Brands Running the Hard Yards At Super Bowl LVIII

Holiday season disappears in the rearview mirror, the Conference Championships are right around the corner… and many of us are beginning to have second thoughts about that ambitious new gym membership. 

All that can mean only one thing: Super Bowl LVIII is almost upon us. Ladies and gentlemen, deep breath – it’s showtime.

With a halftime show from Usher, and coming live from Paradise, Nevada, February 11th will see two teams battle it out to bring home the coveted trophy.

But as it always has been, the Super Bowl is more than just a sporting spectacle: it’s a family entertainment show that all of America is watching, and the premier advertising event in the world.

Approximately 200 million viewers – 60% of US citizens – tuned in for the big game last year; of that number, 27% said that the ads were their favorite part. 

It goes without saying, this is a massive commercial opportunity. Super Bowl ads generally have a long TV life, as brands use the spectacle like a springboard to launch a long-term growth strategy.  It’s important to get it right on the night. 

The data reveals a few overarching themes in last year’s ads. We saw nostalgic homages to much-loved cultural touchpoints (Summer Nights, anyone?), ‘safe-bet’ celebrity placements, a rise in co-branded collaborations, parody ads about ads, and a nod to TikTok-style content, to name a few. 

Naturally, this all comes at a cost. Athlete or advertiser: you want to go to the Super Bowl? You have to pay before you play.

How To Win The Super Bowl

On Monday 12th February at 2PM EST, System1 will be analyzing the big game’s brand-building ads. Register for the free webinar today.

Key Challenges

Super Bowl LVII saw an average Star Rating of 3.0 – higher than the previous three years. In general, it seems brands are catching on: advertisements must entertain for commercial gain.

That’s backed by the numbers. (In fact, with a 0.83 vs 0.60 correlation, Test Your Ad is a more solid predictor of long-term brand growth than quarterback earnings are of actual career yards gained… in case you wondered.)


Test Your Ad 

Predicted market share vs actual market share


Career dollars earned vs career yards gained 




But as any oddsmaker will tell you: big plays come with big risks.

High Buy-In

Participation in the Super Bowl ad extravaganza isn’t open to all. Stakes are high, in terms of cost and competition. 

An eye-watering $7 million price tag for a 30-second spot makes it a pretty exclusive affair. That only intensifies the pressure on those that can afford to play the game. 

There’s a reason why newcomers are relatively rare. Doritos, Disney, Budweiser, M&M’s – those brands that return year after year are marketing high-rollers, with wallets to match.

The Super Bowl is an unparalleled opportunity to capture eyeballs, gain cultural relevance, and secure media impressions – but it doesn’t come cheap.

Lack of Creativity

Budgets may be substantial, but creative effectiveness often leaves something to be desired. 

Unlike Christmas campaigns (see Walmart’s effort from last year, where emotional storytelling is woven with right-brain appeal, and a clear sense of time and place), Super Bowl spots don’t consistently show that same level of creativity. 

Despite the massive investment, Super Bowl ads traditionally perform only fractionally better than the US average, and there’s a notable absence of 5-Star efforts – only one last year, and none in 2022. 

That’s right: after billions of dollars invested in two years’ worth of Super Bowl marketing budgets, we’ve seen just one 5-Star ad. Will 2024 perform any better?

Splitting the Uprights: 3 Big Super Bowl Hits

Sometimes, though, the big brands do get it right; and when they do, the results are spectacular. 

Over the past 5 years we’ve analyzed over 280 Super Bowl ads with more than 42,000 respondents. Below, you’ll find a few of our favorites.


Disney – Disney100 “Lifetime” Special Look

Disney is a heavyweight for a reason. This stunning ad, celebrating its 100-year legacy, lit up screens with a constellation of much-loved characters, old and new: from Steamboat Willie to Rey Skywalker (Jedi and Jakku scavenger, in case you missed the latest Star Wars installments). The message here is clear: Disney isn’t for kids, it isn’t for old-timers – it’s for all of us. With an extraordinary roster of distinctive assets to play with, Disney can put some real muscle into its ads – and coupled with that soundtrack, plus a tear-jerking voiceover from Walt Disney, it shows us what a century of commercial excellence looks like.


Huggies – We got ya baby

Huggies doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel here – it sticks to what it knows works. Because, really, what do we want from a diapers ad? That’s right: adorable, giggling, wriggling babies. It’s a tried, tested, and trusted device; instantly relatable for millions. The craft lies in a subtle sprinkling of comedy, through voiceover and unexpected captions. When the stakes are as high as they are at the Super Bowl, it’s so easy for brands to do too much. Huggies shows us that – if you do what you know, and do it well – you’ll see plenty of profit left in those old, gold tricks.

Samuel Adams – Your Cousin From Boston

Partnering with Boston Dynamics to debut some quirky robo-partying was a masterstroke from Samuel Adams. The ad has the feel of a viral sensation, which dovetails nicely with Sam Adams’ gregarious and ultimately lovable mascot, Your Cousin From Boston (another lesson in distinctive assets, by the way). It’s a simple story – Your Cousin cracks open a few with the robots, and they bust out some slightly questionable dance moves – but we never forget the real star of the show: the beer.

Creative Plays That Make Ad MVPs

Those brands that score big at the Super Bowl don’t do so by accident. 

There’s a recipe of creative elements advertisers can throw into the mix, to help their ads shine bright and stand above competitors on the biggest stage.

Here are a few pages from the playbook.


Celebrity Power

Big stars are an evergreen Super Bowl ad strategy. They inject a flavor of glitz and glam, sparking conversations and surprise – which as we know from Orlando Wood’s work in Lemon, appeals to the right-brain, building a foundation for long-term memory structures.

However, using a celebrity isn’t in and of itself a guaranteed game-changer. The key lies in using them smartly, often as an exaggerated or humorous version of themselves, and weaving that characterisation into a narrative with mass appeal.

Niche, meme-style references may be tempting, but the best celebrity placements strike a chord with all America. That’s exactly how T-Mobile used John Travolta to score third place in the best Super Bowl LVII ads.


Stories, Characters… and Dogs

Viewers don’t want to be lectured on your product, or browbeaten with stats and features. What audiences really connect with is the story.

Brands that focus on genuine storytelling put emotion into play and, as Les Binet and Peter Field show in The Long and Short Of It, this predicates both short- and long-term ad impact.

You don’t need War and Peace. But you do need some sort of narrative arc. 

Good characterisation boils down to: Who’s involved? What do they want? How do they relate to others – what’s the betweenness? Powerful characters are vivid, living entities that grab right-brain, broad-beam attention – as Wood shows us in Look Out. That attention is sustained by meaningful actions, agency, and interactions.

And lastly, if there is such a thing as an ad hack, it’s this: dogs. Or cats. Or babies. 

Saving Sawyer by Amazon, Electric Boogie by Jeep, Forever by The Farmer’s Dog. Let’s face it: people just love that stuff.

Be More Meta

Brands with a more daring approach opt to make ads… about ads. This is a rising trend in recent years. (For maybe the best-executed example, check out Tide’s 2018 effort, It’s a Tide Ad.)   

It shows a healthy dose of self-awareness, and that a brand isn’t taking itself too seriously. In this day and age, viewers really respond to that level of parody.

As long as it’s done right. It’s important not to get your message lost in translation here. Remember: America needs to think the ad is funny – not just your CMO.


Hitting the Right Notes

Music has the power to drastically shape emotional journeys. As Wood highlights in Look Out, and as we saw (or rather, heard) in our Listen Up! report; melody appeals to our right-brain, and is better at long-term brand building than a repetitive, rhythmic soundtrack. 

The choice of Super Bowl music matters. Using well-known contemporary or classic songs – Google’s deployment of Missy Elliott’s We Run This in its #FixedOnPixel ad, for instance – can have a serious commercial impact.

That said, it’s a high-stakes game. The more recognizable the track, the pricier the license.


Spotlight Diversity

Our Feeling Seen USA report shows that there’s a right (and a wrong) way to be inclusive in ads. As an industry, we’ve made moves in the right direction, although there is still some way to go. 

Commercials that give a genuine voice to diverse demographics feel authentic and relatable, offering viewers a refreshing departure from tired old marketing tropes. They provide a glimpse into lives and stories from different communities.

Moreover, these ads tend to yield a ‘diversity dividend,’ achieving even higher scores among the specific groups they represent.

Microsoft’s We All Win topped our Super Bowl rankings in 2019 by featuring a range of different gamers, all with a story to tell about how tech connects them. It has a lot of heart and a lot of soul, and goes to show: diversity of representation unites and connects us.


Game Time

For the teams that make it this far, the difference between winning and losing might come down to any one of a million variables.

Sometimes it’s a spread offense that does it. Other times, it might be more aggressive playcalling. It could be an MVP performance from the quarterback (Mahomes, we’re looking at you…), or a last-gasp field goal that gets it done. 

However, as America prepares to crown the 58th Super Bowl champion, there’s one thing that every successful team in the history of the sport has had in common. 

When the talking stops, and the chips are down – they got it right on the night. 

The same holds true for the advertising game. On the evening of February 11th, we’ll see some big brands making even bigger calls. They all share a common goal: triggering long-term brand growth. It’ll be strategy execution that makes the difference.

For brands and players alike, these are the hardest yards of all. Getting over the line means digging deep. But the prize? Well, there’s nothing like it. 

We can hardly wait. 


Want to start creating 5-Star ads for your brand growth? Contact us today.



How To Win The Super Bowl

On Monday 12th February at 2PM EST, System1 will be analyzing the big game’s brand-building ads. Register for the free webinar today.