My 5 Favorite Super Bowl Spots of 2023
The Super Bowl is a big frickin’ deal for the advertising world. It’s a high-visibility stage, it requires a massive investment to play ball, and the stakes are huge.
It’s also spawned an entire industry of critics — anybody who’s ever spent 5 minutes inside of an ad agency can proclaim themselves an expert and pass judgement. It’s easy to lob barbs from the cheap seats.
This year, I managed to avoid all the teasers and pre-releases and watch the broadcast with fresh eyes. Ads play different in the flow of the game; context matters. (Also, who cares if your :90 is amazing if you air the :30.)
On the whole, the 2023 Super Bowl delivered a great football game that came down to the wire…and a lot of ads that didn’t really feel worthy of all the hype, attention (and dollars) we devote to this annual festival of excess.
I’m not sure anything entered the pantheon of legendary “big game” ads — the type of commercial we’ll remember next year, much less be talking about in ten. (Quick quiz: remember any ads from last year besides the Coinbase QR code?)
Us ad people take all this WAY too seriously, but this tweet isn’t wrong:
It wasn’t that they were all BAD, it’s just that most of them didn’t feel Super Bowl special.
It IS tricky to stick the landing on this stage. Unfortunately, there’s a play-it-safe formula now. Adweek reported that only 9 ads in the whole broadcast didn’t feature a celebrity. (Seems like the other 9 either featured dogs or Jesus.) And too many advertisers tried to cram WAY too much into their spots. More isn’t always more.
But again, casting stones from the couch is a cliché . Here are the ones I DID like this year:
Full disclosure, this was made by Goodby Silverstein & Partners, an agency where I used to work, but I had zero involvement and no rooting interest. I don’t know Jack Harlow from a hole in the ground (I’m old) but this FELT like a Super Bowl spot. Funny, well-paced (sometimes an idea needs a :60), and a good joke where they kept raising the stakes.
A product demo done well. Not sure it needed the celebrities, but you can’t really blame Google for hedging their bets for the big game.
One of the many dog spots, this was as emotionally manipulative as all the others, but it was done with such nice storytelling and production craft, I went along for the ride. (And I’m not a dog guy.)
Not gonna lie, I’m a little embarrassed that I liked this one. A 60-second dick joke is hardly highbrow, but it made me laugh, there are some great performances in it, zero celebrities, and the insight that people are more comfortable talking about sexual dysfunction than electric vehicles is pretty inspired.
As a matter of principal, I usually don’t consider the NFL ads for themselves to be on the same playing field as the other spots. They’re literally playing with house money, so they can air a 2-minute film and invest their dollars in production, not air time. That said, this was still a charming spot with the scope and humor you want from a big game ad. Smart to feature Flag Football star Diana Flores instead of the usual cast of NFL players (and I especially liked the bit with her mom.)
Not sure why the NFL is blocking the video from being played on other sites, but click on that “Watch on YouTube” link below to see it.
But perhaps the most telling comment came from YouTuber Mr. Beast (who had a small cameo in the NFL spot) in this exchange on Twitter:
Beast has a point. In a world where each one of his YouTube videos is delivering 100M views, does it even make sense that we’re still paying this much (money and attention) for Super Bowl ads?
Yes, all five of my “favorite” picks are longer than 30 seconds. To my eyes, nobody totally nailed the :30 this year. If you’re going to make a spot that requires 60 or more seconds to tell the story, you should buy the time.
5 More Spots That I Liked: Dunkin, T-Mobile, GM X Netflix, Pringles, Squarespace
I guess that Tubi channel-change thing was interesting, but I’m here for ads, not gimmicks. (Old man shouts at cloud.)
If we ARE praising gimmicks, I liked this not-quite-a-Super-Bowl spot…
Lots of brands attempt to “hijack” the Super Bowl with stunts that get them in the big game conversation without spending big game dollars. My favorite this year was from the last Blockbuster Video store in the U.S., which is in Bend, Oregon.
Their amusingly dark commercial featured a cockroach and was screened off of a VHS tape at Super Bowl watch-party at the store on Sunday night.
Watch the spot and read about the campaign.