2023 Super Bowl Commercials: The Reward is in the Risk
By Claire Brown
The Super Bowl is a perfect example of how great of an impact brand advertising has on sports. While advertisers typically struggle to hold an audience, the Super Bowl is their once-a-year jackpot. Brands that secure an ad spot will net a massive audience who is genuinely invested in the commercials’ entertainment value.
Super Bowl commercials have steadily increased in value since their inception. The first Super Bowl commercial ran during Super Bowl II in 1968, broadcasting to an audience of 70 million Americans. One of the commercials ran right through a kickoff and set a foundation for decades to come, indicating to marketers that commercials are just as anticipated as the big game. Fast forward 55 years later and Super Bowl commercials are still just as exciting as the game itself. Usually, commercials are background noise in between plays, but on Super Bowl Sunday, commercials draw the attention of everyone sitting around the TV.
The ad spot rate for the 1968 Super Bowl telecast sold for an unprecedented $150,000 a minute. In 1995, the cost of a commercial broke $1 million. Today, a 30-second commercial slot costs between $6 million and $7 million. While football is the focus when planning the Super Bowl, turning a profit is just as important. Each year, the game draws in millions of dollars to the NFL, broadcasting platforms, the host city, stadium, players, advertisers, and more. It’s turned so extreme that advertisers even attempt to nudge the game’s location, kick-off times, and duration in their favor.
While Super Bowl ads are meant to entertain, they are also meant to satisfy strategic objectives. Companies aim to increase brand awareness, consideration, favorability, and purchase intent of the record-high 115 million viewers who watched this year’s game. To do so, they invest time, creativity, and millions in production costs.
Companies do not score a home run just by purchasing an ad spot, however. The risk of broadcasting a commercial on the Super Bowl stage is enormous. If a Super Bowl commercial fails, the consequences can prove catastrophic. Since the Super Bowl consistently reaches the most viewers, an offensive commercial can spur anything from a PR nightmare to a lawsuit against the company. With how prevalent “cancel culture” has become in our society, one mistake can cost a company its entire following. In 1999, for example, the sportswear brand Just-for-Feet ran a Super Bowl ad that showed a young runner from Kenya being hunted down, drugged, and ultimately forced to wear a pair of shoes. After the ad ran, the company faced several multi-million dollar lawsuits. Just For Feet’s reputation was destroyed, its business suffered immensely, and it was labeled a racist company. It's not enough to simply be part of the Super Bowl, a winning strategy must be at hand, and if there isn’t, the consequences could be grave.
Which ads succeeded this year
The 2023 Super Bowl commercials were dominated by iconic celebrities, social media memes, and a ton of viral TikTok references. We saw Ben Affleck take over a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru with a special appearance by Jennifer Lopez. The brand PopCorners brought us a “Breaking Bad” reunion with Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and Tuco Salamanca. Miles Teller, who is known on social media for his iconic scene in the new Top Gun movie, danced it out with a Bud Light. We felt nostalgia as Disney’s 100th Anniversary montage took viewers of all ages down memory lane. The commercials that succeeded this year did a good job of appealing to our emotions, whether they made us laugh, made us cry, or made us feel a sense of nostalgia. Super Bowl commercials try to tap into these emotions in order to subconsciously create brand recognition in the viewer's minds.
Which ads failed
Unfortunately, not every commercial can be a winner. DoorDash's “We Got Groceries,” Rémy Martin's “Inch By Inch,” and M&M's “Super Bowl 23”, were brands on the list that fell short at this year's Super Bowl. According to the USA TODAY Ad Metrics, these three ads were some of the lowest-rated Super Bowl commercials this year. Commercials don’t always land with the target audience as the company might have predicted or hoped. Each failed advertisement left viewers confused as to what the point of the commercials was. Marketers need to remember they are playing a high-stakes game, and for next year's Super Bowl, marketing teams should focus on telling an emotionally compelling story on the screen.