2023 Super Bowl Ads - Winners and Losers
Find out which audience favorite made my WORST list and why two ads I didn't enjoy made my BEST list.
For anyone new here, I’m the founder of Woo Punch, a brand consultancy rooted in evidence-based brand design. I write about the evidence that debunks brand purpose, differentiation, brand love, loyalty marketing, customer personas, color psychology, mission statements, customer engagement, AdTech, and “hustle culture.”
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THE SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL MYTH
The most incredible Super Bowl ads are clever, emotional, funny, and inspirational.
We have all been sold this myth. But is it true based on what we know about how consumers have been studied to interact with brands and advertising?
Which ads will help the brands being advertised sell products, and which ads might simply help the creative agencies behind them win awards?
THE 5 KEYS TO AN EFFECTIVE SUPER BOWL AD
I believe there are 5 keys to an effective ad based on the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s research into marketing effectiveness, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s research into behavioral science, and Robert Heath’s research into the psychology of advertising. These 5 keys are Distinctiveness, Consistency, Broad-Reach, Category Entry Points, and Attention.
Certainly, other factors can go into whether or not an ad is effective, but the following 5 keys should be the primary objectives of any effective ad.
You can read more about these keys in my Super Bowl article from last year.
Each key is not created equal so I gave them different weights. For example, if a Super Bowl ad is clever and funny (scores well in Attention), but the brand being advertised is lost in the mix (scores poorly in Distinctiveness), that ad will have a lower grade than a boring but well-branded ad. That’s because Distinctiveness is far more important than Attention.
To grade this year’s ads, I assigned the following percentages to each key:
DISTINCTIVENESS - 65%
The first key factor for an effective Super Bowl ad is distinctiveness, and I estimate that distinctiveness accounts for up to 65% of an ad’s effectiveness. If an ad isn't strongly linked to the brand being advertised throughout using distinctive audio, thematic, and visual cues, it will essentially be a waste of money. We won’t know who was advertised.
Despite this, many brands sacrifice these cues in favor of emotional narratives, virtue signaling, or humor. Advertisers often treat ads like short films aimed at winning creative awards, not tools to sell products. This is a mistake.
CONSISTENCY - 20%
The second biggest factor for an effective Super Bowl ad is consistency. I estimate consistency accounts for up to 20% of an ad's effectiveness.
If the brand being advertised has never been advertised before, or the brand has consistently advertised, but its Super Bowl ad is dramatically different from all of its other ads, consumers will find it hard to link the ad to its correct brand.
BROAD-REACH - 8%
The third factor is broad-reach. As a whole, broad-reach is more important than consistency and sometimes even distinctiveness. I estimate that broad-reaching advertising channels account for as much as 80% of advertising effectiveness in some cases. But here, I'm grading content, not advertising channels.
As a result, I estimate that broad-reaching messaging or content accounts for around 8% of a Super Bowl ad's effectiveness relative to all other key factors. Instead of catering to a specific demographic or psychographic, Super Bowl ads should target all category buyers with their messaging and content.
CATEGORY ENTRY POINTS - 5%
The 4th most significant factor for an effective ad is Category Entry Points (CEPs).
Rather than differentiating your brand, you should try to tap into why consumers buy from your category in the first place before they even consider brands. Most consumers don’t perceive the differences between brands regardless of how hard a brand tries to highlight those differences. This approach can be futile as a result. By prioritizing CEPs the goal is to simply be considered in various buying situations.
I explain this in more detail in last year’s article.
While CEPs are extremely helpful, they take a lot of time and repetition to build. Because of this, I'm grading individual ads here without considering a brand's overall advertising, so I estimate CEPs account for around 5% of an ad’s effectiveness during stand-alone Super Bowl ads.
ATTENTION - 2%
Finally, attention is the least important (but still critical) key to an effective ad.
While marketing gurus and the general public think attention is the most essential key for a Super Bowl ad, attention is complicated and misunderstood. There are several types of attention and not all are good when it comes to advertising. High attention can even have a negative effect on sales. Again, I explain why in last year’s article, but I estimate that attention accounts for around 2% of Super Bowl ad effectiveness.
My estimates for each key aren't an exact science, and there are additional keys that can be helpful that I don't discuss here, but I wanted to grade these ads on the most critical factors.
MY GRADES FOR THIS YEAR’S SUPER BOWL ADS
MY TOP 5 BEST
NOTE: To see my score for every Super Bowl ad, scroll to the bottom.
This ad is loaded with brand cues for Disney.
The tone of the ad was consistent with the brand and Disney+ consistently advertises even if Disney as a whole doesn’t.
Disney’s sonic logo at the end cues the brand for viewers who might be out of the room or looking at their phones the whole time.
Disney incorporated Mickey Mouse and other Distinctive Brand Assets as proxies for the brand in between movie clips, reinforcing the Disney brand throughout.
The ad is enjoyable so we don’t argue with its message.
Honestly, I can’t think of any.
Busch Light resurrected a former Distinctive Brand Asset for the brand, including an audio asset in “Buschhhhhhhhh.”
The Category Entry Point of “when experiencing the outdoors” is really strong here. Busch Light is being positioned as a choice to consider when consumers are camping, fishing, hiking, etc.
Whereas the style and imagery are consistent with previous Busch Light ads, Busch could have resurrected the “Busch guy” earlier, leading up to the Super Bowl. If they had, this ad might hit harder for those who are not familiar with their ads from years ago. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve seen the “Busch guy” outside of Super Bowl commercials.
This ad might not appeal to everyone given that many people don’t like being in “the great outdoors.” The “Busch guy” isn’t too flexible as an asset from that standpoint. Not sure he could be used to cue other CEPs with consumers.
There is no mistaking Pringle's iconic tube for any other type of snack.
Pringles is aware of this fact and has leveraged its distinctive packaging to perfection.
Pringle’s seemingly only aired this campaign during the last 2 Super Bowls, not throughout all of the last year. Hopefully, they will run it more this year.
While this ad highlights a strong CEP of “when at family gatherings,” most of the flashbacks are irrelevant from a CEP standpoint. They make up for this by ensuring distracted viewers still process Pringle's brand.
There is no mistaking that this is an ad for T-Mobile. We witnessed an explosion of pink and heard the T-Mobile name spoken several times throughout. We also heard their sonic logo and consistent narrator at the end.
For some viewers, this ad will be enjoyable. For those who are looking for something funnier, they won’t be disappointed enough to get turned off.
The humor here feels contrived. It’s really obvious Bradley Cooper and his mom were told, “come in and pretend like you’re really trying to shoot a commercial, but we’re just going to use your outtakes.” There is sure to be some counter-argument and eye-rolling but not likely enough to have a negative effect on sales.
No CEP is offered here, just features like pricing and awards. The awards feature also feels really contrived and random.
Mr. Peanut is prominently shown throughout, even if he isn’t funny.
I think this ad tried to be funny but missed the mark. This could be a problem for some viewers, but just like the T-Mobile ad, I doubt it will hurt sales.
There are some inside jokes here I didn’t get until I read some articles on this one. You probably don’t remember (because no one ever remembers former Super Bowl ads), but Planter’s “killed” Mr. Peanut off in 2020 as an unfunny publicity stunt. The fact any brand thinks we will remember inside jokes from 3 years ago personally turns me off. Advertisers can get so stuck in their brands that they think everyone thinks about them as much as they do.
There are no CEPs highlighted here.
MY TOP 5 WORST
Even though it feels like the agency behind this ad intended to appeal to a customer persona, they clearly failed…fortunately for them.
Quick cuts tend to get us looking up.
The first thing I noticed was the fact that Serena Williams was also in an ad this year for Michelob Ultra. Using celebrities in advertising is a mistake. There are too many associations competing with your brand. Using the same celebrity as another brand during the Super Bowl is an even bigger mistake. Using the same celebrity as another brand during the Super Bowl that EXISTS WITHIN YOUR CATEGORY???? That’s next-level stupidity. Good for Serena’s wallet, terrible for Remy Martin, and possibly a bit bad for Michelob Ultra as well. In this case, Remy stole from Michelob (who used Serena last year), not the other way around.
This is a terrible performance from Serena and comes across as super cheesy. The speech was originally given by Al Pacino for crying out loud! Just a really bad idea for a tennis star to try and pull it off.
The imagery throughout is entirely incoherent. Why are you cutting from football players to chefs to horses (which are also already taken by an alcohol brand…)??? It makes absolutely no sense and feels like they just needed to find enough footage to cover the speech but ran out.
The only CEP we see here is “while at a bar,” but we only see it at the very end and it’s completely out of sync with the rest of the ad.
I have never seen Remy Martin advertise before.
The brand is teased out until the very end. When it finally appears it likely threw everyone off since the ad had nothing to do with alcohol.
Almost all dog lovers will love this ad, and might even cry. In fact, this ad was selected as USA Today’s AdMeter Favorite.
Dog food that keeps dogs living longer is a strong CEP when buying dog food.
The brand is teased until the end, minus a couple of unrecognizable flashes here and there. Many dog owners might cry at this ad, but they likely won’t have any clue what brand was advertised the next day.
I’ve never seen The Farmer’s Dog advertise before. I’m not a dog owner so they might only target dog owners online, but that won’t cut it if you want to be the next Meow Mix, Kibbles & Bits, Purina, Science Diet, or Beggin Strips. You have to reach all potential buyers. Including people like me who may never have a dog but could. With no mass advertising leading up to the big game, the brand was lost for consumers like me. You can’t ignore non-dog-owners because they will be your potential customers in 3-5 years.
A lot is going on here so people will likely look up, even if they are thoroughly confused once they do.
What the hell is this game? I have no context clues from this ad.
What the hell is a “digital collectible” and why do I want one???
Is this game any different than other shitty mobile games? It looks exactly the same.
I’ve never heard of this game and have never seen an ad for it.
Ozzie Osborne will probably get you to look up. Once he does? You will regret it by the end.
I’ve never seen Workplace advertise before.
The brand is teased out until the end.
My third weakness is more of a personal pet peeve. The ad started out funny to me. I hate when people call others rock stars. Why? Because it’s typically used in startup culture to congratulate someone who overworks themselves. “You are a rock star! When I emailed you at midnight last night you answered the call!” I’ve seen this phrase used to abuse workers one too many times. Naturally, when this ad made fun of people who use that phrase I was happy someone else picked up on this. Then I find out this phrase is used in Workplace’s tagline! They weren’t making fun of the phrase. They were endorsing it! Even though they just made fun of it by the time you hear the tagline… despite my personal issues with the term, it’s never a good idea to make fun of the very thing you are promoting.
Viewers who might use the phrase themselves could feel made fun of.
It has some funny moments.
EVs are becoming a CEP more recently. Someone who might not need to buy a car might enter the category to switch to electric.
I don’t think this ad isolated any potential buyers.
The brand was teased out until the end.
I haven’t seen Ram advertise their EV before and, if they have, I haven’t seen this particular campaign before.
This ad might inadvertently remind consumers of all the limitations EVs currently have. That would be ok if the brand was prominent throughout and positioned itself as a brand that solves that problem, but it’s not.
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All 2023 Super Bowl Ads Ranked by Effectiveness
T-Mobile Bradley Cooper A
M&M's Clams A-
Best Foods A-
Jesus Gets Us Childlike B+
Jesus Gets Us Hate B
NFL Flag Football B
T-Mobile John Travolta B
Michelob Ultra Netflix B-
Bud Light B-
Tubi “Gardner” B-
Tubi "Down the Rabbit Hole" B-
Fan Duel B-
Avocados from Mexico C+
Bass Pro Shop C+
Michelob Ultra C
Pepsi Ben Stiller C
Uber One C
Miller Light, Coors Light & Blue Moon C-
Pepsi Steve Martin C-
Google Pixel C-
NFL "Run with it" C-
Crown Royal C-
Crowd Strike D+
Draft Kings D+
Ram Rev D+
Limit Break D-
The Farmer's Dog D-