Super Bowl LVI Was Heavy On Celebrities But Light On Ideas

The Rams and Bengals delivered high drama and excitement on the field, yet Super Bowl advertisers underwhelmed over the airwaves. Of all the Super Bowl advertising trends — from crypto to streaming services, from nostalgia to electric vehicles (EVs) — the one that stood out the most was the deluge of celebrity talent and the heavy reliance upon the “borrowed interest” of celebrity notoriety, persona, and likability. Have we run out of ideas?

Sixty-One Celebrities Appeared In Sunday Night’s Ads

  1. Halle Berry
  2. Mary J. Blige
  3. Zach Braff
  4. Nicholas Braun
  5. Ty Burrell
  6. Steve Buscemi
  7. Jimmy Butler
  8. Jim Carrey
  9. Doja Cat
  10. Jennifer Coolidge
  11. Miley Cyrus
  12. Larry David
  13. Pete Davidson
  14. Idris Elba
  15. Donald Faison
  16. Guy Fieri
  17. Morgan Freeman
  18. Seth Green
  19. Danai Gurira
  20. Kevin Hart
  21. Salma Hayek
  22. Scarlett Johansson
  23. Colin Jost
  24. Anna Kendrick
  25. DJ Khaled
  26. Brooks Koepka
  27. Brie Larson
  28. Eugene Levy
  29. Lizzo
  30. Lindsay Lohan
  31. Rob Lowe
  32. Archie Manning
  33. Cooper Manning
  34. Eli Manning
  35. Payton Manning
  36. Jerod Mayo
  37. Matthew McConaughey
  38. Ewan McGregor
  39. Alex Morgan
  40. Mike Myers
  41. Willie Nelson
  42. Trevor Noah
  43. Nneka Ogwumike
  44. Gwyneth Paltrow
  45. Dolly Parton
  46. Charlie Puth
  47. Andy Richter
  48. Seth Rogan
  49. Paul Rudd
  50. Arnold Schwartzenegger
  51. William Shatner
  52. Jamie-Lynn Sigler
  53. J.B. Smoove
  54. Megan Thee Stallion
  55. Mindy Sterling
  56. Jason Sudeikis
  57. Danny Trejo
  58. Geraldine Viswanathan
  59. Hannah Waddingham
  60. Serena Williams
  61. Zendaya

While there was an abundance of A-list talent, there was an absence of A-list ideas. Most relied on celebrity performance “as the idea” to deliver marketing messages. Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost starred in Amazon’s latest “what if” commercial for Alexa, reminiscent of 2020’s ad starring Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi for the same. Arnold Schwartzenegger’s Zeus harkened back to his comedic performances in Kindergarten Cop and Twins for BMW’s electric vehicle. Zach Braff and Donald Faison reprised their Scrubs bromance and penchant for musical numbers for T-Mobile. Ty Burrell played Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy for financial technology company Greenlight. Guy Fieri was Guy Fieri for Bud Light. And GM restaged Austin Powers, complete with Mike Myers, Robe Lowe, Mindy Sterling, and Seth Green as Dr. Evil and his henchmen/woman for its EV lineup.

Advertising Is Supposed To Differentiate

As creative professionals and marketers, our jobs are to steer brands clear of a sea of sameness and borrowed interest to impact culture and promote commerce. Part of a brand’s strength is its ability to occupy a unique and indelible place in the hearts and minds of customers and offer solutions and benefits that other brands cannot. Yet, when brand advertising borrows the personality and identity of celebrities, it, at best, mimics culture rather than shapes it.

In contrast, consider four iconic Super Bowl commercials that do not lean on celebrities; rather, they take facets of popular cultural icons and shape narratives that emphasize product and brand attributes.

Apple’s “1984”

“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’” That was the famous voice-over from Apple Inc.’s Orwellian tale of good versus evil that debuted January 22, 1984, during Super Bowl XVIII. Advertising agency Chiat/Day created the commercial, in part, through the understanding that Super Bowl viewing had become a “team sport” in which large groups gathered together to watch. The 1984 commercial not only launched the Apple Macintosh computer. It also firmly established the Super Bowl as the advertising industry’s premier showcase.

Always’ “#LikeAGirl”

Feminine care brand Always brought together a collection of budding actors, actresses, and ordinary people to audition for a part. They were instructed to run like a girl, fight like a girl, etc. Adult males and females gave stereotypical portrayals, while young girls showed strength, confidence, and possibility. Always showed the harmful nature of stereotypes and the amazing potential of every little girl when unshackled from them.

Budweiser’s “Wassup”

Anheuser-Busch created Wassup (officially called True), depicting a group of friends calling one another to check in while watching sports and enjoying a Budweiser. With each phone call, friends greet one another with an affectionate and enthusiastic, “Wassup?!” It captures camaraderie, a shared passion for sports, and a culture of young black male adults.

Volkswagen’s “The Force”

A child plays about the house and yard dressed as Darth Vader while wielding a lightsaber and a world of imaginative play. Just as the frustration of not being able to “use the force” to move real-life objects begins to show, little Darth starts the engine of a Volkswagen Passat with the wave of a hand. While it surprises Darth that the force is strong with this one, it makes dad laugh standing at the kitchen window with remote start key fob in hand.

Super Bowl LVI made a comeback in terms of audience and game play. Now it’s time for advertising to do the same.