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Actor Zachary Nemes ponders whether a burrito can change the world in last week's Chipotle Super Bowl commercial

Social Themes in This Year’s Super Bowl Ads

The Super Bowl is one of the greatest television events in the world. Year after year, avid football fans and casual viewers alike tune in to watch their favorite players alongside iconic advertisements, making it a mainstay for consumer brands.

Last week, the Super Bowl captivated an estimated 96.4 million viewers according to Los Angeles Times. With its massive reach and engaged audience, its no surprise that Super Bowl ads are some of the most coveted media placements of all time. These ads effectively imprint the memory of a brand upon a viewer, but they also have an opportunity to influence social themes and cultural attitudes in ways that are both entertaining and inconspicuous.

Coming off the heels of 2020, this year’s Super Bowl ads touched topics across a broad spectrum of social themes. From environmental sustainability to mental health, let’s take a look at some of the themes that were surfaced in this year’s most expensive commercials.

Reframe Happiness (Michelob)

Are you happy because you win, or do you win because you’re happy? Michelob flips our everyday understanding of happiness on its head by posing this very question. It begs the question of whether happiness is conditional, or rather, a condition. This clip is a helpful reminder that no matter where you are or what direction you’re moving in, your happiness is the journey, not the destination.

Achievement Comes in Many Shapes (Toyota)

Life without limbs, or life without limits? This was said by Nick Vujicic, an Australian-American who was born without arms or legs. Toyota echoed this statement by using their ad to showcase the inspirational story of Jessica Long, a double amputee who went on to become a 13x Paralympic Gold Medalist. In this mighty, 1-minute spot, Toyota manages to tastefully advance narratives around adoption, people with disabilities, and the hardships that come before achievements.

A Burrito Can Change the World (Chipotle)

I’m cheesy enough to believe that movies and video games can change the world, so of course I can empathize with a child who thinks the same of a burrito. Actor Zachary Nemes goes into immaculate detail describing how his Chipotle meal could change the way we plant, grow, and transport food, conserve water, and care for the farmers and animals in our communities. If more of us could connect our food consumption to sustainability the way that Nemes can, the world would be a greener place.

We Don’t Feel Like Ourselves Right Now, and That’s OK (Doritos)

Matthew McConaughey hasn’t been feeling quite like himself. His life used to feel fuller, and some days are harder than others. If this sounds familiar, that’s because Doritos has acknowledged that we’re all in a pretty weird place right now, and while I wouldn’t recommend chowing down on the cheesy snack to cheer yourself up, Doritos gets points for astutely keying in on how we’re all feeling right now.

Let’s Look Out for Each Other (Ford)

COVID-19 infection rates are all over the place, the vaccination rollout has been a bit bumpy, and people are feeling restless. It’s easy to want to revert back to old habits, habits that might put other people at serious risk. But Ford makes an emotional appeal to make sacrifices, hold the line, and finish strong so we can get back to our old lives. You can learn about the Ford Fund’s COVID-19 response here.

Of course, this is just a tiny glimpse into what we saw last weekend. Dozens more ads were debuted — some of them light-hearted and hilarious, others more somber, and each of them touching on different cultural and societal topics. Let me know what you thought of the rest of Super Bowl ads this year, and if you need a reminder, you can check out the full collection of ads on Vulture.

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