Madison Avenue used the nation’s biggest media event to tell consumers of massive, destabilizing changes coming soon — but in a good way.
General Motors, one of the nation’s most staid corporations, put its marketing heft behind a fleet of electric vehicles, using revivals of media favorites like “Austin Powers” and “The Sopranos.” Verizon touted quickening telecommunications service by reviving Jim Carrey in his role as “The Cable Guy” and T-Mobile pressed viewers to think about 5G by showing Dolly Parton with a phone pressed close to her chest. Rocket Mortgage dressed its digital service in bright Barbie overtones along with the familiar site of Anna Kendrick. Uber Eats pushed people at home to consider its service for cosmetics, diapers, and odd-smelling candles — not just groceries.
Viewers got to hear about cryptocurrency exchanges, online sports betting, and medical technology. One ad, from Vroom, touted its ability to help people sell cars without even the slightest amount of human contact. Any one of these things threatens to upend life as Americans know it, changing the way we drive, keep up on our health, invest or shop. But you’d never know it from the ads — except for one from the cryptocurrency company FTX, which spotlighted contrary Larry David as a skeptic of anything new and revolutionary. “I thought he was kind of a coup” amid so much hard-sell of new goods and services, says Harris Wilkinson, chief creative officer of The Marketing Arm, an agency owned by Omnicom Group. “He sort of embodies this curmudgeon, reluctant to advance.”
Most advertisers were no doubt hoping their commercials would do the opposite, pushing consumers to try new things no matter how world-changing they might be.
Two commercials emblematic of the night’s work tugged at the heartstrings while touting the latest technologies A spot for Kia taught viewers about the need to keep electric cars charged through the eyes of a favorite robot dog who tries to keep up with his human family. Meanwhile, a tearjerker from Meta, the name for the company once known as Facebook, followed the adventures of a cast-off animatronic animal once the center of entertainment at a local restaurant. By the time he’s saved, viewers are thrilled he gets to use a virtual-reality headset to see his now dispersed colleagues. The commercial “humanized something that people might find alarming or terrifying, this move into a purely virtual environment,” says Wilkinson.
The cutting-edge products and services were all presented with calls out to the recent past, such as Hole’s “Live Through This” used as the soundtrack for a Taco Bell commercial, or Lionel Richie’s “Stuck On You” for Pringles. The shout-outs to music and movies from the 90s and early 00’s had some people calling this game the Super Bowl GenX.
There was good reason for the happy talk and shouts to days gone by. The nation is still emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, and marketers are loath to rain on their hopes of seeing people in person as the current wave shows signs of fading. “It has been a difficult couple of years, no doubt, for everyone,” says Lisa Materazzo, group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor North America’s Toyota Division. Audiences,. she believes, crave an “optimistic tone” and not snark or sardonic humor. “I think we can all use a good laugh,” she says. Last year, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch InBev sidelined ads for their flagship products. “Obviously it was a very serious tone during the Super Bowl” in the recent past, “and rightfully so. It was a serious time,” says Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light.” Now consumers want to have a good time.”
Celebrities, always present in Super Bowl commercials, seemed even more so this year, with Dolly Parton joining Miley Cyrus for T-Mobile and Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd holding forth for Lay’s potato chips. Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost, married in real life, teamed up to help Amazon’s Alexa, and Trevor Noah, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Coolidge noshed their way through vegan-chocolate replicas of candles and lipstick for Uber Eats. In one of the most surprising turns of the night, Jamie Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler reprised their roles as Meadow and A.J. Soprano for an electric-vehicle commercial from Chevrolet. Nissan relied on a massive group that included Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Brie Larson, Danai Gurira and Dave Bautista.
Even Super Bowl mainstays charted new courses. Anheuser-Busch InBev turned over much of its four minutes of advertising to new Bud Light seltzers and low-carb beers. signs of healthier eating habits that many younger consumers are pursuing.
At least one commercial stood apart from the pack. An off-putting 60-second spot from cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase had not of the flash or sizzle of the typical Super Bowl ad. Instead, the company let a QR code float around on a dark screen — an obvious attempt to get viewers to leave the Big Game and check the company out on a second screen. The idea, says Kate Rouch, the company’s chief marketing officer, was to emphasize “access for everyone, not old models of winner takes all, stoking fear or ‘FOMO’. We believe the best way to learn about crypto is to actually try it.”
While the low-fi aspects of the commercial may turn some people off, one ad executive thought the spot might be one of the night’s most effective. “It was incredibly polarizing, but I thought it was audacious,” says Keith Cartwright, chief creative officer and founder of Cartwright, an agency owned by WPP. “It achieved everything they needed to achieve, It was definitely a yin to all the yang, with all the nostalgia and the high-priced celebrities and really expensive budgets. It did something that was the complete opposite of that, and I bet they get more attention than many other brands for that reason.”