The Brief: During the 2020 Super Bowl, advertisers competed to create the most meme-able content, which resulted in some hits, some misses, and some unexpected results.
While Super Bowl commercials only last 30-60 seconds, they can have lasting impacts on social media by inspiring meme trends, formats, and creating viral buzz. The ads in Super Bowl LIV included clear attempts by brands to launch meme campaigns and spark user-generated content. This resulted in many ads with clear-cut meme trends that followed, as well as some surprises along the way.
Although meme culture can be heavily influenced by outside sources such as Super Bowl ads, social media users are not always fans of brands’ attempts at manufacturing engagement. This year, meme-centric advertising resulted in the expression of a vast array of opinions via memes as aspects of ads went viral, with both positive and negative feedback, while others were largely ignored online.
The Super Bowl one of the biggest days in U.S. advertising and the most expensive. This year, a single 30-second ad slot cost up to $5.6 million, meaning that brands are competing to create content that will have a lasting effect beyond just the length of an ad. We’ve highlighted six case studies of meme-based commercials, some of which launched significant social media interaction while others fell flat.
According to TalkWalker.com, there were 141,900 posts and articles that mentioned Planters the day of the Super Bowl with an average of 5.6 engagements per conversation.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, Planters uploaded a video ad in which their mascot Mr. Peanut died after falling off a cliff. Planters immediately followed up by changing their Twitter account to be named The Estate of Mr. Peanut and staging elaborate public mourning on social media by celebrities and fellow brands. After Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash alongside eight others including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, Planters temporarily paused its social media stunt.
During the Super Bowl, a commercial aired which took place at Mr. Peanut’s funeral. After the Kool-Aid man cried onto Mr. Peanut’s grave, a plant grew and a new spokesnut was born: Baby Nut. Online, reactions to #BabyNut included posts from the Mr. Peanut Twitter account, which had been renamed “Baby Nut.” In addition to brand orchestrated content from Planters, Ko0l-Aid, and others, many reactions to Baby Nut appear to have arisen organically, in response to the ad and Planters’ corresponding social media push. A Twitter meme account run by Planters named @babynutbaby was suspended because companies are not allowed to create multiple accounts that perform the same purpose as per Twitter’s spam and platform manipulation policies.
While some expressed love for Baby Nut, others criticized the ad campaign for its similarity to Baby Yoda, for the potential NSFW implications of the phrase “Baby Nut,” and for the cringeyness of a company as big as Kraft Heinz trying to engage in meme culture. The hashtag #BabyNut was trending on Twitter during the game, and memes spread across platforms including Reddit and Instagram, indicating that Baby Nut had certainly made a mark in the collective consciousness of the internet.
Rick and Morty + Pringles
According to TalkWalker.com, there were 17,800 posts and articles that mentioned Pringles or Rick and Morty the day of the Super Bowl with an average of .78 engagements per conversation.
A collaboration between Rick and Morty creators and Pringles resulted in a 30-second ad in which characters from the show realize that they’re “trapped in a Pringles commercial.” This ad maintains the silliness and irreverence that Rick and Morty is known for, while also plugging the idea of “stack[ing] flavors [to] make new flavors.”
After the ad was published online, in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, a screenshot of Rick ripping off the wallpaper became a popular meme format on Reddit, home of many Rick and Morty fans. Although this commercial sparked a viral image macro meme, almost every iteration erased the Pringles logo from the image. So while Pringles effectively aired a meme-worthy commercial, the extent to which it caused viewers to think about or talk about Pringles was limited.
According to TalkWalker.com, Sabra was mentioned in 52,400 conversations the day of the Super Bowl, with approximately 1.2 engagements per conversation.
Sabra’s Super Bowl commercial was jam-packed with stars from all walks of life. In addition to mainstream celebrities like Jaleel White (Urkel), Scary Spice (Mel B.), and T-Pain, the ad included cameos from influencers and TikTok stars including Charli D’Amelio, Brittany Tomlinson (Kombucha Girl), and Zach King. The ad encourages viewers to share their Sabra stories with the hashtag #HowIMuss.
This ad and its accompanying social media push were met with mixed results. While sponsored posts show influencers correctly using the #HowIMuss hashtag, some individuals used it to mock the awkwardness of the word choice or criticize the brand’s politics. Sabra’s Twitter account shared and retweeted user-generated #HowIMuss posts, but most of such posts had relatively low engagement.
Jason Momoa Gets Comfortable
According to TalkWalker.com, there were 5,000 posts and articles that mentioned Jason Mamoa the day of the Super Bowl with an average of 3.14 engagements per conversation.
Jason Momoa starred in a memorable and meme-able ad for Rocket Mortgage, but the name of the brand itself may have been lost on many viewers. Many viewers were impressed by the shock factor of watching Momoa remove his arm muscles and hair to ‘reveal’ that he’s actually a shrimpy bald man in a muscle suit. Memes include reactions to this simultaneously disturbing and amusing visual as well as memes based on comparisons between the real Momoa that we know and love with the man in the commercial.
Old Town Road Meets Cool Ranch Doritos
According to TalkWalker.com, there were 43,400 conversations that mentioned Doritos the day of the Super Bowl with an average of 4.3 engagements per conversation.
An Old Town Road themed Doritos commercial starring Lil Nas X and Sam Elliot in a Wild West dance-off delivered in its flexing of the brand’s meme culture awareness but was less successful when it came to social media engagement. After Lil Nas X won the dance off and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, the ad encourages viewers to join the hashtag #CoolRanchDance, suggesting they download the Sway app to do so.
On Twitter, several other brand accounts including Mr. Clean and Michelin USA posted their own versions of the dance using the hashtag. On TikTok, videos associated with #CoolRanchDance have been viewed 90 million times, but after the initial set of sponsored videos, many videos that use the hashtag don’t include content related to Doritos, or even to dancing.
According to TalkWalker.com, there were 427 posts and articles that mentioned #W2Step day of the Super Bowl with an average of .62 engagements per conversation.
A Turbo Tax commercial invited viewers to try a signature dance move, the “W-2 Step,” set to the song “All People Are Tax People.” Although this ad and its corresponding social media campaign had meme-worthy elements, it ultimately fell short.
A promotional sweepstake offered those who post videos of themselves dancing with the hashtag #W2Step a chance to win $5,000, and some videos on Twitter show people participating. On TikTok, videos associated with the same hashtag have reportedly viewed over 269 million times, but many TikTokers simply used the hashtag on an unrelated video. Although the replicability of this dance and the possibility of winning a sweepstake encouraged some participation, this is largely overshadowed by the cringeyness of the W-2 step and the difficulty of turning filing one’s takes into a fun viral trend.
The 2020 Super Bowl proved to be a day full of meme marketing and commercials that implicitly and explicitly invited social media engagement. As Super Bowl ads and memes become increasingly intertwined, commercials that create a buzz and inspire user-generated memes can be some of the most successful when it comes to spread. Brands must also balance their coolness with their cringeyness to be relatable to viewers without overplaying their ability to engage via memes and knowledge of internet culture.
Editor’s Note: StayHipp recently launched The Primer, StayHipp’s enterprise trend reporting and consulting service. StayHipp partners with brands to help them better connect to their audience and stay up-to-date with trends.