Oatly’s ‘awful’ Super Bowl debut was a banned ad and genius marketing trick

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Oatly’s Super Bowl commercial — shot in 2014 and banned in Sweden — has left everyone confused and impressed. That was the point.

If you hated Oatly’s Super Bowl commercial, you weren’t the only one. Critics hated it, with some calling it awful and terrible. Viewers hated it — Twitter exploded with comments calling it “so bad I’ll never buy Oatly again” and “the worst Super Bowl ad I have ever seen“.

And it’s not just that Oatly gets it. It’s that the tongue-in-cheek dreadfulness is exactly the point. As it tweeted: “If you just watched our CEO sing in an oat field on the big game, we can’t give you back those 30 seconds but we can give you a free t-shirt that lets the world know where you stand on our attempt to promote Toni’s singing skills to a wider audience.”

The advert’s absurdity and its out-of-tone yet catchy jingle is being seen as a masterstroke by some critics. It got people talking. Those free t-shirts have already sold out. One Twitter user summed it up well: “Half of my timeline is about how bad the Oatly commercial was. Which means it was very good.”

According to AdWeek, this commercial was actually shot in 2014, and the jingle was written by its CEO Toni Petersson. It’s actually banned in the oat milk giant’s home country, Sweden, for its infamous proclamation that “it’s like milk, but made for humans”.

Super Bowl commercials are globally coveted spots for brands. They cost a lot of money. The AP reported that for the 2021 Super Bowl, 30-second spots like Oatly’s cost a whopping $5.5 million. But Oatly, valued at $2 billion, was willing to shell that out, and it was a calculated decision.

While the official figures aren’t out yet, it was estimated that over 185 million people would watch the Super Bowl in 2021. Forbes reported that on average, each Super Bowl has over 70 commercials. To have a 30-second spot in that kind of viewership is a massive achievement for a vegan company.

John Schoolcraft, Oatly’s global chief creative officer, told AdWeek he hoped the commercial got people talking about oat milk and the way consumers are changing their habits. The brand, which was in hot water just a few months ago due to investment from a Trump-backing firm, wants to ensure “that everyone has access to oat milk, or starts to think about it”.

And with a 30-second rendition of its CEO singing “Wow, no cow” amid one of the US’s most-watched sporting events with a halftime performance by The Weeknd, it’s done just that.

Anay Mridul
Anay Mridul
Anay is journalism graduate from City, University of London, he was a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan in 2020, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.