The Super Bowl teams didn’t generate a lot of offensive fireworks through much of the Kansas City Chiefs’ nail-biting overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers, and neither did advertisers in adopting a play-it-safe game plan, reflecting a mentality intended not to offend significant portions of the year’s biggest TV audience. While they mostly accomplished that mission, the celebrity-heavy strategy came at the expense of creating many spots that felt worthy of the oversized showcase.
The National Football League, CBS and advertisers have welcomed whatever incremental audience Taylor Swift cheering on the Chiefs has brought to the NFL – especially in terms of younger women – while CBS used its role as Super Bowl LVIII’s TV host to promote the launch of its strike-delayed season as well as corporate siblings Paramount+ and the studio’s movies.
Yet as with 2023, this year’s Super Bowl ads – for which companies paid a reported $7 million per 30-second spot between kickoff and the closing gun, plus production costs – leaned heavily on celebrities in sometimes-confounding ways, yielding a mixed bag in terms of results. Nor did the opportunity to reach more women (a.k.a. the “Taylor effect” some advertisers spoke of exploiting) produce a significant change in the overall creative picture.
The advertiser lineup tilted toward more traditional categories, unlike, say, 2022, when crypto ads sought to make a splash. Viewers received a steady helping of football-associated products like beer and snacks, along with such familiar staples as cars and big movie trailers, hoping to mount a comeback after rough years at the box office fueled by streaming and the pandemic.
Granted, a few more substantive outliers stood apart from the crowd, including the NFL’s corporate image commercials, those HeGetsUs.com ads related to Jesus, and another spot for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign. The relatively new practice of premiering ads before the game also blunted the sense of discovery, which helped distinguish the truly fresh drops.
Given the hoopla, CBS exercised a modicum of restraint when it came to gratuitous cutaways to Swift, admittedly due in part to the Chiefs’ sluggish first-half offensive performance, which gave her relatively little reason to celebrate.
With that, a by-no-means-comprehensive sampling of TV’s winners, losers, and the much wider category of what fell in between.
Dunkin’: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon teaming up to annoy Jennifer Lopez (with an assist from Tom Brady) ranked as the most unabashedly funny spot of the day.
Movies: The collective weight of big movies delivered a robust pitch for getting out to theaters, including the musical adaptation “Wicked” (arguably the most appealing of the bunch), “IF,” and “Monkey Man,” and the sequels “Twisters,” “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” and “Kung Fu Panda 4.” “Deadpool 3,” meanwhile, settled for a tease during the pregame festivities.
Also, honorable mention to “Shogun,” as FX/Hulu made the shrewd decision to treat its epic limited series like a blockbuster movie, and the ad certainly delivered those qualities.
Dove: The personal-care company ran one of the few ads from a major sponsor (unlike the issue-oriented participants) that actually dared to be about something, touting a program to teach young girls body confidence, using a song from “Annie.”
BMW: A fun day-in-the-life of Christopher Walken, dealing with the fact that everyone thinks they can do a Christopher Walken impersonation.
Etsy: So what kind of gift should the US have gotten France to reciprocate for the Statue of Liberty? A cheese plate, naturally.
Squarespace: Weaving UFO hysteria into something uplifting, funny and, best of all, that actually makes a case for the product.
Google Pixel: A genuinely touching spot about someone with limited vision using the product in a way that actually improves his life.
T-Mobile: Jason Momoa helps Zach Braff and Donald Faison perform a nod to “Flashdance,” with a cameo by its star, Jennifer Beals. Nostalgic, entertaining and fun.
Verizon: Beyoncé, a lot of splashy visuals and the promise of new music? ‘Nuff said.
Pfizer: The pharmaceutical giant playfully celebrated science through history with an ad using a Queen song.
Disney+: Selling the streaming service just using lines from its movies offered a nicely understated tonic (in contrast to most of the day’s spots) to cleverly pitch its content.
Kia: A young skater melts the ice, and maybe a few tear ducts, by performing for her grandpa.
Jim Nantz and Tony Romo: CBS’ veteran broadcast team didn’t get in the way of a game that didn’t produce a lot of points but did go down to the wire. “The seventh-longest game in the history of the NFL was one of the most memorable ones as well,” Nantz said at the end. Yep.
NOT BAD, BUT…
Budweiser (and beer in general): The beer giant trotted out the Clydesdales to deliver the suds, but frankly just using the Band song “The Weight” made the whole spot. It was the best entry in an otherwise uninspired lineup that included Bud Light’s wish-granting genie, Michelob Ultra turning soccer star Lionel Messi (and Jason Sudeikis) loose on the beach, and Coors Light’s “chill train,” which went nowhere.
CeraVe: Playing off Michael Cera’s name for the moisturizing cream was goofy enough to work mildly.
FanDuel: Give the company credit for opting to leave the late Carl Weathers in its spot and add a memorial card.
Uber Eats: Although this ad featured Jennifer Aniston forgetting who David Schwimmer is, the random things that people forget – like putting on pants – was actually better.
Pluto TV: Building a spot for a TV service around couch potatoes is a funny idea, but there’s something vaguely creepy and WALL-E”-like about seeing people’s heads sprouting out of their potato bodies.
M&Ms: The clever idea of celebrating “almost champions” didn’t fully pay off with Dan Marino and Scarlett Johansson among the not-quite winners.
Stok Cold Brew Coffee: Anthony Hopkins putting on a mascot outfit is certainly a different idea, but you know, why?
“SNL” alumni: Tina Fey and Kate McKinnon popped up in ads for Booking.com and Best Foods, respectively, which didn’t take much advantage of their comedy chops.
Oreos: Using Oreos to “twist on it” in making historic decisions – including whether Kris Kardashian would do a family reality show – was worth a small smile, if not an actual laugh.
State Farm: Featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in what looked like a big movie ad only to mock of his accent felt like a missed opportunity, but the payoff reuniting him with Danny DeVito saved it.
Doritos: Jenna Ortega and a pair of violent grannies felt like squandering the talent in pursuit of cheap sight gags.
Drumstick: “Dr. Umstick” turned out to be one for the “What did just watch?” pile.
Lindt chocolate: A perfect example of an ad that doesn’t feel the least bit special in a way equal to the stage.
Reese’s: Kind of the ultimate example of being big and loud and ultimately just plain annoying, as people react crazily over the prospect of getting their candy – or not.
Homes.com: Three ads, no hits.
BetMGM: While Vince Vaughn did his best to enliven this spot, the idea that Tom Brady has won enough merely demonstrated that when it comes to acting, he’s a great quarterback, in the second-best use of him on the day.
Skechers: Having Mr. T rant about the lack of a “T” in Skechers might be a nifty way to remind people of the spelling, but I pity the fools who watch this very loud ad more than once.
Kawasaki: Riding a Kawasaki grows hair, or something.
Popeyes: Ken Jeong’s waking up from cryogenic freeze was basically another exercise in loud and obnoxious, with too-fleeting moments of clever.
ETrade: The company’s trademark babies are now toddlers playing pickle ball. It feels like time for this campaign to grow up.
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