Super Bowl 2023: An Extravaganza of Legends, Levity and the Lord Above

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: Super Bowl 2023: An Extravaganza of Legends, Levity and the Lord Above

Super Bowl 2023 commercials captured the zeitgeist of our times -- uneasy yet hopeful, experimental yet reliant on buzzworthy big-name stars, like sports legend Serena Williams in a Michelob Ultra ad and the nostalgic icon John Travolta in a T-Mobile spot (pictured above).

Marketers are under scrutiny to move the needle in brand awareness, cultural and social media buzz and ultimately purchase intent and sales. The key challenge for all brands is staying power: How well does an ad live on in the minds of consumers days after the big game? As CMOs examine the return on investment, they need to create a dashboard that uses a multi-period trifocal lens: short-term for social media buzz and engagement, medium-term for increase in purchase intent, and long-term for brand purchase and loyalty.

One of the biggest differences in comparing this year's commercials with those in the past was the co-branding that was prominent in several Super Bowl spots. For example, there was Will Ferrell in GM electric vehicles in settings that spoofed several Netflix shows, like Army of the Dead and Squid Game. A variety of different EVs were showcased, and surprisingly none of them were named in the ad.

The combo ads that performed best were the ones that maintained or enhanced brand equity even in the presence of other superstar brands because the storyline was intricately woven to ensure neither brand was upstaged. The combined-forces approach was used when Paul Rudd's Ant-Man picked up a Heineken 0.0 before saving the multiverse. Then there was Jake from State Farm, collaborating with TikTok star Khaby Lame -- not in a Super Bowl ad, but in a social-media-first ad strategy that benefited from the stadium naming rights.

Before advertisers adopt this approach, they need to examine if the two brands joining forces have a synergistic story to tell. Together they should elevate brand engagement without cannibalizing the impact of each effort. To judge this, the writers must decide who plays the lead and who plays the supporting role. Once that balance is determined, the script needs to capture the story in a way that is compelling and authentic for audiences.

From Booze to Jesus Christ

AB InBev relinquished its Super Bowl alcohol exclusivity after 33 years. And that resulted in a slew of booze companies joining the Super Bowl frenzy. AB InBev commercials for Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Busch Light were joined by Diageo PLC's Crown Royal whisky, Rémy Cointreau's Rémy Martin cognac and Heineken NV's Heineken 0.0.

When brands are competing for attention in the same category, distinction in storytelling is critical. AB InBev did not disappoint with their high voltage and highly entertaining Michelob Ultra Caddyshack nostalgia play led by Serena Williams (mentioned above). Distinction can also be achieved by keeping the story simple and very real -- exemplified by the Bud Light ad featuring Miles Teller dancing to the rhythm of phone hold music, making a mundane moment feel tender and sweet.

Amid this alcohol showcase, the most unexpected ad was one promoting a superstar revered by 2.2 billion people globally: Jesus Christ. The ad was successful in attracting attention because it was so fundamentally different than the other Super Bowl fare and was telling the story through provocative-yet-simple still images to ignite emotion across both sides of the aisle.

And the Winner Is…

So in the spirit of the Oscars, using the 5 Ps Framework to review the best-performing ads, let's unveil who wins the Super Bowl of Ads trophy based on the criteria below.

Based on a review of all the commercials, the Workday ad creatively delivered the message that even the most proficient work team member is never a rockstar. That is reserved only for real legendary rockers like the ones featured in the ad: Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Clark, Jr., Joan Jett, Billy Idol and Paul Stanley. The ad was persuasive in its use of clever humor and wit and was penetrating because the juxtaposition of real rock stars and worker bees was so extreme that it is memorable. This depth was reflected in the cross-platform messaging across print (a full page ad in The Wall Street Journal) and social media, asking employees to tag colleagues who are indeed rockstars.

The Road Ahead

Super Bowl 2023 will be remembered for its sizzle celebrity power and upbeat mood for a pandemic-weary, inflation-strapped nation. As they create future campaigns for 2023, brands need to step it up on the diversity, equity and inclusion stage. This was woefully absent in the majority of the ads last Sunday, with one exception that stood out: the NFL's "Run With It" ad. It featured flag football star Diana Flores and was a win for authentic inclusion in a male-dominated sport and also for cleverly incorporating the Spanish language.

Although we have made progress in 2021 and 2022, there is a long way to go in terms of ensuring a sustained, committed and visible effort to rewrite stories, ensuring they are truly inclusive and viscerally impactful to score the touchdowns we need from both a business and societal change perspective.

For more on the Super Bowl LVII ads read Super Bowl LVII Commercials: Dunkin,' T-Mobile and PopCorners Were Tops by Ed Martin and But Wait, That's Not All … The Big Winners of Super Bowl LVII by Jeff Minsky.

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