Who Won The Super Bowl 2020?

ENGINE, R&R Partners, and St. John & Partners give their opinions on this year's winners big game ads.

Another year, another Super Bowl. Although the winners on the field were decided, the brands battling for our attention during breaks have less definitive winners. Beer and cars were of course well represented, but AI assistants and politicians also had a notable presence this year. We reached out for opinions from 3 different industry leaders from 3 different parts of the country to get their opinions on who grabbed their attention. 



Lindsey Allison
Head of Strategy ENGINE

Peter Herbst
Executive Creative Director St. John & Partners

Overall; how did the ads in the Super Bowl, and the activations around it compare to recent years?

Arnie: I thought the ads were better than in recent years. Whenever I am picking a Top 5, and the decision is tough, I know we had a good year. However, I felt like there were some letdowns with brands pre-Super Bowl. Facebook in particular led with teasers featuring Stallone and Chris Rock. The ad didn’t live up to the teasers. And there was no Snicker’s musical event like last year. I would have liked to see more of that kind of work. Hulu did well, in my opinion, getting everyone glued to the set with Tom Brady. I wish their message was delivered better, but they still got my attention. 


Lindsey: Everyone in our industry has probably been in this situation – the one person in the room getting personally blamed for nearly four hours of advertising. This year I had to defend the industry a little.  I thought funny stuff was funnier.  The big stuff was bigger. And the crossover trend that gained momentum last year got more interesting.

But what I miss and continue to miss during the Super Bowl are brands coming to the table with new points of view.  Nothing surprised me.  Nothing was overly insightful.  I was entertained, but when you have a platform this big, use it to make me think.


Peter: I think the ad content was much more well-rounded this year. While there wasn’t a single stand out that everyone agreed was the best, there were a lot of great ads that everyone liked. Ask 10 people what their fav was and you might just get 10 answers. There was no clear winner. That’s pretty incredible.


Going into the game, was there any brand you were most excited to see?

Arnie: I was excited to see what Jeep did with Bill Murray and Groundhog Day. They didn’t disappoint. The ad was strategically sound and fun. 

Lindsey: I put on earmuffs before the big game.  I’m one of the few people who doesn’t like to know what’s coming so that I can fully judge the work in its complete cultural context.

Can I instead talk about an idea I expected to see? This year the country’s biggest stage of the year collided with the country’s most divisive week of the year.  No one acknowledge it.  Snickers turned the classic Coca Cola spot into a joke.  P&G were so heavy handed about ‘coming together,’  it felt disingenuous. 

I know the reaction from many will be other brands have tried messages of unity and failed.  My answer is to keep trying. 


Peter: As a “car guy”, I was excited to see the return of the Hummer, although I thought the work was smart, but perhaps a bit too highbrow? For a brand made successful by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Karl Malone, Mike Tyson(who bought 6 of them!), Rosanne Barr and every US Marine, I thought it was missing it's soul. It’s big, it’s ostentatious it’s the veritable poster child for rough and rugged and now it’s about to receive some seriously powerful tech by way of receiving electric motors. I just wish the heart of the brand was invited along for the re-release. 


What was the most common them in this year’s work?

Arnie: Less politics. People are obviously tired of it. It is easy to see why. That’s why it was surprising to see Bloomberg and Trump placing ads. Again, it shows how polarized the world is that they both had to be in the Super Bowl against each other. But I certainly wasn’t looking forward to seeing them. 


Lindsey:  Crossovers were a big theme this year, with some marketers doing it more interestingly than others.  NFL’s The Next One Hundred crossed over from the screen to real life, which was an intriguing first.  P&G and Kraft Heinz brought their hero brands together for a party and funeral respectively.  And tide continued the narrative from last year, making cameos with other marketers throughout the game.  At this point however, I think we have say the crossover trend has been done and played. What’s next?


Peter: Not sure if it was a theme as much as sentimentality or laughter would be (and there was certainly a bunch of both), but I really felt like 90% of the work was targeted straight at Gen-X versus Baby Boomers or Millennials. From the celebrities picked to the music to the movie parodies, it all felt very familiar to someone who grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s.   


Of the advertisers having a repeat appearance, who had the strongest showing this year?

Lindsey: Doritos.  Always one to watch.  Sam Elliott and Lil Nas X stole my heart and the show.

I also thought Budweiser was strong strategically. They’re a ‘typical beer’ and this work turns being typical from a weakness into a strength with some creative misdirection along the way. It was smart and one of the few spots that had a fresh strategy, not just big budgets and big names. 


Arnie: I thought Bud did a good job with the Typical America thing, and I liked that Tide was in with other brands like Bud. So those two did well even though they weren’t in my Top 5. They managed to continue to surprise and delight. It is interesting that brands can get together in ads, but politics is so polarizing. 


As always, there was no lack of celebrities in the work this year. Which advertiser had the best use of a star this year? 

Arnie: Jeep with Bill Murray. Easy pick. However, Lil Nas X and Sam Elliot were super fun too 


Lindsey: Hulu. Talk about hijacking cultural momentum.  Just getting Tom Brady to be in a Super Bowl ad with the Patriots absent was pretty genius.  Here’s what made it more genius.  Hulu let Brady deliver his message.  Versus other brands who tapped celebrities as mouth-pieces to deliver theirs.  It was a commercial, but also a cultural moment.   


Peter: Sam Elliot, Brian Cranston, Missy Elliot, Post Malone, Ellen DeGeneres, Winona Rider...Was there even a Super Bowl spot that didn’t have a celebrity?

I think it all comes down to who had the clearest tie-in with a legit strategy. And for me that was Jeep. They successfully got to a simple, salient point in record time , “That’s different.” Plus, Bill Murray is impossible to beat.


Finally, who won the Super Bowl this year? Why? 

Arnie: Jeep and Google. Jeep won with a great ad that was on point. Every day is an adventure when you think of Jeep. And Google because I have a parent with dementia, and it is difficult. That ad was special to me. 


Lindsey:  I wouldn’t say any one marketer won the Super Bowl this year.  But one of my favorite spots aired right before – McDonalds Famous Orders.  In a world of high production and big budgets, I’m always a fan of smart simplicity.  Honestly, I had to go back and watch a lot of the work, but that one failed to get lost in the hype.   


Peter: I think the NFL actually pulled off the most jaw dropping moment I’ve seen on TV for a long time. The real-time nature of the idea was brilliant and probably had a lot of people scratching their heads as to how they pulled it off. In a world where spontaneous content is being captured more and more often, it was great to have some production value baked in.