Campaign US
Feb 14, 2023

Creatives dissect the tone of Super Bowl LVII ads

From ‘goofy’ to ‘tone-deaf’, Super Bowl ads called on familiar tropes and light-hearted themes this year. We ask creatives what the tone of the ads says about the current state of the ad industry.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Super Bowl LVII is done and dusted, and the Kansas City Chiefs are headed back home with the Lombardi trophy in tow.

Over in adland, creatives are digesting the industry’s biggest showcase of the year, analyzing trends and dissecting themes that the multi-million dollar ad bonanza will shape in the year ahead. 

Campaign US has been diligently covering this year’s slate of ads, from breaking news, to behind-the-scenes deep-dives, to TikTok posts recapping our favorite moments

But we want to know what the creative industry thinks. So we posted the following question:

What was the tone overall of last night's Super Bowl ads, and what does that say about the state of the industry? What major themes did you identify? 

By and large, creatives agree that while it was a relief to see ads this year that were light-hearted and fun, they overly relied on the celebrity pull-factor and lacked ingenuity. 

Below are their responses. 

Whitney Headen, co-founder and CEO, 19th & Park

If I’m being honest, the tone of the Super Bowl this year was very tone-deaf. Advertisers opted for high celebrity presence but most of the ads lacked substance and, oftentimes, I couldn’t tell if they were selling the celebrity or the products attached. 

The age of just needing a celebrity to sell an ad is over. Advertisers need to get involved in a way that creates a more emotional and realistic connection with their audiences to make it make sense. One of the things I did love was that a number of the commercials were produced or created by woman-led and all-women teams, which was refreshing. I believe if we continue to push diversity outside of just gender, we’ll start to see a myriad of creativity as well. If social media and the rise of UGC content have taught us anything, it’s that it’s not just about what you’re selling or who's selling it, but how the story is being told.

Jorge Murillo, VP and executive creative director, Alma

This year was even more lighthearted than usual. Very few manifestos and tear-jerkers (although Farmer’s Dog got me). It seems that this year many brands went for the funny bone, although most of them missed it for me (I mean, it’s the Super Bowl, make me laugh!) 

My favorites of the night go to the work that properly used misdirection (Tubi), intrigue (Miller Lite/Coors Light) and celebrities (PopCorners). I also noticed nostalgia was big this year as it's been in the past. Brands leaned into old movies, TV shows, music legends, classic ads; even going way back to Eve and her apple. And cute AF dogs, which are always welcome.

Kevin Mulroy, ECD and partner at Mischief

The tone overall of the Super Bowl was big, loud and celebrity-laden. Honestly, we were a little surprised. We thought more brands would pivot to something simpler and quieter after Reddit and Coinbase, but that wasn’t the case at all. 

I’m not sure it’s a commentary on the state of the industry, as much as it is a statement about the pressure of the moment. If you’re spending that much money, many brands think: ‘Well, we better wave our hands and scream and shout and jump up and down, or better yet, pay a famous person to do it for us.’ The irony, of course, is when everything is that big and loud and expensive, it’s a moment of silence that makes people stop in their tracks.

Shayne Millington, co-chief creative officer, McCann New York

The tone was undeniably fun, goofy and overall entertaining, a much-needed escape for many. It’s always exciting when the rest of the world celebrates the craft of our industry. 

That said, for some, the mechanics of “what works” in Super Bowl commercials has become the dominant theme, which inherently leaves out the inspiration and the risk that are necessary to spur the truest and most powerful forms of creativity. As we move closer towards a world of testing, dissecting and trying to please everyone, we move further away from groundbreaking work. As an industry we need to trust our instincts rather than trends, push the boundaries rather than stay within them. In the end, what may win the night may not be what we remember for years to come.

Niraj Zaveri and Justin Ebert, executive creative directors, VMLY&R

Last night’s Super Bowl ads felt a little sterile. A little boring. There was no edge, no conceptual excitement. Nothing that pushed any boundaries or felt truly inspired. And that’s not really the fault of the agencies – from our view, it’s more on the clients. Having gone through the ringer a time or two, we know how work can get watered down. But the Super Bowl isn’t the time or the place for that kind of thinking. If you’re going to spend all that money, swing for the fences.

Brands were certainly going for humor. Which was nice to see. The problem was the humor on display was often centered around the celebrity – not necessarily the idea. So many of the jokes felt flat, or simply relied on a delivery rather than something funny. 

Not to say all work was like that. There were definitely stand outs. But next year, it would be great to see ideas that were a bit more conceptual.  We want to be surprised by what we see – not just who we see.

James Robinson, chief creative officer, NA, Momentum Worldwide

EV’s time has well and truly arrived. 

QR codes are the new hashtags. 

And Christianity got a rebrand. 

A lot happened in commercial-land during this year’s Super Bowl.

Most broadly, fun seems to be firmly back on the table. Sincere, cause-based advertising seems to be taking a break, and apart from a few exceptions (The Farmer’s Dog and whatever Serena Williams and Remy Martin were trying to say), most ads attempted to entertain, if not outright make you laugh. 

Some really succeeded - looking at you Workday, Brad Cooper’s Mom,  Ram’s Premature Electrification and Chuck from Good Will Hunting working at Dunkin’. But for me the GM/Netflix collab was the pick of the litter. Not only did it work as a funny, Will Ferrell- powered commercial in its own right, but the idea of product placement on an entire streaming platform is huge. Truly never been done before.

Hats off to all involved.

Sean McBride, chief creative officer, Arnold

To me, this year’s ads felt eager. Eager to please, eager to make a splash and eager to shed the timidity of the past few years and make some truly bowl-worthy things.

But with a few exceptions, when it came to execution, we looked rusty. We got the budgets we wanted, the celebs we wanted, the IP (Caddyshack! Breaking Bad!) we wanted, the client buy-in we wanted… All we needed was the chops to execute and we fumbled. 

What we made was too complicated, or too celeb obsessed, or we simply couldn’t land the joke. Too many scenes, too many cameos, too many layers and too few sticky scenes or memorable moments.

To steal from the M&M’s ad, the hard candy shells of the ideas looked pretty tasty, but when we took actual bites, we mostly got clams instead of chocolate.

Jef Moore, Group Creative Director, Mosaic

The tone for last night was light and celebratory. Anecdotally, I would say about 80% of the spots were comedic and the other 20% were feel-good (AKA dogs).

This is not surprising given the current cultural climate, but it is noteworthy for marketers, advertisers and creatives as we move into 2023. More often than not, art mimics culture and given how the pandemic loomed over the last few years it’s clear that consumers are connecting with work that are far less serious and ready to have some light-hearted fun.

Kelsey Hodgkin, Chief Strategy Officer, Special U.S. 

The tone was definitely a musical one, perhaps a reflection of our TikTok times, or the fragmentation of the glory days of Hollywood, or just our current collective reliance on music to see us through the madness?

Whichever way you cut it, music was undoubtedly the real winner of the night, from Dave Grohl to Diddy and Sarah McLachlan to The Hold Music. And that's before we acknowledge the unmistakable entrance of Apple Music and Queen Rihanna herself. In a year where it felt like everyone was feeling the forces of the sustained economic and social chaos, music has emerged as one of the few remaining cultural unifiers of our lives.

Campaign US

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