2021 Year in Review: Nike, Kraft, & Peloton's Unforgettable Ads
As advertisers, we're usually pretty good with words. But having already used "unprecedented", "chaotic", and even "dumpster fire" too many times to count last year, even we must admit we're running out of adjectives to adequately describe 2021. Rather than belabor the point, let's take a look back at some of the most, erm, unforgettable ad campaigns and trends from the past year.
In 2021, brands spent a total of $75.3 billion on digital advertising — enough to cut every American adult a check for $292! This generated a mind-boggling 8.4 trillion impressions.
Facebook was the top channel to advertise on, receiving $28.7B in ad spend, followed by Instagram at $19.1B. After a huge YouTube takeover in 2020, brands continued funneling advertising dollars into desktop video, and the platform came in at #3 with $13.1B in ad spend in 2021. Desktop display was next with $8.4B in spend, followed by OTT ($2.3B), mobile display ($1.8B), Twitter ($1.3B), and mobile video ($667M).
Amazon was the top spender in 2021, and the only advertiser to single-handedly spend more than a billion dollars. The second-biggest spender was HBO ($842.3M), followed by Procter & Gamble ($513.2M), Disney ($452.1M), and PepsiCo ($386.8M).
In all, brands ran more than 16 million unique creatives in the past year — some more successful than others — but there were a few that stood out above the rest.
Audi envisions a brighter future
2021 kicked off with the arrival of vaccines and a presidential inauguration, and many of the ads we saw in January reflected a sense of hopeful optimism about the year ahead.
For example, Audi debuted its “Moving Forward” campaign the day after President Biden was sworn into office. The ad features a prototype of Audi’s bold new electric car, the e-tron GT, which it says was inspired by the Paris Climate Agreement. (Marvel fans will also recognize it as the car driven by Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame.)
Budweiser sits out the Super Bowl
February saw a socially-distanced Super Bowl, with major brands like Budweiser, Kia, and Planters sidelining their usual ads. Instead, Budweiser redirected its advertising dollars from the big game to raise awareness about COVID-19 vaccines.
Advertisers that did show up to the Super Bowl did not disappoint. We especially liked Rocket Mortgage's "Certain is Better", which featured Tracy Morgan explaining why "certain" is better than "pretty sure" when it comes to financing your home.
"I'm pretty sure these hornets aren't the murdering type," Morgan says at one point as he pokes a nest. The video spot, which Rocket Mortgage promoted on YouTube after the Super Bowl, also spawned a series of display ads featuring the SNL funny man.
Kraft-Heinz reinvents its famous bologna brand
As we emerged from lockdowns, 2021 was a year to reinvent ourselves, from our social lives, to our careers, to our closets. Likewise, several brands seized the opportunity to reinvent their images. One notable example was Kraft-Heinz, which rolled out a massive rebrand of its Oscar Mayer label just in time for Memorial Day barbecues.
Ads from the “Keep It Oscar” campaign tap into the brand’s offbeat sense of humor, with one spot showing a little girl cooking an Oscar Mayer weiner with her “laser eyes”. Another shows several slices of bacon dancing in a pan.
The 138-year-old brand also shook things up by advertising on YouTube for the first time, with 36% of its spend going toward desktop video ads.
Airbnb, Jetblue prepare for a summer travel surge
After a year of being stuck at home, Airbnb kicked off the summer travel season with its “Made Possible By Hosts” campaign, which featured photos of real guests staying at unique rental homes, including a farm, a dome, and a yurt.
Like Kraft-Heinz, Airbnb took a video-centric approach with nearly 60% of its ads appearing on YouTube or OTT streaming services.
Meanwhile, airlines funneled nearly $130M into ads hoping to entice travelers to return to the friendly skies. JetBlue’s “We’ve Got a Plane for That” campaign positions the airline's everyday low fares as the solution "for all the things you've been looking forward to getting back to".
The ad is set in an airport baggage claim, but instead of waiting for their luggage, passengers are waiting to greet significant life events. At various points, "Bubby" rolls out on the baggage carousel in her rocking chair and is met by her granddaughter, and a couple in masks retrieve their wedding cake from the belt. The ad, which was JetBlue’s top creative of 2021, received $378K in spend and garnered nearly 21M impressions.
Nike's Olympic ad steals the spotlight
July marked the start of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, which sparked a series of ad campaigns
featuring famous athletes. United Airlines, which is the official airline sponsor of Team USA, got in on the competition, as did Oreo and UberEATS. Notably, all three brands’ ads include the GOAT Simone Biles.
But our favorite Olympic ad was a spot from Nike titled “Best Day Ever”, which imagines sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce clocking the 100 meters in under 10 seconds while her son watches from the sidelines. The inspiring ad ends with the words, “Tomorrow, his mom will be the fastest woman on earth.”
In addition to the 15-second ad, Nike launched a one-minute short film by the same name, which also envisions wheelchair tennis legend Diede de Groot launching her own video game and professional basketball player A'ja Wilson convincing world leaders to declare sport a human right in what is “the best day ever” for sports.
Fitbit tackles the mental health crisis
The summer Olympics also started an important conversation about mental health, which spilled over into brands' digital ad campaigns during the fall. For instance, Fitbit's "What's Strong With You?" campaign is all about finding inner strength — be it physical, mental, or emotional.
From running a marathon to climbing a mountain, the video spot shows people overcoming their fears and disabilities, reminding us that we are stronger than we think. The ad first appeared on November 3 and was Fitbit’s top creative of 2021, with over $1M in spend and 60.1M impressions. Looking at Fitbit’s spend for the year, you can see just how much the fitness brand spent on this campaign compared to the rest of its advertising throughout the year.
Geico rides the wave of nostalgia
Nostalgia was a major trend in 2021, from fashion to TV shows, movies, music, and yes, advertising. One brand that successfully tapped into the power of nostalgia was Geico. The insurance giant spent over $253M on digital and produced a lot of notable ads in 2021, but the most popular was a spot titled “Scoop! There It Is”. The ad, which featured 90's hip hop duo Tag Team, ran from January to September and was named Best Ad of the Year by Adweek's editors.
It was such a hit that Geico created an ice cream flavor inspired by the ad’s line: “French vanilla, rocky road, chocolate, peanut butter, cookie dough.” The insurance giant then asked fans to upload a video of themselves dancing to the commercial’s track and tag Geico in their post for a chance to scoop up a pint of the limited-edition ice cream.
Peloton puts a new spin on Scrooge
Finally, after what seemed like simultaneously the longest and shortest year ever, the holidays rolled around. Peloton recruited Scrooge for its largest advertising campaign to date, titled “When Your Workout Is a Joy, It's a Joy to Work Out”. The video spot retells Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” — except instead of a visit from three ghosts, it's a Peloton bike that changes Scrooge’s curmudgeonly mood.
The campaign comes on the heels of Peloton’s highest year of spend to date ($72.8M). Peloton was the top advertiser in the fitness and weightloss category in 2021, and the brand spent nearly as much in November ($11.6M) as it did in January ($12M) — which is saying something for a brand that has so much riding on New Year's resolutions.
We’re still struggling for words to describe 2021, but these ads paint a picture of our collective experience this past year. And while nobody has a crystal ball, Pathmatics Explorer can give you up-to-the-moment insights to help you make smarter advertising decisions. To learn more, schedule a custom insights session!
After she earned her BS in Business Administration and Marketing, Pam spent time in the non-profit industry developing skills in digital marketing and creating digital content for two years. She then made the transition to content marketing for San Francisco start ups.