John Harrington
Feb 13, 2023

Super Bowl 2023: Brands largely stick to playbook but innovation shines

The mega-budget, all-American adstravaganza hit airwaves and screens as brands made their annual bid to grab attention as Super Bowl fever took hold.

Super Bowl 2023: Brands largely stick to playbook but innovation shines

With 30-second spots during the Super Bowl costing a reported $7m this year, mega-budget it truly was.

The iconic sporting occasion is often seen as a bellwether of wider marketing trends, so what can we glean from Super Bowl XVII?

Last year I wrote that, in general, the campaigns pointed to corporate America and the marcomms industry rediscovering confidence and direction. The trend is evident this year, too, and given what’s at stake, many brands are continuing to play it quite safe. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. As always, celebrities played a big part, and several comedic spoofs hit the mark.

My favourite in this genre saw Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul reprise their roles of Breaking Bad’s Walter and Jesse in a hilarious film for snack brand PopCorners.

Kudos also for this effort for online shopping website Rakuten, starring Alicia Silverstone as she returns as Cher Horowitz from 1990s comedy Clueless.

Films starring Paul Rudd as Ant-Man (for Heineken 0.0), John Travolta in Danny-from-Grease mode (with Scrubs stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison, for T-Mobile), and Serena Williams and Brian Cox teeing off in a Caddyshack homage for Michelob Ultra are also noteworthy.

It’s not rocket science to explain why these work: genuinely entertaining, the campaigns carry a message about the product that the brand owners will hope sticks.

I would argue the celebrity self-mocking campaigns work less well this year when there’s no clear spoof to pique interest.

‘Who’s in the Fridge’ for Hellmann’s – which uses John Hamm, Brie Larson and some route-one food puns – feels a bit laboured.

And Melissa McCarthy’s musical turn in a film for was also unmemorable, in my opinion.

Outside clear spoofs, the more successful ones were elevated by a creative spark. Having Diddy recruit one-hit wonders to record a jingle for Uber was a neat idea and an excuse for some nostalgic fun.

And this video for B2B software company Workday brings together a host of music stars around a strong central idea that hits the spot.

Hats off also to the entertaining film for Google that shows off Pixel 7’s photo editing features in a creative way. NBA All-Star Giannis Antetokoumnpo, musical artist Doja Cat and actor Amy Schumer make guest appearances.

‘Purpose’ campaigns were largely avoided again, although this film for Netflix and GM starring Will Farrell used a funny and creative central idea to emphasise that the streaming platform will be using more electric vehicles in its movies and shows.

So far, so solid. But some campaigns that really stood out were those that moved beyond a slick film and played with the genre and format, creating conversation beyond the excitement of a celebrity cameo.

A campaign for Miller Lite and Coors Lite encouraged consumers to bet on what they think will happen in their Super Bowl films, explained in the teaser below.

This campaign for video streaming service Peacock saw Natasha Lyonne, as her character Charlie Cale in Poker Face, appearing to comment on Super Bowl spots that have already aired. The aim is to fool (perhaps) viewers into thinking it happened in real-time.

The biggest hit, in my view, was for Blockbuster, the almost defunct video rental chain that streamed a retro, ’90s-style film on Instagram at halftime. The film also played on a VHS copy in the last remaining Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon.

The campaign generated a huge amount of publicity for a tiny fraction of the budget of the big brands. It won’t be many people’s standout Super Bowl spot, but as a piece of earned media creative, it was a top scorer in my book.


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