Super Bowl Ads: Touchdown or Fumble?


So many iconic ads have been unveiled during the Super Bowl. For example, back in 1984, Wendy’s introduced its soon-to-be-famous slogan “Where’s the beef?” The ad’s main goal was to convey that the Wendy’s hamburger is even larger than McDonald’s Big Mac and Burger King’s Whopper.

This humorous commercial led to the slogan becoming so well-known that it was used in common parlance, and even in politics! Wendy’s has also revisited the slogan in its ads over the years.

More recently, during the 2022 Super Bowl, a Lays ad showed Hollywood legends Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen playing old pals sharing memories with each other. Each memory revolved around the crunch of a bag of highly-visible Lays chips, from the beginning to the ridiculously zombified conclusion.

 But what made these Super Bowl ads so memorable and effective? And is investing so much in a single ad really worth it?

The Downsides

Here’s the thing. Super Bowl ads are ridiculously expensive. In 2023, it is estimated that a single thirty-second ad will cost more than $7 million! Over the years, the prices have skyrocketed, stretching from the tens of thousands in the ‘60s, to half a million in the mid-‘80s, to a million in the mid-‘90s.

Does blowing so much of your marketing budget on one ad really make sense? 

Many companies are deciding that it doesn’t. For example, in 2022, State Farm decided to use the money that it had considered funneling towards a Super Bowl ad towards a Super Bowl-themed TikTok campaign that used the hashtag #TeamStateFarm. It challenged TikTok users to “show off their talents (no football skills required)” using Tiktok’s duet feature. 

Why might social media be a better avenue for those marketing dollars? While traditional advertising definitely has its place, many younger consumers are interested in consuming shorter clips and are more skeptical of television commercials than of social media ads. In addition, game viewership has been on the decline over the years, from its peak of 114.4 million viewers in 2015 to only 99.8 million in 2022.

But perhaps most importantly, for the cost of one Super Bowl ad, your company could invest in…

  • 843 million TikTok ad impressions
  • 650 million Facebook ad impressions
  • 4.2 million search clicks on Google
  • 8 weeks or more on the biggest billboard in Times Square

Source: Digiday

Despite these drawbacks, some companies are sure that the Super Bowl is the best destination for their marketing dollars. Why?

The Upsides

There is some evidence that Super Bowl ads can have a big impact on word-of-mouth marketing. Even though the impact is short-lived, it can increase your company’s brand awareness. After all, where else can you reach almost 100 million people all at one time?

Not only that, but the Super Bowl’s primary uniqueness is inherent in the fact that consumers tend to steer clear of all advertising campaigns – except when it comes to the Super Bowl. In fact, the Super Bowl is one of the only media where people actually flock to see the ads, to rehash them, and to discuss them for weeks afterwards.

Can you imagine another situation in which people would actually take the time to click on a random QR code for no apparent reason? That’s what happened in 2022 when Coinbase promoted their service with a colorful QR code that spent a full 60 seconds bouncing around the screen. The code directed you to a link that would allow you to claim $15 in Bitcoin if you signed up for Coinbase. So many people clicked on the code that it crashed the app for about an hour. Here it is, in case you missed it.

Honestly, we all know that companies go all-out for Super Bowl ads. They pull out all the marketing techniques and gimmicks, from humor to user-generated content, from ads that pull on your heartstrings to those that push the wire with racy content. Viewers know this, so for many people, watching the game has become secondary to watching the ads.

But every single year, some advertisers make the same exact mistake. And because it’s the Super Bowl, it’s an extremely costly error.

Where Advertisers Fumble

Imagine that you come up with an amazing Super Bowl ad. It’s hilarious, or shocking, or touching. It’s sure to generate plenty of buzz.

But it’s not strongly related to your product. 

So people do remember the ad. They talk about it. They “blow up the internet” by posting about it. 

The problem? They don’t mention the company that produced it –or even worse, they confuse your company with somebody else. That means that you just paid millions of dollars to advertise for your competition!

For example, this Salesforce ad seems to have everything going for it. It features a well-liked actor (Matthew McConaughey), a strong message (humanity needs to focus on improving life on our planet), and an iconic feel. Epic, right? But it doesn’t connect to Salesforce itself other than the inclusion of the company’s logo in the very last frame.

Here’s another Super Bowl fumble. While there’s an obvious connection between “Supercharged Seth” and Wallbox (one is afraid of electricity and one uses it), most people don’t have Seth’s paranoia around electronics. The takeaway from this ad seems to be “If you’re afraid of electricity, don’t worry, this device is safe.” Likely not the message they were going for.

That doesn’t mean that all Super Bowl ads are worthless. 

Remember the Lays ad? The brand name was clearly displayed in every scene, the ad focused on the company’s core message of “building memories,” and the tone was lighthearted and perfect.

Here’s another great example:

It perfectly conveys the reasons why a consumer would benefit from using Rocket Mortgage, but it does so with a playful and memorable feel.

The bottom line is that every ad—from a Super Bowl ad costing millions down to a stack of flyers that you’re distributing on the cheap—is an opportunity. Don’t squander it. Remember the basics: Great marketing must connect solidly to your brand and contain a strong call to action. Make sure to craft your message carefully, and you’ll know that every marketing dollar has been well spent.