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Article • 09/02/2024

From Clydesdales to Friends: The Winning Formula in Super Bowl Commercials

Evolving into a cultural phenomenon, Super Bowl ads are not just about hawking products during the game; they aim to etch brand identities into the public consciousness, creating a buzz around their high-profile commercials. The financial stakes are high, with ad prices skyrocketing from $2.7 million for a 30-second slot in 2008 to over $7 million today, solidifying the Super Bowl’s status as the most expensive airtime in television history.

The Super Bowl LVIII ads, fully booked since November 2023, showcase a prevalence of food and beverage brands designed to captivate a diverse audience. Joining the roster are newcomers such as Popeyes, Drumstick and Nerds. They stand alongside familiar faces like Reese’s, M&M’s, Pringles, Frito-Lay, and Mountain Dew.

However, the commercials from those companies aren’t the ones garnering the most buzz. Leading up to this year’s Super Bowl, Uber and Kia are evidently dominating the pre-game spotlight with their commercials, closely trailed by E.l.f. Cosmetics in third place.

While Super Bowl touchdowns and beer ads typically go hand in hand, alcoholic beverage companies are witnessing a decline in media attention as other industries gain prominence. Health and beauty companies, including newcomers like E.l.f. Cosmetics and L’Oreal NYX Professional Makeup, are now sharing the spotlight with the established lineup of beverage, technology, and auto brands that traditionally dominate this blockbuster sports event.

The Taylor Swift effect

Many analysts connect the surge in participation and attention from beauty brands to the projected uptick in female viewership, closely tied to the widely publicized romance between Grammy Award-winning artist Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce.

The three major brands airing commercials during the event – Dove, E.l.f. Cosmetics, and NYX – adopted diverse approaches. Dove opted for a quick, impactful message emphasizing women in sports, consistent with their brand ethos. E.l.f. Cosmetics and NYX, known for celebrity endorsements, opted for lighthearted and humorous content. E.l.f. Cosmetics featured a combination of Judge Judy and some cast members from the TV show Suits, while NYX showcased Cardi B recreating her viral ‘That’s suspicious’ TikTok.

However, the emphasis on broadening the reach of Super Bowl commercials beyond the ad break and leveraging social media is not unique to beauty brands. Most companies recognize that the impact extends well beyond game day itself. In a media landscape dominated by social media giants like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, top-tier ads gain international exposure. To secure this coveted spotlight, companies spare no expense, employing a range of tactics from celebrity cameos to cutting-edge special effects. 

While partnerships with celebrities continue to be a staple of Super Bowl ads, DoorDash is taking a different approach, focusing on audience engagement through a massive giveaway.

From the commercials released ahead of the game, it’s evident that this year’s lineup is steering clear of controversy. This cautious approach may stem from the backlash faced by Bud Light last year over its marketing deal with transgender TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney, as well as the politically charged atmosphere of a presidential election year. 

As Super Bowl advertising stands out as a uniquely high-stakes environment in the realm of marketing,  creating a rare window of undivided consumer attention, this sets up a creativity paradox. The immense stakes often drive a tendency to play it safe, yet opting for safety may result in work that lacks memorability.

To sidestep this challenge, aligning with a trend that has gained momentum in past Super Bowl editions, many brands such as Paramount+ and BMW are leaning on celebrity cameos to establish a connection with the audience and reinforce their brand image. 

DoorDash, however, opted for a different strategy. The delivery app committed to giving away every product featured in the Super Bowl commercial break. The prizes include several cars, a Clydesdale saddle, and 1000 Popeye’s chicken wings. While still trailing behind Uber Eats in terms of media buzz, this approach has garnered significant positive publicity, especially as more ads are pre-released, expanding the prize offerings. This strategic move positions DoorDash to maintain post-event buzz more effectively than other brands, as the company follows through on its promise.

Humor has always been an effective marketing strategy, but looking at the pre-released commercials for the Super Bowl, nostalgia is winning the game.

Out of all commercials featuring alcoholic beverages, Budweiser’s ad titled ‘Old School Delivery’ generated the most buzz. The beer maker is embracing nostalgia in its one-minute commercial, featuring its iconic Clydesdale horses.

Uber Eats also made a significant wager on this trend, capitalizing on nostalgia by reuniting members of the “Friends” cast and injecting humor with the presence of Victoria and David Beckham to revive a viral clip from late last year. This strategic blend of humor, nostalgia, and content with viral potential propelled Uber to the forefront of news media attention. Alongside DoorDash’s creative tactics, it played a significant role in why the industry garnered such a substantial share of voice in media discussions about the Super Bowl commercial break.

In contrast, Kia used its airtime to promote its new electric vehicle, EV9, and was praised by multiple news outlets by its clever use of emotional storytelling. The brand’s strategy, contrasts with the strategies of other competitors also advertising at the event, like BMW and Toyota (official automotive NFL partner for this year’s game) whose ads are more light hearted and humorous. 

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