With the Kansas City Chiefs prevailing in overtime over the San Francisco 49ers to claim their second consecutive Super Bowl championship, Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday (2/11) held viewer interest throughout--which is a good thing for advertisers who paid some $7 million for a :30 time slot on CBS. At least they could count on audience attention from kickoff all the way to the Chiefs’ triumphant hoisting of the Lombardi Trophy.
Viewers got a heavy dose of celebrities in the Super Sunday commercials. To put it all into context, SHOOT connected with a cross-section of creative directors and content production pros on the agency side, steering clear of those who had a special interest or a particular axe to grand in assessing ad fare on the Big Game. SHOOT sounded out creative artisans whose agencies did not have any commercials on this year’s Super Bowl so as to get unvarnished, apolitical takes on the advertising.
Here’s a sampling of the feedback we received:
Greg Auer, executive creative director at Fusion92, described himself as “torn on my favorite commercial. Uber Eats was entertaining, funny and a lesson in how to use celebrities for Big Game spots. The one that surprised me in a good way was the Dunkin’ spot. The teaser was so forced but the in game commercial was another masterclass in how to use celebrities in a Super Bowl commercial.
And surprising Auer “in a good way” was Etsy with “a fun, simple idea that was well executed.”
As for an ad that missed, Auer cited Michelob Ultra. “I just kept waiting for it to go somewhere it never did.”
Regarding themes or trends in Super Sunday advertising, Auer related, “Jesus, Aliens and Flashdance, and of course media/movie commercials again. Pluto’s Couch Potatoes was in my top five. I thought it had nice, simple insight and was well executed.”
In the big picture, Auer observed, “I’m glad to see humor is back at the Super Bowl. It’s hard to be a critic knowing the massive amount of long nights, edits and re-edits it takes to get your idea on the air. In the end, some were masterclass in Super Bowl commercial making and others struggled to make a connection.”
Ned Brown, chief creative officer at Bader Rutter, said that his favorite ads on Super Sunday all had “a simple, compelling premise. And when they used celebrities, there was a logical connection that built on the idea. Take BMW’s “Talkin Like Walken.” It played on the idea that Christopher Walken has the kind of voice that begs to be impersonated (I’ve done it myself). And they paid it off with, ‘There’s only one Christopher Walken and only one ultimate driving machine. The rest are just imitations,’ which so wonderfully connected back to the brand and product. It’s a beautiful thing. And then for a little fun twist at the end, the VO guy even tried his own impersonation.
“Volkswagen did it, too, with their commercial, “An American Love Story.” They weaved a simple story, as we watched the first iconic Volkswagen Bug land on American shores, as it turned heads, and then hearts. All set against the fitting score - Neil Diamond’s ‘I am...I said.’ After watching decades of life go by with these cars in our lives, the story culminated in the poignant line, ‘We shape its metal. You shape its soul.’ Perfect.
“Even the little-talked-about commercial, by running shoe brand Hoka that aired during halftime, showed the power in holding tight on a simple idea and letting it shine. We watched a surreal, mysterious, stunning visual of runners running through the air like flocks of birds, as a line answered the puzzle, ‘Fly human fly.’
Finally, there was Kia’s, “Perfect 10.” It deftly tugged at our hearts as we followed a young girl at her figure skating competition, looking sadly at an empty seat in the stands. But after a drive to an icy pond in the mountains, the new EV9 powered hundreds of strands of lights over the scene so she could recreate her performance for the person who’d been missing--her granddad. As he sat huddled in his house, while the track, ‘Wish I Was Here,’ by Cat Power and Coldplay played, he proudly drew a 10 with his finger on the frosty window. What simple, graceful storytelling.”
As for commercials that missed the mark, Brown said, “There were many. But they all had one theme in common. Treat the audience as a wall and the airtime they bought as a plate full of spaghetti. Start throwing and see what sticks. But even so, a few stood out. Pfizer seemed to be trying to check every box imaginable with a part-history-lesson, part-feel-good, part-mission-for-the-future message. Pringles forced Chris Pratt into their ad because his last name also starts with P, and he was sporting an identical mustache to the brand’s icon. And Paramount swarmed us with celebrities, including, randomly, the band Creed. All of them left me with no clear take-away. And worst, feeling nothing at all, except frustration.”
Asked about trends or themes, Brown observed, “The trend this year, more than ever, leaned to throwing everything at the audience and hoping, by some chaotic miracle, to break through. We saw 78 celebrities, by my count. They could have fielded an entire football team and still had to cut 25 to get to a roster of 53. We saw all these famous faces forced in like oversized doorstops, jokes with no set-ups, and pop-culture references within pop-culture references. It was like they were trying to squeeze every drop out of every millisecond of the airtime they had.”
Brown’s bottom-line assessment of this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials: “Despite the few bright spots, overall, it was a rough go. And it was particularly rough because everyone was trying to out-shout everyone else to break through. My head felt like it was a pinball machine. I’d give this year’s crop a D+.
Emma Eriksson, head of creative, Forsman & Bodenfors, shared that her favorite Big Game work was CeraVe as a whole campaign. She explained, “Skincare brands take themselves seriously, so seeing CeraVe have fun with the category is fresh. The core idea to make people believe this is Michael Cera’s brand is stupid smart, and Cera himself is so endearing and likable. The run-up with him signing products at pharmacies and giving out samples in NYC was beautifully orchestrated and all over TikTok. Chefs kiss! I also love that e.l.f Cosmetics continues to build its fame with humor.
“More good stuff: Dunkin’-Dunkinkings, Matt Damon’s line “It’s really hard to be your friend, man ...”. Kawasaki--big attitude for a small drive, irony and Mullets at its best and works so well with the product. Uber Eats--Best use of celebs. Dove--great message and choice of music. State Farm--Arnold and his accent are stereotypical, but it works. Paramount+ A Mountain of Entertainment continues to entertain. Verizon--Can’t B Broken was hard to ignore and crazy powerful with the new album launch connected to it and rubbing off on Verizon.
“Two not-so-talked ads I liked,” continued Eriksson, “were Volkswagen and BMW. Volkswagen returned with a classic legacy feel-good ad with excellent execution by Lance Acord, who also did “The Force” which was fantastic. I would have loved to be part of crafting that. BMW’s “Talking Like Walken” is unexpected for a car ad, but it makes sense with the impressions showing that there is only one original. I guess this is how it feels to be a celeb, always noticed wherever you go, and it’s the same for a leading brand. Everybody has an opinion and thinks they can do the same. The Usher cameo was perfect.”
As for work that came up short, Eriksson related, “I’m more a fan than a critic, but maybe I was slightly disappointed in Squarespace since my expectations were sky-high after last year’s wonderful Meta ad with Adam Driver. This one was hitting on the big production drum, and while well crafted, I hoped they would have continued in the same weird and unique style.”
Relative to themes or trends, Eriksson observed, “Influencers are showing up increasingly as celebs, there are many historical references and conference rooms, and irony is back to stay for a while. I expected AI to be more present.”
Assessing the overall Super Sunday ad performance, Eriksson said, “This year was a moment in culture for other reasons and was very entertaining for someone like me who’s not a big football fan. Taylor, Usher on rollerskates, Beyonce--all the things. From an advertising perspective, I hoped for a big surprise like Tubi’s prank ad or the floating QR code from the year before. The DoorDash promo code is a wild, grand gesture but less guerrilla.”
Nicole Meyer, creative director at Periscope, shared which spots were among her favorites. “Doritos Dinamita found a clever way to drop the product name throughout, with really nice casting and art direction. The Paramount+ “Hail Patrick” full version actually made me lol. It was a great use of their IP, with stellar writing and acting, and a ‘Hey Arnold!’ feature for all of us ‘90s kids. Speaking of IP, Disney+’s use of quotes as supers cut through the clutter in a Google-esque way. Most surprising? The Pfizer spot actually got some chuckles out of the room--a far cry from the usual pharma ads.”
On the flip side, missing the mark for Meyer was the Kia figure skating spot which “felt like it was trying too hard to pull at some heartstrings and came off as forced with a slightly incoherent storyline. And the series of Homes.com ads were a bit confusing. (I’m still not sure what Homes.com is, nor was I sure about what the brand was until the last one I saw despite having a great cast.)”
Meyers observed that “as in previous years, the common theme was celebrities, as far as the eye can see. The ones that worked best felt naturally tied to the product, rather than using randomly selected cameos.”
In grading this year’s overall lineup of Big Game commercials, Meyer gave a mark of “roughly a B-minus. The crop as a whole felt slightly lackluster in comparison to years past.”
Danny Miller, SVP, content production, EP+Co, said that his favorites included “probably very unexpected selects.” For example, Miller enjoyed the Reese’s comedy spot which he described as providing “classic commercial laughs with some timely physical humor, comedic performances and editing. Great direction, and maybe the only spot [for which] I laughed out loud. I also really loved the NFL Sunday ticket “Migration” :60: great concept, smart insight and awesome execution delivered flawlessly. It aired early on in the game and set the bar high for conceptual advertising.
Miller observed, “The overall slate felt very safe this year. Nobody took any big swings or interesting risks. However, it’s exciting to know that I can shop like a Billionaire now, simply by downloading the right app. I also found it funny that we got to see multiple Flashdance references this year too. What are the odds?”
In terms of trends or themes, Miller noted, “The price of entry this year was massive celebrity talent, and often numerous A-list appearances and/or cameos that populated a large majority of the ads. Uber Eats, Dunkin’, State Farm, M&Ms, Verizon. All went huge on both talent and production spend, relied heavily on star power and often, multiple celebrity faces, to support their messaging. I found it super interesting that so many brands took this route. It felt like a throwback year. My producer brain is still trying to compute the total investment on a rare Beyonce commercial combined with an extremely high production spend. Even Messi, the biggest star athlete on the planet, made it into this year’s run of show, and it’s not even his style of football.
Overall, Miller assessed, “It’s hard enough for the football league to produce a championship caliber game every year, but this one lived up to the billing. It’s even harder for marketers to win big during the Big Game, with every set of eyeballs glued to the commercial breaks, begging to be impressed. I felt like brands spent big, brought in the biggest/sexiest names and faces, and relied on that star power to promote their brands. There was far less conceptual work, and not much pulled at the heartstrings or chose a dramatic route. It was mostly comedy and celebrity plays. Overall, probably a B-minus or C grade. There weren’t a ton of risks; Everyone played it safe, and let their deep pockets spend on star studded talent to do their talking.
Paul Prato, executive creative director, PPK, went with Bud Light as “my biggest hit this year. They had a lot to gain and their execution of a Bud Light wish-granting genie stuck the landing well. A goofy, escapist premise that saw them handle the fast-pacing we love from comedic Super Bowl spots successfully. With good writing and great casting that relegated celebrities properly to a supporting role, rather than trying to force them to carry the story.
“Honorable mentions,” he continued, “to Reese’s and Etsy who each brought spectacle and story without celebrity cameos.
Prato further observed, “While neither spot was a miss, I found it unusual that both T-Mobile and Nerds Candy used Irene Cara’s, “What a feeling” and even had the same Flashdance stage water drop joke. I’ve never met a client who wasn’t completely paranoid another brand is going to use same song they licensed. I can only imagine the phone calls each agency got.”
Jason Roberts, VP, creative director at 22squared, shared his favorites on the Big Game. “In this throwback to simpler, funnier times brands took the opportunity to pair clever, unique creative with their star studded cast while keeping the product front and center. Mountain Dew’s Baja Blast achieved this with Aubrey Plaza repeating ‘Having a Blast.’ in multiple scenes she’s definitely not thrilled to be in, with her signature deadpan delivery. And then reuniting the Parks and Rec coworkers with Nick Offerman coming in for the big finish. People should have no problem remembering this was for Baja Blast no matter how messy their Super Bowl Sunday got.
“A few low-brow humor favorites for me were the Reese’s Caramel spot with everyone losing their s@*t over the new pairing. So simple, so funny, the performances were all great. Bonus, it was all about the product. The best dig at AI came from a sea of Minions pushing Despicable Me 4. All the visuals were ‘slightly off’ and even the end cards were weirdly morphed, which was a nice touch. And Etsy set forth with a period piece where the French sends the Statue of Liberty as a gift and the U.S. feels the need to get them something ‘as good.’ I mean, the first piece of dialogue is, ‘Oh crap, that’s a really good gift.’ No celebs, minimal humor, but very memorable. They had me at, ‘Oh crap.’
“The choice for Verizon,” continued Roberts, “to feature Beyonce in their ad ‘trying to break the internet’ was a big swing, but not as big as Queen Bey using the last line of dialogue to announce that she’s dropping two new songs and a release date for Act II of her Renaissance opus was a major media savvy move.
In terms of work that missed, Roberts shared, “One spot I found entertaining, but lacked in the ‘knowing what it was for’ department was the Christopher Walken spot for BMW. Really funny, great performance by Mr. Walken, I know he got in a car at one point, but that’s about all I remember in reference to the vehicle. Usher also made a cameo, but had to rush off to do the halftime show even though the commercial was released a week in advance. But it seemed more like the product was not third or fourth in the hierarchy of importance, so you may need to head to the website to find out which car was featured.
“Sadly, our industry followed Hollywood a little bit this year, not only with celebs to cash in on, but with reboots. That mindset of ‘It worked for us in the past, let’s wheel it back out and just get the talk value, but not take any chances’ was very present this year. Budweiser trotted out the Clydesdales in a very nice, but predictable story. We were once again visited by the ETrade babies in a spot rife with baseline pickleball jokes. And as far as recycling old bits, we saw Uber Eats even harkened back to a viral David and Victoria Beckham moment from the Netflix documentary to stay on some well worn paths.
“However much Dunkin’ spent on the “Dunkings’ spot was too much. Yes it had a lot of star power and I’m sure these sweatsuits will get auctioned off for charity or something like that, but I’m not sure the ROI is going to be there for the brand. Also if someone could let Dude Wipes know their best media opportunity, ‘The Man Show’ went off the air in 2004.
Relative to trends, Roberts related, “This year agencies were back to leaning heavily into humor and celebrities. Why? Well, open your phone, turn on the news--it’s an election year, people are worried about AI taking everyone’s jobs and agencies know they are now competing with the stars at the game itself. Because Taylor was definitely in the building. But also because that’s what people want, and need, in between snaps right now--a little entertainment.
“This year we were seeing less social commentary or hard-working, bouncing QR codes on screen for 30 seconds, and more ‘take a load off’ and enjoy this minute long thing we made for (BRAND NAME HERE). Honestly, it was refreshing.
“Diversity was on display and we saw brands reaching out to more people this year. There were definitely a few commercials that were more HM leaning--one for Doritos Dinamita with Jenna Ortega and her Jazzy-wielding Abuelas are after the last bag of Doritos latest offering. Another spot featuring Leo Messi for Mich Ultra where he played sand fútbol with some strangers while waiting for a beer. Very Miami of him. There was also a really beautiful commercial for Google Pixel with Google AI highlighting how the tech assists people with low vision or blindness--the spot was very touching with Adam Morse, a blind director at the helm, and voiced over by Stevie Wonder. This got everyone at our party a bit teary eyed, in a good way.”
As for his overall assessment, Roberts shared, “We all know not every commercial can’t be a home run, especially during a football game, but let’s end this thing on a super positive note. Personally, I thought this was a great night for our industry. The game itself was very entertaining and in many ways the commercials in between followed suit. There were high moments and low moments, there was slapstick comedy and beautiful stories being told, but most importantly you never wanted to take your eyes off the screen for a second. And in the end isn’t that what all of us want?”
Nicolette Spencer, SVP, head of integrated production at INNOCEAN USA, said, “After witnessing my lifelong team’s heart-wrenching defeat in the Super Bowl, I’m channeling some serious energy into this rundown.” She then proceeded to list her “Top Picks” as:
- “State Farm’s “Neighbah” stole the show by a country mile.
- “Dunkin’ had Matt Damon shining as the spot’s savior.
- “Reese’s Peanut Butter came in strong, thanks to the dog.
- “Google AI tugged at the heartstrings.
- “Kawasaki brought some serious mullet excitement. #1 spot for having no celeb, no borrowed interest.”
Spencer went on to share varied observations such as:
“Trending Themes: Creating long-form content and airing condensed versions was “a” strategy this year. But here’s the kicker about Super Bowl commercials: your main aim is to captivate and entertain. We saw plenty of brands dropping 60-second, 90-second, and even longer teasers pre-game, but when it came to the big show, the cutdowns often fell flat. Crafting a Super Bowl spot is no small feat--you’ve got to nail it for the in-game media buy. Even if your client only snagged a 30-second slot, your job is to make it the best 30 seconds imaginable.”
“Celeb Overload: I’m all for a celebrity cameo to amp up the excitement and drive home a concept, but there were just too many celebs floating around. When stars are shoehorned in for the sake of star power alone, the impact is flat.”
“Biggest Letdown: T-Mobile, hands down. The sheer amount of cash they spent on talent was impossible to ignore. Hard to get past this as a producer.”
“Missed Opportunities: Jesus, Temu, and Homes.com dominated the airwaves but failed to truly engage the captive audience.”
And finally, “Kudos to the Craft Champions: Shout-out to the top brands in execution: Uber Eats, VW, and Kia nailed it like pros.”