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Why Big Tech sat out the Super Bowl

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Sometimes the Super Bowl is an action-packed fight. Sometimes, like last night, it’s pretty much a snoozer with one team dominating the other. But there is always a commercial for entertainment. It may be the only time of the year that I don’t hit the Tivo fast-forward button every commercial break.

In the past few years, the rise of big tech has resulted in a multitude of memorable multimillion dollar spots in the big game.

Two years ago, Microsoft had a heartbreaking ad that shows disabled children using their Xbox adaptive controllers and Google I was also near tears in the ad showing the real-time translation app’s power. Amazon had a funny thing about the products that weren’t cut this year either.

Last year, Amazon featured Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi in a world before Alexa, Microsoft took us behind the scenes with pioneering NFL trainer Katie Sowers, and Google once again tore the most tears with a spot about a man using their service remember his wife Loretta. Facebook Sylvester Stallone and Chris Rock also made their debut with the first Super Bowl ad, which highlighted the diverse offerings of Facebook groups.

This year? 🦗🦗

Google, Microsoft and Facebook sat out. Apple was as usualalso absent. And on Amazon very attractive ad with Michael B. Jordan, released before the game, didn’t run until the end of the fourth quarter when the game was almost over and half the audience had probably gone to bed.

Now there could be several explanations for the absences this year. For one, many big brands like Budweiser, Coke and Pepsi decided that in the middle of an ongoing pandemic wasn’t the time to invest in an expensive ad (although some related brands). And maybe we hear more directly from some tech companies when asked.

But it’s probably another sign that big tech has gone from being loved to being vicious.

After multiple antitrust lawsuits, Congressional investigations, and a shift in the public focus to bad behavior, it was likely difficult to justify running feel-good commercials that would likely be viewed as cynical attempts to change the conversation. ON capital and SurveyMonkey Poll last month 64% of Americans were concerned about Big Tech’s antitrust violations, and 48% were in favor of closing at least one of the companies. Big Tech’s problems in 2021 are too big and too serious to laugh (or cry) with the most compelling Super Bowl ads.

On the flip side, a tech company with perhaps the worst advertising run in recent times – Robinhoodhis ad was still running with the slogan “We are all investors.” Investors in MEMESTONKS I think.

That left a lot of room for smaller tech companies to beat us up, however. In a piece by Gen X-meets-Gen Z, Paired Uber Eats Wayne’s world duo Mike Myers and Dana Carvey with pop star Cardi B. Logitech had Lil Nas X. salute “The makers, the spade diggers, the creators.” And there was also the cute place for Intuits TurboTax emphasized the strange and crazy variety the tax laws in different states (are they really taxing cows gas in some states? What does that even mean?). And what about all these little tech companies? that pushed itself into it? Mercari, Fiverr, Vroom and Dexcom ran commercials. Does Oatly count as a technology company? Food technology? Will all of these companies make it through the Super Bowl next year? (2020 advertiser Quibi didn’t make it to this year’s game.)

Far from technology, there were many funny and moving spots from other brands. One of my favorites was Toyota’s commercially tells the story of Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long. It was extremely moving, even though it didn’t have much to do with cars.

Leaving this prominent position is a way for Big Tech to deal with the current issues. The question now is whether they will be back for the 2022 Super Bowl.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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