NEW YORK—Super Bowl ads are more than just breaks between gameplay during the biggest sporting event of the year: They offer a glimpse of the country’s zeitgeist, along with how major industries are faring.
This year, crypto ads and automakers are advertising less since those industries are facing problems. Major food brands like M&Ms, tech companies like Google, streaming services including Peacock and more alcohol brands have jumped in to take their place.
When Super Bowl LVII kicks off Sunday night with the Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Philadelphia Eagles in Glendale, Arizona, big marketers will be battling it out during the Fox broadcast as well.
Their prize? The chance to capture the attention of more than 100 million viewers expected to tune in for the big game. This price of entry is steep: Some advertisers are paying more than $7 million for a 30-second spot, and that doesn’t include the cost of making the ad itself.
This year, viewers can expect stars galore, light humor, and catchy songs. For the most part, advertisers are steering away from somber messages or outrageous humor that might have worked to capture attention in decades past, but not now, when the country is still emerging from the pandemic, facing economic uncertainty, and the war continues in Ukraine.
“This year is a ‘don’t worry be happy’ year,” said Kelly O’Keefe, CEO of Brand Federation. “You name it, we’ve had it all and its put us in almost depressed situation. This year people are over it and advertisers are responding really well—there are traditional brands, traditional humor and it’s going to feel like just a big old group hug.”
Stars are commonplace in Super Bowl ads, but over the past few years ads have been more and more stuffed with celebrities. This year is no exception.
Popular celebrities offer goodwill to a brand and help it stand out from the 50-plus or so advertisers during the big game. But with so many stars in ads, it can be harder stand out in a crowded field.
“If you use celebrity in a smart way, it’s huge,” said Rich Weinstein, a professor at VCU Brandcenter. “But with all of these celebrities, are people going to remember who each celebrity is attached to?”
Big names making a splash this year: Melissa McCarthy sings a jingle for Booking.com, Miles Teller dances to hold music for Bud Light, and Adam Driver makes multiples of himself for Squarespace. And tennis star Serena Williams stars in two ads: one for Michelob Ultra and one for Remy Martin. It’s the second year in a row she has had a presence in more than one ad: Last year, in addition to a Michelob Ultra ad, she starred in an ad for smart home-gym maker Tonal. Even hip hop mogul P. Diddy appears in an ad, in which he tries to make a hit for Uber One.
One unusual star this year: Jesus. A group of Christian donors is paying top dollar for two ads that promote the “He Gets Us” religious message.
Which Ads Are Throwbacks?
Another tactic that advertisers use to win over viewers is recreating beloved movies and TV shows. This year, online shopping site Rakuten is making a splash by enlisting Alicia Silverstone and Elisa Donovan to recreate a scene from 90s rom-com “Clueless.” Popcorners, a snack brand from Frito-Lay, brought back “Breaking Bad,” which first aired in 2008, with stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul.
Other advertisers trying to capitalize on favorite content from years past: T-Mobile’s ad shows John Travolta singing a T-Mobile home internet-themed version of “Summer Nights” from “Grease” with “Scrubs” stars Donald Faison and Zach Braff. And finally, Michelob Ultra evoked “Caddyshack” by setting its ad at the Bushwood Country Club that’s in the movie.
The nostalgia fits the mood of the times, Weinstein said.
“Consumers are looking for a good laugh and to feel comfortable,” Weinstein said. ”It’s less about living in the problems the world faces today and more about leaning into nostalgia and having fun.”
Do Stunts Work?
Some first-time advertisers have decided to lean into stunts and gimmicks to make their first foray into the big game stand out. The most notable is Fan Duel, which hired four-time All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to try to make a field goal live during an ad in the third quarter. If he makes it, anyone who places a Super Bowl bet of $5 or more on FanDuel will win a share of $10 million in free bets.
A blockchain-based gaming company, Limit Break, plans to run a QR code during the first commercial break of the game and will give away non-fungible tokens to people who scan it. And for its first national Super Bowl ad, Molson Coors asked people to bet on aspects of its commercial, like whether it will feature Miller Lite or Coors Light.
Kim Whitler, a professor at the Darden School of business, said stunts don’t always translate to positive sales results or brand recognition for brands.
“People want to do stunts because stunts get attention,” she said. “But at the end of the day, the ad has to communicate something that’s unique or better about the brand.”
Which Ads Will Be Game-time Surprises?
While many advertisers have released ads ahead of the game, there are always some surprises. Dunkin’ Donuts is running an ad that reportedly will star Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, although the brand hasn’t confirmed that. Stellantis, which owns car brands Jeep and Ram, will run two undisclosed ads. And M&Ms has kept its advertising under wraps after declaring that its candy spokescharacters were on pause—they’re likely to make an appearance during the game, however.