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Lessons from the best

What Super Bowl ads tell us about marketing in 2023

The Super Bowl is like the Miss Universe, the Met Gala, the Super Bowl? of advertising.

In the context of normal day-to-day television watching, commercials are for scrolling through our phones, bathroom breaks, and grabbing snacks. But every February, there are thousands of people who tune in to the big game, not just for the love of American football or just for the halftime show (can we take a moment to fully appreciate Rihanna's greatness, please?), but to see some of the world’s most-expensive television ads.

So, what did this year’s high-profile commercials, churned out by some of the world's most impressive brands, teach us? Here are three takeaways.


Storytelling matters

One of the most memorable commercials of this year’s Super Bowl came from The Farmer’s Dog, which provides dog owners with fresh food options for their pets. And while many other ads prioritized celebrity appearances, this one opted for first-class storytelling — and the overwhelmingly positive feedback seems to indicate that it paid off.

Telling the story of a young girl who promises to always love her Labrador puppy, Bear, the ad — aptly named ‘Forever’ — subtly and heartwarmingly demonstrates the life-extending benefits of high-quality pet food. Bear follows his owner through her childhood, from running with her through the living room and neighborhood walks in his puppyhood, to seeing her off to college, to later, with patches of gray fur on his face, joining her in her own home as a new mother.

Viewers from all over took to social media to describe how the ad, which was both relatable and beautifully executed, brought them to tears. And it ultimately took the top spot in USA Today’s Ad Meter.

It goes to show that new technology and trends aside, good storytelling is a tried and true classic.


Brand associations show core values

In an action-packed commercial featuring Will Ferrell, Netflix and General Motors teamed up to draw attention to electric vehicles and the future of the automotive industry.

As he moves from one iconic Netflix show to another — featuring sets from Bridgerton to Stranger Things — Ferrell notes that General Motors is going electric and Netflix is joining, as he demonstrates how the streaming giant is incorporating electric vehicles in the production of its content to further its commitment to sustainable practices.

The underlying principle for both brands, of course, is embracing a greener future. In doing that, Netflix and General Motors saw an opportunity to embrace — and benefit from — each other’s brands.

Brand associations can profoundly impact how consumers perceive products and services. So, it’s important, particularly in today’s competitive market, for companies to create positive brand associations by creating a positive image that resonates with the right customers.

In this case, General Motors knows that the entertainment industry, which Netflix has dominated for years now, has a huge impact on culture and the purchasing decisions of ordinary consumers. So, to have its electric vehicles featured in Netflix-produced shows and movies is kind of a big deal.

And for Netflix, the partnership is part of its commitment as a brand to sustainable business practices.


Know your audience and find ways to excite them

For much of the history of Super Bowl advertising, the commercials weren’t unveiled until the start of the event.

But this year saw even more of a departure from that tradition as more and more brands rolled out ad teasers and campaigns on social media in the weeks leading up to the game in the hope of building anticipation.

Doritos, known for iconic Super Bowl commercials, launched a campaign ahead of the big game, offering viewers a chance to feature in its ad alongside rapper Jack Harlow by competing in the “Triangle Tryouts”. Participants were asked to submit their best “triangle-inspired dance” on TikTok. The winner also received a $5,000 cash prize.

The approach, though unconventional, created an opportunity for Doritos to trend on one of the world’s largest social media platforms and did much to build excitement for the brand. It also helped to engage a wider and younger audience by making use not only of Harlow’s fan base but also the extreme global popularity of TikTok. And all-in-all, the interactive nature of the ad also made for a fun and involved take on the typical television commercial.

So, this year’s Super Bowl ads saw both new and classic ideas achieve success in their execution and reception. And though not all of the ads were equally effective, it’s clear that finding the right approach can help brands reach and sometimes touch the hearts of consumers across the globe — and that’s what good advertising is all about.


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