Advertising during the Super Bowl is always a gamble, but this year was especially risky. Marketers had to determine whether to speak to or tiptoe around the very serious issues facing their audiences, all while maintaining their brand’s voice and style. Despite this challenge, some campaigns knew just how to get our attention.

The game may not have been close, but these advertisements had us entertained from start to finish:

Guinness — What Does it Mean to be the GOAT?

Guinness’s ad features Joe Montana from his Notre Dame days and the nearly impossible comeback win at the 1979 Cotton Bowl — a college football classic. The key line is: “It’s about more than the numbers. It’s about how you come back from a bad play or the hardest year ever.” I have to admit that I am drawn to this for more than the story it tells and the motivation it provides for all of us as COVID rages on. This is special to me for another reason. I was Joe’s teammate in 1979 and played in the game featured in the Guinness ad. Now, I really need to go share a Guinness with a friend.

— Nick Vehr

Bud Light — Lemon of a Year

Bud Light’s Seltzer Lemonade commercial was a favorite of mine. It was a humorous recap of 2020: bad at-home haircuts, ruined weddings, cancelled flights and chaos hurled at us from every direction. While the thought of all our derailed plans and missed time with family still leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, the look back at the “Lemon of a Year” was pretty sweet.

— Laura Phillips

Rocket Mortgage — Certain is Better

Rocket Mortgage is selling something we all could have used a little more of in 2020: Certainty. What’s great about this ad (aside from Tracey Morgan, of course) is that it taps into the relevant themes of 2020 without directly addressing the sensitive events that transpired. Rocket Mortgage could have easily mentioned the economic shutdown, pandemic, social division and travel restrictions, but instead showcased poisonous mushrooms, murder hornets and some sketchy skydiving. They gave the audience just enough to keep things light and fun, while leaving it up to us to connect the dots.

— Max Winter

Jeep — The Middle

My college friends have never quite let me live down the time I cried like the 18-year-old superfan I was upon hearing that Bruce Springsteen had gotten married. My Brucemania isn’t what it was back then, but I nearly cried again as soon as I heard his voice kick off The Middle, the Jeep commercial that aired during the Super Bowl’s fourth quarter. The two-minute spot was bone-deep Bruce — heartland images, gravelly voiced reflections, plaintive guitar and words that managed to nail the mix of fear and tentative hope underlying American life at this moment in history.

Naturally, the commercial has taken its share of heat — too political, not political enough, too corny, too maudlin, blah blah blah. For me, it crystallized, well, the road ahead that we all face, a road on which we’re all trying to find our way. “We need the middle,” Bruce implored, or maybe assured us. “We need common ground. … We can get there.” Its promises left me with that most American, most human of feelings — hope.

— Karen Bells

Bud Light — Bud Light Legends

Today, I salute the real creatives of genius behind the Bud Light Legends commercial, which aired during the Super Bowl. Tapping into nostalgia isn’t a new, pandemic-born tactic, but it seems to hold a bit more meaning now as we yearn for the “simpler” days before social distancing, mask wearing and obsessive temperature-taking were the norm. Seeing those football helmet-clad Bud Light bottles brought a big smile to my face, as I’m sure they did others. Hey, Bud Light — although I’m not one of your customers myself, I thank you for giving us a collective look back at happier times. And for that, I love you, man.

— Darcy Schwass