This Year’s Best Super Bowl Commercials
From controversial calls to Rihanna’s belly bump, Super Bowl LVII was chock full of surprises. But if you paid attention to the ads in this year’s game, the only surprise was the lack of innovative marketing. Don’t get us wrong—there were lots of great ads (and we’ll get into the bulk of them in just a moment), but compared to past years, this game lacked any mind-blowing campaigns. Think of how Tide “hacked” the game in 2018 with their “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign, or how Mountain Dew made one of the most polarizing commercials of all time with their “Puppy Monkey Baby.”
While we may not have seen any truly groundbreaking ads, we still had a long list of our winners and losers. But instead of your typical “best of” listicle, our team spent the last few days going into some of the common themes we saw throughout the game—from human truths to nostalgia to pre-game hype, we’ll go into some of our favorite nuggets of insights.
Headline: HUMAN TRUTHS
As storytellers, we know the importance of connecting with an audience. And the best way to do that is to tap into a “human” or “universal” truth that resonates with the masses. There were tons of examples of that in this year’s slew of spots.
Pringles – “Stuck”
Who among us haven’t had their hand stuck in the infamous cylindrical chip can? This spot shows that the brand doesn’t take themselves too seriously by tapping into something almost everyone can relate to, connecting to the audience in a way only Pringles could.
Bud Light – “On Hold Music”
If you’ve been on hold for more than a few minutes, chances are you’ve caught yourself tapping your toe to the music as it hypnotizes you into losing track of time and space completely. Bud Light did a great job tying their product into this relatable moment by telling their audience “it’s easy to have a good time with our beer, even if you’re stuck listening to the same on-hold music for an hour.”
Kia – “Binky Dad”
Even pet parents know how precious something like a pacifier can be. What’s so great about this spot is how Kia hyperbolized the lengths parents will go to make sure their kids have exactly what they want, while also tapping into how quickly social trends and personalities can blow up.
Workday – “Rockstar”
As a creative agency + production company hybrid, we’ve seen a lot of our competitors talk about their team of “rockstars.” Hell, we’ve been guilty of it, too. That’s what makes Workday’s spot so perfect—it talks to the corporate crowd (their target audience) in a way they’ll understand, using real rockstars in a hilarious way.
RAM Trucks – “Premature Electrification”
This spot hits on a few different relatable “truths.” The most important being that most EVs, especially in the SUV and Truck categories, can’t go… all the way. Mix that with an inconvenient truth that most men have to deal with and you’ve got one hilarious commercial.
USE OF CELEBRITY
Headline: CELEBRITY SELLS
It’s been done a million times in Super Bowl ads—hire a celebrity (or a group of them) and you can immediately win over your audience. It’s a cheap move (er, rather a really pricey one) but effective nonetheless. Having said that, using a celebrity does not guarantee a successful commercial. To us, the best way to use a celebrity is by connecting the star to the brand or product in a direct way instead of just using a familiar face to hock your goods.
The Ones That Worked
- In what was probably one of the best commercials of the night, Doritos told a hilarious story of Jack Harlow reinventing himself through the Triangle (a great nod to the products iconic shape). Hell, they even got Sir Elton John to make an appearance.
- T Mobile enlisted Bradley Cooper and his mom as they attempt to make a commercial together. This was heartwarming and fun to watch.
- Ben Stiller and Steve Martin had their own version of the Pepsi Zero “Great Taste or Great Acting” commercials, both of which were top notch use of comedic actors to help sell the line “Is it that good, or am I just acting? You’ll have to try for yourself!”
- Pop Corners had Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul revive their Breaking Bad characters to show off the product’s unique creation methods (similar to Walter White’s meth recipe) in one of the best spots of the night.
- In their spot “Thank You, Canada,” Crown Royal brought Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana into the fold to thank the country of the brand’s origin for all its awesome creations from actors to foods to sports. The only issue… Dave Grohl isn’t Canadian.
- Downy’s “Sniff It To Believe It” is a great example of a simple, to-the-point use of celebrity. It’s definitely didn’t have the brand connection some of the spots above did, but using Danny… er, Downy McBride and his energetic presence was a great way to get a quick chuckle while selling the product.
- Dunkin’ Donuts use of Ben Affleck was perfect. Everyone knows Affleck’s love for his hometown of Boston—and most people know how Dunkin’-crazy Bostonians can be. So this was a match made in glazed-donut heaven. The only issue we found was that the trope was used in 2020 with Hyundai’s “Smaht Pahk” commercial.
The Ones That Didn’t
- T-Mobile’s “New Year. New Neighbor” with John Travolta joining Scrubs’ duo Zach Braff and Donald Faison in a tough-to-watch parody of “Summer Nights.”
- Draft Kings showed us there is such thing as too many celebrities in one spot.
- Uber One’s idea to use Diddy and some other iconic vocalists fell flat.
- Bush’s commercial had a surprising turn with the use of Sarah McLachlan, but the ending fumbled worse than the Eagles.
- Booking.com’s use of Melissa McCarthy left us laughing but wishing they used McCarthy’s talent in a more effective way.
Headline: IF IT AIN’T BROKE…
This year, we also saw some reboots of previous campaigns. Because as the old saying goes, “if it’s an effective ad, just do it again!” Okay, we just made that up. But it sounds pretty good!
- Will Farrel and General Motors: This year, Will Farrel and GM took things a step further by incorporating some of Netflix’s biggest shows for a hilarious redux of last year’s ad.
- E*Trade: The baby is BACK and in a way that we felt didn’t try too hard—it just got straight to the point.
- Sam Adams: The “Your Cousin from Boston” ads have been super fun to watch over the last year, with this year’s Super Bowl spot fitting right in.
Headline: BEYOND THE BIG GAME
Some of the best Super Bowl 2023 commercials weren’t even great commercials—they just had some of the best pre-game hype leading up to the event.
Everybody’s favorite talking candy got WAY ahead of the big game with some “controversial” news that they were no longer including their spokes-candies, and were instead enlisting the help of Maya Rudolph. What made this build up so good was that it was a lighthearted criticism on how “woke” agendas can cause a ripple effect of change. Although we think the joke was mostly on the right-wing nuts who actually fell for it.
The only disappointment with this campaign was how it actually played out in during the game—with just one ad and a “don’t worry, they’re back” message leading into the game out of commercial break a few minutes later.
Speaking of disappointment, the FanDuel/Gronk “Kick of Destiny” had to be the biggest let down of the evening (unless, of course, you’re a Phili fan). The brand did a fantastic job hyping up what was felt like a huge, in-game activation/stunt, and what actually turned into a terrible, thirty-second blooper.
Anyone watching the Super Bowl this year could see that there are clearly some tried and true methods of telling a brand’s story—you can recruit a celebrity, cause some controversy, or tap into a universal truth. For us, it all comes down to being authentic to the brand. You can’t just do something because you have the money—you should do what makes the most sense for your audience and the story you’re trying to tell.