Super Bowl Standouts: The Ads that Delivered Long-term Brand Building
- The Top 10 Super Bowl Advertisers of 2023
- Winning Plays for Super Bowl Ads
The Super Bowl draws more than 100 million viewers, giving advertisers a wide-reaching platform for their creative. And with each passing year, the cost of a 30-second big game commercial increases, with spots for Super Bowl LVII costing up to $7 million.
At System1, we test all the Super Bowl ads to understand whether they’re worth the investment and what brands can learn from the commercials that win viewers’ hearts as well as those that don’t score with audiences. Using our Test Your Ad platform, we rank the ads according to their long-term brand building potential. Test Your Ad assigns ads a Star Rating, from 1 to 5.9-Stars, based on a commercial’s ability to drive market share growth. Usually only 1% of ads secure a 5-Star score.
In 2020, big game ads averaged 2.7-Stars, with three brands scoring 5-Stars. In 2021, the commercials averaged 2.8-Stars, with just one brand achieving a 5-Star score. In 2022, the average fell slightly to 2.6-Stars and zero 5-Star ads. This year, advertisers bounced back with a 3-Star average and one 5-Star ad.
The Top 10 Super Bowl Advertisers of 2023
This year, the top 10 advertisers are:
Disney100 Special Look
In a Super Bowl full of movie stars and movie-themed ads, the top-scoring ad comes from Disney, whose 100-year anniversary celebration is crammed with famous faces and big moments.
Back For Good
M&Ms’ first ad, with Maya Rudolph, scored a rock-bottom 1-Star. Their follow-up commercial that dropped just after the game concluded saw the iconic characters return with a much stronger score, demonstrating how crucial Fluent Device characters like this can be to brands.
New Year. New Neighbor.
Grease is the word, nostalgia is the theme. One of the best of the several 2023 ads that harked back to classic movies or TV shows, with John Travolta updating his famous “Summer Nights” performance to sing the praises of T-Mobile broadband alongside Zach Braff and Donald Faison.
Amazon’s ad about a misbehaving and lonely dog pulls a bait-and-switch with the viewer, building up sadness and fear as you believe Sawyer’s family might decide to give him up. Fortunately, they come up with a better plan, which leads to a powerful emotional journey for the viewer.
Animals tend to be a Super Bowl crowd-pleaser and Jeep’s are no exception. The electric vehicle connection may be a stretch but in a Super Bowl short on great automotive ads Jeep got the basics right: entertain for commercial gain.
ULTRA Club I New Members Day
Serena Williams joined Succession’s Brian Cox and a star celebrity lineup for an ad paying tribute to 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack. Michelob packed plenty of visual gags into their quickfire ad and tapped this year’s most successful theme of nostalgia and cultural references. A strong 4-Star performance for a beer ad.
Paramount+ may not be able to match Disney for famous names, but they do have a mountain with a giant stone Stallone face and Sly himself. A strong 4-Star score shows viewers liked the surrealism, the humor and the lineup of famous Paramount+ faces like Captain Kirk.
The Farmer’s Dog
A pet that’s been with the family a long time is a living library of memories and love, and Super Bowl newcomers The Farmer’s Dog make that point beautifully in this heart-warming ad. The Farmer’s Dog’s preservative-free dog food is designed to keep dogs happy and healthy so they can enjoy more years as part of a family, and viewers loved this simple but well-executed spot bringing that idea to life. The Farmer’s Dog are the top Super Bowl debutante of 2023, and proof that in-house ads can compete at the top level.
Real-life couple Miles Teller and Keleigh Sperry star in an ad which swaps in-your-face celebrity cameos for a fun, romantic moment. The fact that this moment is created by that scourge of modern life, on-hold music, only adds to the creativity. A TikTok-inspired Super Bowl ad which feels like few others, and one of the high points of the night.
Snack brand Popcorners make the most of their Super Bowl debut with a great use of cultural references – something that we very often see associated with high effectiveness. Breaking Bad’s Walter and Jesse are the stars here, making baked snacks instead of meth, and the ad milks that incongruity beautifully.
Winning Plays for Super Bowl Ads
So, what can brands learn from Super Bowl ads? We’ve outlined a few key themes from this year’s ads and a larger analysis of the last four years of big game commercials:
Movie/TV homages can be gold:
Super Bowl night sometimes felt more like Oscars night as brands like T-Mobile, Popcorners, Michelob Ultra, and Rakuten made ads riffing on classic movies. Cultural references are a proven way of boosting effectiveness and emotional response, and as long as there’s a clear tie-in to the brand it’s hard to go wrong with them. We’d expect plenty more of these in future.
Celebrities can score, but only if they’re used well:
Only three of the Top 10 ads – Amazon, Jeep and The Farmer’s Dog – did without celebrities or star characters, and all of those filled that space with animals. A celebrity has become what a cute puppy or baby used to be – a safe bet. Celebrities can be used well, particularly when they exaggerate or refer to what they’re already known for, like John Travolta in the T-Mobile spot. But it’s important to remember that simply including a famous face doesn’t guarantee a high-scoring ad. More than a third (37%) of the Super Bowl ads from 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 featured a celebrity, but averaged a modest 2.8-Stars, the same average for ads that did not include a celebrity.
Co-branding is on the rise but can muddy the message:
As Super Bowl costs keep rising, we’re seeing more brands splitting the cost with co-branded ads. The most creative this year came from Netflix and General Motors, recruiting Will Ferrell for a road trip through Netflix properties. But it didn’t score well, and illustrates the peril of this approach – it can reduce Brand Fluency.
TikTok can offer insights for entertainment:
TikTok didn’t advertise at the Super Bowl but the fingerprints of the video-sharing app and its memes and challenges were visible in other ads. Bud Light’s on-hold music dancing felt like a TikTok challenge, and Kia’s “Binky Dad” showcased a parent gaining social media fame. As the Super Bowl demographic keeps changing, we’d expect to see more TikTok influence creep into ads.