With algorithms and AI now “deciding” what ads each person sees, and delivering them through an increasingly splintered media landscape, events like the Super Bowl are one of the few places where marketers still get the opportunity to speak to a mass audience. And with Super Bowl ad rates running to $7 million for a 30-second spot, the pressure is on to create commercials that are truly memorable, using humor, celebrities, nostalgia, and, when all else fails, animals (talking and otherwise).
So how did marketers do this year? As always, it was a mixed bag. Props to M&M’s for its commercial featuring the always hilarious Maya Rudolph, hawking her reimagined Ma&Ya’s that substitute clams (yes, clams) for the chocolate usually found inside the candy. Right-wing commentators had decried so-called “woke” aspects of the brand’s previous talking M&M’s campaign, so Rudolph was supposed to be a criticism-proof antidote. M&M’s executed a clever bit of PR jiu-jitsu, turning the “controversy” into an attention-grabbing stunt.
T-Mobile served up nostalgia from multiple decades with its commercial featuring John Travolta and the brand’s regular spokespeople, Donald Faison and Zach Braff of the 2000s TV show Scrubs, singing a song from Travolta’s megahit movie of 1978, Grease. The brand also hit the tried-and-true “celebrities, they’re just like us” button with its spot featuring Bradley Cooper and his mother, who at one point says the pink-T-shirt-clad Cooper looks like “a flamingo.”
The Retail TouchPoints editors shared their takes on some of the most noteworthy and interesting ads from retail, CPG and technology advertisers:
Temu Appeals to Billionaire Wannabes
Perhaps the most notable new name that popped up in between plays was Temu, with its double-featured “Shop like a Billionaire” spot. The new U.S. shopping app is akin to the more familiar Wish or Shein, connecting consumers directly with Chinese manufacturers and thus able to offer shockingly cheap prices. In its brief five-month existence (the app launched in the U.S. in September 2022), it has already become one of the most downloaded apps in the country and, like its predecessors, has also already prompted a slew of complaints to the Better Business Bureau for product quality and customer service issues.
The next question curious consumers have to ask is, how does a five-month-old company have the money for not one but two Super Bowl ad spots? The answer lies in the deep pockets of Temu’s parent company, PDD Holdings, also the parent of Chinese ecommerce juggernaut Pinduoduo. With the power of one of China’s biggest online marketplaces behind it, coupled with the brand recognition that inevitably comes from such a high-profile marketing play, Temu is without a doubt a name to watch on the U.S. ecommerce scene. — Nicole Silberstein
DoorDash Debuts Roku Shoppable Ads
While most viewers were probably cueing up DoorDash to order last-minute game-day food from local eateries, the delivery service took the opportunity to promote its expanding range of services, namely grocery delivery. The energetic “We Get Groceries” spot featured not one but three celebrity chefs —Matty Matheson of Hulu’s The Bear, Nickelodeon’s stop-motion character Tiny Chef and rapper Raekwon the Chef, one of the founding members of Wu-Tang Clan (who is not, as far as we know, actually a professional chef).
While the ad was fun, and certainly achieved the goal of highlighting DoorDash’s expanded offerings, perhaps more notable was the company’s pre-game announcement of a new multi-year partnership with streaming platform Roku. Not only will Roku account holders get six months of DashPass (the company’s delivery membership program) for free, but the partners also announced the rollout of shoppable TV ads. DoorDash merchants can now offer viewers click-to-order offers in their Roku ads, allowing customers to order food and groceries directly from their TVs. — N.S.
Bass Pro Shops Stands Out with Simplicity
Most Super Bowl commercials are dominated by celebrity endorsements, flashy special effects or clever marketing gimmicks. Bass Pro Shops eschewed these in favor of a down-to-earth spot that meshes well with the brand’s appeal as a rugged, no-nonsense destination for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.
That isn’t to say there weren’t any nods to fame in the commercial — a world-record Arctic Char caught by angler John Paul Morris is displayed prominently, as is John’s father and Bass Pro Shops CEO Johnny Morris — but it stands out from the usual Super Bowl ad fare by being straight and to the point. When the competition is doing its best to stand out, simply staying humble can be a great way to make something memorable. — Bryan Wassel
Rakuten Digs into Nostalgia and Deals
Nostalgia for the 90s seems to be all the rage these days, which makes Rakuten’s callback to the iconic era-appropriate movie Clueless a smart choice. There’s also a natural connection here made by tying a stereotypically airheaded character to what the retailer is pushing as an “obvious” choice for customers — taking advantage of Rakuten’s cash back feature.
Of course, the emphasis on cash back also will resonate simply due to the inflationary pressure shoppers have been feeling for months. It’s a strong commercial that combines memorable visuals (from loud outfits to car crashes), with a message that appeals to one of the major sources of stress today’s shoppers are feeling to offer a resonant appeal. — B.W.
Tubi and the Scary Bunnies
As a content creator, I’ve always been a fan of the phrase “rabbit holes.” Reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, the term allows us to visualize the perfect content experience, full of surprise, delight and wonderment. One of Tubi’s Super Bowl spots took this phrase literally — and in a way that was somewhat reminiscent of a horror movie. The ad showed everyday people driving their cars, working in spreadsheets and studying in libraries, and then being taken by giant bunnies. The furry yet daunting creatures carried, or in some cases dragged, people to their “home,” which is evidently where all the best content lives.
Sure, once the bunnies actually threw people into the gaping hole I understood completely what they were getting at, but I would argue that the streaming service’s second ad was much more powerful. The core of the concept was to trick viewers into thinking their TVs were being hijacked, or at the very least, their remotes were being sat on. It was a quick and effective way to get the logo front and center — and even show the viewers the overall app interface. — Alicia Esposito
Amazon Empathizes with Dogs’ Post-Lockdown Boredom
Amazon went the heartwarming route for its game day ad (probably a good move for the company, which hasn’t been getting the best press lately).
In the aptly titled “Saving Sawyer” ad we watch several days in the life of Sawyer, a lovable but rambunctious rescue dog who gets a bit stir-crazy when left at home alone day after day, wreaking havoc on the family domain. Fed up, we watch Sawyer’s family select and order a dog crate on Amazon, but in a surprise twist it turns out the crate isn’t for Sawyer. Instead, the family brings home a new friend for Sawyer, another rescue dog that will hopefully keep him occupied and out of trouble.
The ad performed well for Amazon, ranking as the No. 3 most popular ad of the day in USA Today’s Ad Meter ratings and making it the highest-ranked tech-related ad of the game. — N.S.
Solution Providers Have Fun with Their Concepts
Solution providers also took advantage of the Big Game to try and raise awareness of their products. Squarespace launched one of the most memorable ads of the game with a pitch for its website that can make websites. The meta-ness of the concept sends Adam Driver on a quest that ultimately ends with him realizing a website that can create websites could theoretically create itself, leading to a reality-swallowing singularity.
With AI-powered tools like ChatGPT stealing headlines, this was a well-focused pitch that put forth the power of modern tools in a humorous light. It was an interesting concept with cool visuals that made the idea of website building software seem much, much more interesting than it actually is, which is about as successful as you can hope such a commercial to be.
Workday’s approach was to literally fill the screen with rock stars, including Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Clark Jr., Joan Jett, Billy Idol and Paul Stanley of Kiss to take a gentle jab at corporate culture’s tendency to call people rock stars. When you’ve sold millions of albums and performed at packed arenas, seeing someone else called a rock star for using HR software to improve scheduling could be a little annoying.
The result was a nice bit of humor that cleverly hid the fact that Workday was congratulating itself for powering the corporate class of rock stars. Not a bad approach for trumpeting one’s own successes without coming across as the most arrogant one on the screen. — B.W.
Netflix and General Motors Make an Electric Partnership
Well, how’s this for an unlikely pairing? I personally love any project with Will Ferrell, and this ad is no exception. The spot has Will venturing through different Netflix shows, from Squid Game to Queer Eye and Stranger Things. Every leg of his journey he’s in a GM electric vehicle, explaining the perks planet Earth will see if we all make the shift to “greener” cars and trucks.
Of course, the commercial also gives a nod to the companies’ partnership, which will put GM electric vehicles, and potentially models from other manufacturers, in Netflix movies and shows. Like Tubi, Netflix used its ad real estate to drive awareness and education, and cleverly showcases the reason why this partnership is so innovative. — A.E.