‘Advertisers tried too hard’: Few Super Bowl LVIII ads win as celeb takeover continues


Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday delivered another nail-biter on the field but a lot of head-scratchers on the advertising front — hello, Temu and RFK Jr. — with just a handful of clever, albeit conventional, commercials cutting through the clutter. 

The Kansas City Chiefs secured a clutch win over the San Francisco 49ers in overtime at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, fortifying their status as the next NFL dynasty. The night also acted as a Hollywood moment for fans who have tracked the relationship between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift, capped off with a victorious kiss, though the excitement mostly stayed focused on the ups and downs of the game itself (with one of Kelce’s blowups achieving meme status).

Marketers seeking a similar moment in the sun relied on tried-and-true tactics, playing it safe in the wake of a year rife with culture wars controversy, though the realities of an election cycle and global strife still uncomfortably crept in. As with last year’s big game, too many companies relied on the mere presence of a celebrity (or celebrities in many cases) to score points, with humor, wit and a connection to the product curiously absent. A deluge of listless cameos ended up benefitting ads that actually had a distinctive angle, such as CeraVe’s winning, weird effort with Michael Cera or State Farm’s campaign playing on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent, the leader of the pack for USA Today’s closely watched Ad Meter. 

“The Super Bowl this year was the Kitchen Sink Bowl,” said Jason Harris, president and CEO of agency Mekanism, in emailed comments. “Advertisers tried too hard. Instead of one celebrity, they put in 5 or 6. Instead of one clear joke, they aimed for several. It was overly complex and hard to even remember the brand for many of them.”

Innovation, in general, stayed in low gear during the CBS broadcast, with a handful of ads promoting generative artificial intelligence (AI) and QR-code enabled commercials from companies like DoorDash and TurboTax linking linear channels with mobile. An energetic, kid-friendly Nickelodeon simulcast also earned accolades amid an affair that otherwise did not match the glitz and glam of Vegas, barring a show-stopping halftime show from Usher and a raft of musical guests including Alicia Keys.   

“The biggest surprise was how little risk was taken,” said Andrew Hunter, executive creative director at Ogilvy, of Super Bowl LVIII’s ads lineup. “I think this will largely be a forgotten year. Some highlights, for sure, but few brands gave us reason to talk outside of this news cycle.”

Celebs with cultural connections cut through

As expected, Super Bowl marketers leaned heavily on celebrities to broaden the appeal and buzz of their ads. But as more and more big game ads feature celebs, forging an authentic connection between ambassador, the brand and culture at-large becomes increasingly critical.

Building on a highlight of last year’s Super Bowl, Dunkin’ continued its popular series of ads featuring noted brand-obsessive Ben Affleck by loading up on meaningful celebrity cameos. In a spot teased during a culture-referencing ad that aired at this month’s Grammy Awards, Affleck’s pursuit of pop music stardom alongside wife Jennifer Lopez, best friend Matt Damon and fellow New England icon Tom Brady received raves.

“For spectacle, entertainment and branding, I’d give it to Dunkin for doubling down on Affleck’s Boston connection and nailing the celebrity caricatures,” said Ted Wahlberg, senior vice president and group creative director at agency Mower, in emailed comments.

State Farm and BMW both played off of an actor’s distinctive accent with good results, with the insurance brand parodying Schwarzenegger’s pronunciation of “neighbor” and the automaker nodding to the enduring popularity of a good (or bad) Christopher Walken impression. Both ads also added a kicker with another celebrity tie-in: State Farm reunited Schwarzenegger with his “Twins” co-star Danny DeVito and BMW featured half-time performer Usher.

Brands continue to try to “break the internet” with ads designed for virality, a concept Verizon took literally with an ad that surprisingly featured Beyoncé. The global pop star tried — in vain — to break Verizon’s internet with a series of increasingly outsized stunts, from opening a lemonade stand and revealing an android (“Beyonc-AI”) to donning Barbie branding and performing in space. When none of those worked, Beyoncé closed the ad by teasing new music in the form of a surprise album announcement and new song release. Verizon’s Beyoncé play was a “massive surprise in a Super Bowl full of teases and leaks,” according to Scott MacLeod, head of planning for VIA.

“This move wasn’t just about promoting Verizon (though it did so brilliantly); it was a masterclass in leveraging the Super Bowl platform for maximum impact, blending product placement with personal brand with a cultural moment in a way that felt both seamless and electrifying,” the executive said in emailed comments.

L’Oréal brand CeraVe revealed the finale of its campaign with Michael Cera. After weeks of pseudo-viral photos and podcast appearances, the actor made his pitch to the CeraVe board to be its new spokesperson in a celebrity tie-up that was clever, memorable and in-line with the off-kilter humor of comedy duo Tim and Eric, who directed the ad.

“For me, Michael CeraVe won the game. It did everything a Super Bowl commercial is supposed to do. It was surprising for the category, used star power in a way that only they could, and was tailor made for social before and after the game,” said Ogilvy’s Hunter.


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