Five Weird Advertising Trends from Super Bowl LVIII
A look at the ads of Super Bowl LVIII.
I’m always a fan of watching and analyzing each year’s Super Bowl ads. Aside from being one of our last remaining monocultural events, the Super Bowl also gives us a glimpse of our culture’s id. What do people care about, and what do the top-paid marketers in our country think they care about? That plus every now and then you get a trainwreck of an ad ad like Nationwide’s ad about a dead kid and we all get to experience that together as a society.
This year I’d read that a lot of advertisers were going to play things safe, avoiding anything too shocking or controversial. If the goal was to produce a slate of ads that was largely unremarkable and unmemorable, I think everyone succeeded.
That said, here are five weird trends I noticed when watching this year’s Super Bowl ads, followed by a few of my favorite ads of the evening.
Celebrities Continue To Remind You of the Times You Saw Them Together Last
This trend is now so old that it’s basically a tradition. Super Bowl ads continue to hire actors who appeared in TV shows and films together in the hopes that when you watch the ad, it might activate a part deep within your lizard brain that will spring to life and say, “Hey! I remember those people being together at some point in time!”
Mountain Dew had a perfectly fine ad starring Aubrey Plaza about how it’s great to be able to have a Mountain Dew Blast at any time, which came with a brief, bizarre appearance by Parks and Recreation co-star Nick Offerman. Uber Eats brought back Jennifer Anniston and David Schwimmer. And Booking.com brought back several cast members from 30 Rock as Tina Fey body doubles? Or something.
If you loved network sitcoms from a decade or so, it was probably a delightful night for you.
I Guess We’re Making Fun of The Way Actors Talk
In what I’m guessing is a massive unintentional coincidence, two ads aired back to back that played on the fact that some beloved actors kinda talk funny, don’t they?
State Farm did an ad riffing on the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t really pronounce the “-ar” or “-er” at the ends of words, bringing in Danny DeVito for an assist at the last minute . It was a perfectly acceptable ad but I don’t know that people have thought about Schwarzenegger’s accent in a long time, or that any director in their right mind would even reasonably think it’s worth correcting? (Side note: Did you know that Twins is 36 years old now? You’re welcome).
BMW’s ad is far more cohesive, as Christopher Walken encounters a plethora of people doing shitty impersonations of the way he talks. The ad concludes, “There’s only one Christopher Walken and one ultimate driving machine. The rest are just imitations.” Clever!
It’s fun to see Walken and Arnold acting in anything these days, but there’s something also sad about the fact that we are running out of celebrities that even have the widespread recognizability that would make ads like this possible. On that note…
All The References Are Old
Between references to Twins, Friends, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, and two separate ads that hinged on Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a Feeeling”, I couldn’t help but feel as though most young people probably had no idea WTF was going on. I mean, I’m an elder millennial and I barely got some of these references.
If companies advertising on the Super Bowl want to remain relevant, I think they’d be best served trying to create the trends of tomorrow rather than invoking nostalgia for what came long ago.
Movie Ads Come With Homework Now
I’m old enough to remember when movie studios had the decency to buy a full 30- or 60-second spot during the Super Bowl. Instead, many of the Super Bowl movie trailers were only 15 seconds long with a call to action to “Watch the Full Trailer Online” (above is the full Deadpool 3 trailer which did not air during the game).
I guess movies studios have done the math and decided that getting a 15-second ad is adequate for raising the level of awareness, but it’s kind of a shame that we can’t all experience a full trailer collectively anymore instead of what feels like a YouTube pre-roll.
When In Doubt, Just Put Jeff Goldblum In It
I don’t understand why you’d hire Jeff Goldblum, arguably one of the most recognizable celebrities alive, and then try to convince everyone that he’s some guy named Brad Bellflower? I guess it’s part of a broader Apartments.com campaign, but I’d wager that 99% of people watching this ad will not have seen this bit in advance. Either way, it felt like a very odd way to roll this thing out.
But Apartments.com’s ad felt restrained and calculated compared to Homes.com’s multi-ad campaign that aired throughout the night, which is so bizarre and frenetic that I barely understand what homes.com does, which has a name that makes me think I shouldn’t have a hard time figuring that out. At least Jeff Goldblum showed up for a few seconds though! I guess.
Other Random Things I Liked
Ad That Actually Made Me Cry - Google’s Pixel 8 - Few companies are better than Google at showing how technology can actually enhance people’s lives in concrete and beautiful ways. Its Pixel 8 commercial shows how a man named Javier uses a Pixel 8 accessibility feature called Guided Frame to improve his quality of life. The ending is an emotional tear-jerker as usual.
Best Use of a Celebrity: Michael CeraVe ad - CeraVe. They make some of the best lotions and cleansers out there. They also have a weird name that happens to have the word “Cera” in it. Someone in the marketing department put two and two together and the result delivers perfectly on what you‘d imagine this pairing might look like.
Most Encouraging Reference to AI - Despicable Me 4: Not gonna lie - I don’t love the Despicable Me or Minions franchises. But it just felt good to see an ad (any ad whatsoever, really!) that came from the perspective of an AI skeptic who does not buy into the idea that AI is going to change the world for the better with zero downsides or implications so no need to ask any further questions, thank you very much.
(I realize I just praised Google’s AI-driven ad above, but people can contain multitudes).
Most Brilliant, Random, Upsetting Ad - Reese’s Caramel Cup - In this ad, a disembodied narrator announces Reese’s plans to add caramel to its cups while people alternately celebrate and get super upset about it. This ad is so random and outrageous that it reminds me of all those Skittles ads that haunted my nightmares decades ago. Loved it.
One last thing: the Temu ad was awful
I have to imagine Temu spent at least $15MM-$20MM airing this ad multiple times during the course of the game (a single ad placement is estimated to cost $7MM). But I can’t imagine a single person who was convinced to try Temu after this disaster.
Everything about it is a dud: the instantly-irritating song, the fact that it uses a highly stylized animation to convey the utility of real-world physical items, and the use of their catchphrase “shop like a billionaire,” which not only makes no sense given the cheap trinkets you are typically able to buy on Temu, but might also might not be a concept that resonates with progressive audiences.
All in all, just an amazing way to light over millions on fire. Only the He Gets Us ads came close in terms of wastefulness.
What were your favorite and least favorite ads from the Super Bowl? Let me know in the comments.
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Other Stuff David Chen Has Made
On Decoding TV, Patrick Klepek and I discussed how people online seem to be turning on True Detective: Night Country. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen such a stark difference between critical vs audience reaction for a TV show. When the embargo lifted, the TV critics’ reviews were rapturous. Now as the show is coming out every week, I feel like the vast majority of reactions I’m seeing online are negative. Patrick and I try to tease out exactly what’s going on here.
Over on Instagram and TikTok, I reflected on Kumail Nanjiani’s recent comments about how challenging it was to make The Eternals.
On The Filmcast, we talked about why Argylle feels like a fake movie.