Skip to main content
Insights & Expertise

You Won’t See Your Familiar Favorites in This Year’s Super Bowl Ads

The 2021 Super Bowl will look a lot different from past years — and one thing will stand out for loyal viewers: no commercials from the biggest and most well-known brands.

Football on green grassy field with chalk lines

Written by: Andrew Westveer

Published: February 5, 2021

Total reading time: 3 minutes

The 2021 Super Bowl will look a lot different — and one thing will stand out for loyal viewers: no commercials from the biggest and most well-known brands. Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are skipping their usual multi-million-dollar ad placements. So are Hyundai, Olay, Little Caesars and Ford. The stakes and cost of in-game commercials have always been high, but what’s driving the decision to hold out this year?

For answers, we turned to David Allan, Ph.D., chair and professor of marketing in the Haub School of Business. Allan has researched the placement of popular music in Super Bowl commercials and, along with colleague Stephanie A. Tryce, J.D., assistant professor of marketing, published a research paper on the topic.

Every year, the Super Bowl ads are as popular as the Super Bowl itself. Why is there so much buzz around them?

Allan: It’s a combination of things. First, brands spend a lot of time and money on this. It’s a big stage, so the ads tend to be better. Second, the game sometimes isn’t all that exciting. Third, not everyone likes football, so it gives them something to watch – and now bet on.

Super Bowl LV will be unique in NFL history, going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you expect to see in the ads that air this year?

Allan: It’s difficult for brands to be edgy this year because of the two P’s: pandemic and politics. People still want to laugh, so humor will be on the menu. Nostalgia is always good and a familiar theme from companies like Bud Light and Tide.

Big-name brands like Budweiser, Pepsi and Coca-Cola are sitting out their ad buys. What’s the rationale behind their decision?

Allan: Pepsi is putting all their money into the halftime show featuring The Weeknd, which makes total sense – and cents. The show is one long music commercial anyway – although it sells more downloads than soda. Coke and Budweiser are re-directing marketing dollars elsewhere. I’ll miss the Budweiser Clydesdales – and the puppies! Instead, Anheuser-Busch is putting funds toward public awareness and education for COVID-19 vaccination with a campaign that features “Lean on Me” from the late Bill Withers.

Without these big ad players, are Super Bowl LV’s ads still must-see TV? And where’s the best place to catch them all, even if we don’t tune in for the game?

Allan: The ads are always good TV – and will be again this year. Although my unofficial, day-after research always concludes that “last year the commercials were better!” All the ads will be played on YouTube channels from Ad Age and Rolling Stone. But the best place is USA Today’s Ad Meter that comes out on Monday after the game.

Read last year’s SJU news article featuring the published research of Allan and Tryce on Popular Music in Super Bowl Commercials.