert Dr. Rama Yelkur has spent over 20 years analyzing the success behind Super Bowl ads. She predicts humor, happiness, and unity will win out in 2021 ads.

Rama Yelkur

Yelkur coded and analyzed Super Bowl ads for more than 20 years, identifying common characteristics in ads that could predict likability.

In light of the pandemic and racial unrest that dominated 2020, Yelkur believes that the “Ad Bowl” this year will feature themes of humor, warmth, and hope. She predicts cameos from celebrity comedians and a decent amount of nostalgia, with ads reviving shows and songs, pointing to “Wayne’s World” in an Uber Eats ad and Squarespace’s ad featuring a new twist on Dolly Parton’s classic “9 to 5.”

Yelkur believes that ads will focus on COVID-19, along with pandemic related buzzwords, and will include more conscientious marketing, interactive messaging, and user created content.

“Viewers will likely see brands employ more with work from home and stay at home situations,” she says. “Some commercials you may see might include masked actors as well, reflecting our society today.”

In response to social issues, she believes brands will be more thoughtful in representing people and cultures.

“We will see more inclusion, not just casting diverse actors and celebrities but a more intentional effort to convey appropriate messaging appealing to all audiences with varying backgrounds including gender identity, color, race, and more,” she says.

Since the start of the Super Bowl ad era, Yelkur says commercials have conveyed some emotion or message, and this year, we can expect to see commercials that are more “humanized.”

“More than ever, there will be a firm importance on people connecting with each other as brands in turn reflect on the human connection,” she explains. “Companies and organizations will be conveying messages that appear as uniting or bringing us all together.”

Yelkur also predicts that “there will also be an intentional use of ‘happiness’ as a theme to lift people up, in light of the isolation many have been facing over the past year. She points to Michelob Ultra’s commercial “Happy,” as an example.

“There will be spoofs, redos, and parodies to keep the entertainment at a high level,” she says.

she predicts very few, if any, emotional “tugging at the heartstrings” messages with the exception of brands like Indeed, a job seeking website that focuses on the solution to joblessness that many are facing today.

“This type of emotional messaging will try to avoid sadness as a theme, as marketers want to take this opportunity for the audience to have a positive association with their brand,” she explains.

She also expects brands will use conscientious marketing to highlight social responsibility. She points to Chipotle, for example, whose ad focuses on their socially responsible sourcing as well as the quality of products. Likewise, Hellman’s Mayo is messaging out to viewers how their product can be used to reduce food waste. Even Mercari, an e-commerce company, focused on recycling “unused things” rather than the price of the product, she says.

According to Yelkur, celebrities are always a main attraction when it comes to Super Bowl commercials. A wide array of celebrities including Troy Aikman, Jason Alexander, John Cena, Will Farrell, Nick Jonas, Michael B. Jordan, Ashton Kucher, Mila Kunis, Dan Levy, Marshawn Lynch, Matthew McConaughey, Tracy Morgan, Dolly Parton, Jerry Rice, Amy Schumer, Martha Stewart, John Travolta, Lil Nas X, Sam Elliott, and Billy Ray Cyrus, among others, make up this year’s slate.

This article was written by Salvatore Saunders ’23, a marketing and communications intern in the School of Business.