Sustainability and Social Impact Win at Super Bowl LIV

Each year, hundreds of websites catalog the best, funniest, most memorable Super Bowl Commercials. My favorite, of course, comes from my friend Professor Derek Rucker at my alma mater with the Kellogg Super Bowl Ad Review. But as we get past the laughs and the gimmicks, another important trend emerged at Super Bowl LIV – sustainability and social impact.

As a sustainability practitioner, I was heartened to see so many companies using their advertisements for good. And at a cool $5.6 million per 30 second ad in 2020, you certainly can see these companies are quite literally putting their money where their mouth is. Companies using Super Bowl ads in this way have certainly received negative feedback in the past. Some have been accused of green washing (Budweiser’s “Wind Never Felt Better” in 2019), diversity washing (Audi #DriveProgress in 2017) or being just plain tone-deaf (Dodge Ram MLK Commercial 2018) with Super Bowl commercials in the past. I’m curious what my sustainability-focused network thinks of this year’s crop of ads.

I’ve included below some of the highlights in sustainability and social impact throughout the evening, their ads embedded when I could find them, and links to more information about each of the company’s initiatives highlighted.

  • The NFL kicked off the night putting front and center some of their own social impact programs – notably the NFL Play 60 program. Their “Take It To The House” 3-minute intro showcased opened the game with one of 50 Play 60 kids from around the nation delivering the Super Bowl game ball. The program was mentioned at least one other time in the broadcast, as was the NFL’s Inspire Change program, an initiative of the NFL and the Players Coalition advocating change and partnership in local communities.
  • Clean Harbors had my favorite sustainability-focused commercial last night, airing just before the game actually started. Clean Harbors may not be a household name, but their services in waste management, environmental and industrial waste are imperative to strong recycling programs and waste disposal all over North America. Their commercial showcases their 40 year anniversary and a tagline “sustainability in action.” To learn more about Clean Harbors’ work in sustainability, read their sustainability brochure here.
  • Grubhub launched their partnership with No Kid Hungry in 2019 and expanded the partnership in 2020, allowing Grubhub users to donate their change to provide meals for the nonprofit organization serving children. The Super Bowl ad showcased the Grubhub app and the steps taken to “Donate the Change.” Learn more about the partnership here.
  • Michelob Ultra Pure Gold used its Super Bowl commercial to launch a new social and environmental impact program. A portion of all 6-pack sales of Michelob Ultra Pure Gold will now go towards helping farmers convert to organic crops. The bottles boast the USDA Organic label and proceeds provide grants directly to farmers through the company’s Contract for Change program. Learn more about the partnership and goals here.
  • WeatherTech once again used their Super Bowl commercial to feature Scout the Dog (also featured in 2019). An interesting take on an ad focused on social impact, if you weren’t looking closely, you might not even know this ad was for WeatherTech. But they used the ad to drive awareness of veterinary medicine specialists the University of Wisconsin, and of course when you visit as the ad directs, you can donate and buy WeatherTech products.
  • Verizon’s Super Bowl ad purchase certainly put their 5G product front and center, but behind that message was strongly a message of connectivity, heroism and courage of first responders. Behind the ad is Verizon’s Give One More Sunday campaign, committing to 2.5 million volunteer hours by 2025 in partnership with the NFL’s Huddle for 100. Learn more about Verizon’s commitment here.
  • Walmart‘s Super Bowl commercial wasn’t entirely social impact focused, but emphasized a theme of “United Towns” and the community-based approach the company emphasizes in its marketing. It’s web link call to action sends watchers to where you can learn more about the company’s commitment to its communities and workforce development initiatives.
  • Secret Deodorant’s #KickInequality Campaign featured U.S. soccer team stars Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn as “the secret kickers.” Secret’s parent company, P&G, says this is the beginning of a larger campaign we’ll continue to see in the coming months. While #KickInequality is certainly doing well on Twitter, I was sad to see no true online activation or call to action yet with the campaign.
  • Zenni Optical is a company most people haven’t heard of and they doubled down on Super Bowl commercials, as the official eyewear partner of the San Francisco 49ers and with spokesman player George Kittle. At first blush, Zenni is an eyewear company, but their social impact message is front and center in their ads – democratizing access to affordable eyewear. Learn more about Zenni’s story here.