Viewpoints: The best and worst of this year’s Super Bowl ads

We all love celebrities. But the question to advertisers around the country is, do we love them this much?

Watching the ads for this year’s Super Bowl, it felt like the front page of TMZ instead of a collection of ads with the purpose of differentiating and selling products.

Here’s an unofficial list of celebrities I jotted down while watching the Super Bowl this year: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Matty Matheson, Raekwon the Chef, John Travolta, Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Pete Davidson, Brie Larson, Jon Hamm, Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston, Meghan Trainor, Serena Williams, Adam Driver, Dave Grohl, Missy Elliot, Jack Harlow, Miles Teller, Paul Rudd, Ben Stiller, Steve Martin, Danny McBride, Alicia Silverstone, Maya Rudolph, Deion Sanders, Melissa McCarthy, Brian Cox, Sarah McLachlan, Jeff Ross, Sylvester Stallone, Snoop Dogg, Nick Jonas, Anna Faris, Will Ferrell, Ozzy Osbourne, Joan Jett, Gary Clark Jr., Billy Idol, Paul Stanley, Puff Daddy, Montell Jordan, Kelis and Bradley Cooper.

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Yes, that’s a lot of names. A-list names. A-list money.

What about A-list ads? There were a few that employed celebrities well, but most fell flat. So, let’s talk about some of the celebrity backed ads I thought hit the mark (with links to the ads):

Dunkin’ Donuts: Ben Affleck, inspired by an old David Letterman bit, worked the drive through at what appears to be his local spot. I thought he nailed it. First off, he didn’t take himself seriously at all. He used his celebrity for comedic purposes and underscored the approachable, friendly nature that Dunkin’ provides for its customers. This is the place where you can get your coffee and donuts and not have to worry about complicated sizes. Coming off their Grammy’s tiff, I loved the button of Jennifer Lopez at the end.

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Bud Light: This was the first time in years that Budweiser didn’t have a full Super Bowl ad buyout. Meaning, they didn’t have exclusive rights to be the only beer advertiser for the game. I thought they nailed it by using Miles Teller and his wife dancing to that funky on hold music. It was understated, but by using Teller, they were able to add some big budget polish. To pull that spot off, great acting was needed, and they got just that. Another benefit of using a celeb, they’re famous for a reason, they’re really good at their craft!

Crown Royal: Watching this one, I was wondering where it was going. Dave Grohl thanking Canada for a variety of wonderful things. Not sure how or why Dave Grohl was invited to this party, but I was there for the ride. The reveal of Crown Royal made perfect sense as it’s a Canadian Whiskey. Fun, relatable and memorable with that great misdirect reveal at the end.

The battle of triangle chips: I thought PopCorners dunked on Doritos. Give me Walt, Jesse and Tuco any day over Jack Harlow and Elton John. Pop Corners used the celebrity connection to actually sell its product. Doritos, the actual chip, was an after-thought in their effort.

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For me, I like a good story. One that doesn’t need a celebrity to be successful. My true Super Bowl ad winners (with links to the ads) are the brands that made themselves the stars by applying wonderful storytelling to what truly sets the product apart from the competitors:

Kia: Loved the binky dad spot. First off, how relatable is that? If you’re a parent you’ve been there a million times. I loved the fact that KIA can get you through any challenge. It highlighted the abilities of their SUV without being all in your face with stats and engineering.

Amazon: We saw two great pet themed ads this Super Bowl, but “Saving Sawyer” did it for me. I love how they showed the ups and downs of pet ownership. It’s not easy. After one too many chewed up valuables, we thought the family was going to show some tough love. Instead, they realized their furry friend just needed a buddy. The reveal that the kennel was just another dog was unexpected. It was a well told story that elevated the vastness of Amazon shopping.

NFL: I’ve really enjoyed what the NFL has done with their stage the last few years. “Run with it” brought the NFL forward. The sport needs to be more appealing to women and people from diverse backgrounds.

Tubi: Nothing excites me more than weird and wonderful. And did “Rabbit Hole” deliver. Tubi is the streaming service no one has heard about, but after last night, it’s on everyone’s mind. It started with a creepy rabbit pushing people down holes and ended with a stunt. Twitter was on fire after everyone thought something was wrong with their TV coming out of half time. The Tubi interface seemed to interrupt the Fox Broadcast and put on, of all things, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” How many households were looking for the remote?

Okay, it’s not a Super Bowl ad review unless we talk about some of the ads that missed the mark (with links to the ads). Overall, it is my opinion, that the ads this year were not that great.

T-Mobile: John Travolta signing a song from Grease, a musical that came out 40-plus years ago. It just didn’t feel right. To couple him with Zach Braff and Donald Faison? I’m just not sure how relevant this is in 2023.

Michelob Ultra: Again, we’re jumping in the time machine and parodying a movie that was released in the ‘80s. Sure, Caddyshack is a classic and normally I’d celebrate any time it was brought into the modern day, but this fell flat for me. Casting was the big problem for me. Tony Romo as Carl Spackler? We can do better.

Hellmann’s: Here’s the idea, let’s get celebrities with food names. Then we’ll grab Pete Davidson, make fun of how he’s everywhere, all the time, and hilarity will ensue. That didn’t happen. And we mostly have a forgettable spot. I feel like Don Draper would know better.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what I think. I am simply offering opinions based on what I like and enjoy. What matters is what did the viewers think? The audience is always the most important ingredient in great ads. If they respond well to the message, it was a success. So, for me, I hope all the brands that ponied up and bought a Super Bowl spot enjoy a sales bump. Advertisers, next year, let’s take a note from Rihanna. Her half time show had no guests, no cheap tricks (so refreshing). In 2024, I hope I see more spots with a story. One that doesn’t rely on a celebrity.

Jon Laughlin is the chief creative officer of Milwaukee and Chicago-based advertising agency Laughlin Constable.

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