2023 Super Bowl Ads: What Worked, What Didn’t, What Influencers Would Have Done Better – Ep. 48
February 22, 2023
Updated Feb 09, 2024
Welcome to Negronis with Nord. In today's episode, James talks about 2023 Super Bowl ads (and his disappointment), why influencer marketing is the future of brand communications, and why the billions of dollars spent on the Super Bowl would be better spent on influencers.
James: Okay, welcome to Negronis with Nord, episode number 48. Today, we will talk about the Super Bowl. I watched it for the first time in a few years. I feel like I missed it in the last few years, but my fiancé and I made chili and sat and watched mostly the commercials and the game—but obviously for advertisers. The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of advertising.
I thought this year was wildly disappointing. Historically, Super Bowl ads have been a time for agencies and brands to bring their best creatively. You have 15 to 30 seconds. I think a 30-second ad this year was $7 million. Another $3 million just in talent fees minimum, a couple of million. So let's say you're all in; you're at $15 million for 30 seconds, just as a baseline. Okay?
Get people's attention, hold their attention, and, ideally, communicate something about your product in 30 seconds. And then, figure out a way where most brands are looking for three times the return on ad spend (ROAS) generally. So, you have to hope you can sell $45 million of product to pay for this $15 million ad, which I think is a bar that very few if any, people will cross. So it becomes, I think, a place for the biggest advertisers in the world to flex their muscles to show what they have and bring their best. And there have been some incredible iconic ads. Watching Super Bowl ads is probably part of why I got into advertising and am interested in brands and this industry in general, right? Some amazing art has been created and aired in these times. The most famous is probably the Apple 1984 ad.
But there are 50 examples. We were sharing everyone's favorites in Slack, and many of these are timeless 20 years later. You remember those ads. That's hugely valuable for brands, I think, is more difficult on social, where 10 years from now, you're not going to remember someone's Instagram post, but there are a handful of advertisements that can stay with you for decades.
What can influencers learn from the Super Bowl ads?
James: I thought this year was just a big snooze fest. I thought almost everyone struck out, there were a couple of standouts, but this is not a show about advertising; it's a show about influencer marketing. What can we learn from this one? Again, I think we are in the kind of death spiral of this industry. I think if that Super Bowl was the best that the ad industry has to offer, they don't have that much to offer.
And I think we will continue to see traditional advertising be phased out for influencer ads. I think that, again, we are in competition for brand ad dollars. I don't know if I can think of a single brand ad I saw at the Super Bowl where I thought that $15 million was better spent on that ad than it would've been doing an influencer campaign for a similar amount of money.
I mean, $15 million, obviously, that is a very, very robust, large-scale, full-year program that would reach many more than 113 million people in a much more targeted, impactful, and exciting way than running a 30-second ad. So, just looking at the two things, apples to apples, there are a lot of benefits that come from it just from the people involved, right? You're up for all these awards, you probably go to the game, and all of your friends, family, and colleagues see it.
It's a very visible thing, I'm sure a very exciting thing to work on as a creative. But, I don't think people are making sound business decisions and weighing it and saying, where can I get the most ROI in 30 seconds for $15 million or a full year of influencer work for $15 million? Which, again, would be an enormous program. I can't believe anyone is spending money on this stuff.
Why were so many older celebrities cast this year?
James: I also thought what was interesting was older celebrities were used. I was just talking to Haley, our new woman behind the camera. And we were talking about this idea that because culture has kind of fractured into all these tiny, smaller mini-cultures, right? We used to have what we call monoculture controlled by a few large corporate entities, record labels, movie studios, radio stations, publishers, and TV networks, right?
Now, if you think about ‘celebrity’ today, it is fractured amongst influencers and generally the fact that there can be wildly, wildly influential in one small community and completely unknown in another.
We don't have as many super celebrities because we no longer have a single culture. It's gone from this one, again, monoculture to hundreds of thousands, millions of kind of small, thriving different cultures. And so I think they had to use old celebrities because the last time we had these kinds of super generalist celebrities was the early 2000s, the 90s, and the 80s. And so that's why we've got Diddy and John Travolta and the guys from Scrubs. They did the clueless thing with Alicia Silverstone. We did a Breaking Bad spoof. This is stuff that was, any of those names are icons, but they're not part of culture anymore. I mean, Breaking Bad was on 20 years ago. I thought the whole spectacle of these celebrities being paraded out in these uninspired uninteresting ads was kind of sad. And again, this a sign that what we have been talking about on this show for years—it is happening.
The fact that what we are doing in influencer marketing is going to be the dominant form of brand communication. When we think about advertising, we're going to think about influencer marketing. That this is the place where brands will spend most of their budgets, will spend most of their time, and energy. And that this is where people will be finding out about brands, getting inspired, purchasing products, planning trips. What we are doing is what is driving culture. I think the traditional media just hasn't caught up to that. I think the Super Bowl was a really great example of it.
2023 Super Bowl ads review
James: I am disappointed that I continue to be locked out of Twitter. It's been over a month since I've been able to access my Twitter account. I had a VP at Twitter who was helping me get it back. I was emailing with support, and Twitter's support email just doesn't work anymore.I was replying to a support email, and Twitter's support email just doesn't work anymore.
So I'm a little bummed I didn't get to be in the Twitter feed and see what ads transcended into memes. I mean, you could definitely see certainly during Rihanna's performance, but there were some ads where you could see like, oh, that's going to be a gift that's going to get passed around a lot or that's going to become a meme. You can just kind of feel it sometimes, especially if you spend your entire life online. So, unfortunately, I can't speak to Twitter and which ads were impactful.
As we think about the ones that worked, the ads that I thought did a good job potentially returning the investment for the brands were not the ones with the big celebrities or anything like that.
It was the more simple stuff that was like explaining what the product was. You know, I thought the Farmer's dog stuff was fine. I mean, Google Pixel they've been doing that one forever. But again, it was super focused on the product. What does John Travolta and the cast of Scrubs singing a song from Grease have to do with T-Mobile? Like what? Jack Harlow playing a triangle. Like, gimme a break. That was like trying way too hard.
The Super Bowl is such an interesting moment in time in advertising to understand what is happening, what the trends are, and where we think things are going. And again, I think everybody in this space should leave that game. And what happened with the advertising feeling really excited about where influencer marketing is going and how much money ad dollars were spent.
So the half a billion, $500 million, probably $600 million that brands spent just on media dollars, that's not activations around that stuff. That's not anything in the run-up to it. And that's not production. So let's say it's a billion dollars, probably, let's say, you know, 20% the size of the whole industry that we're in on one game. Can we compete with that, and can we win? Absolutely. The moment everyone talked about was Rihanna applying some Fenty makeup during her performance, and searches for Fenty shot up on Google afterwards. This is the first performance she's done in six years. She's not really a working musician anymore. She's running an enormous beauty business. You know, it was like a cute fun little moment, but nothing mind-blowing. But that was the thing that kind of dominated the conversation about the ads that worked.
And it was interesting because that one was kind of the most authentic and like influencer moment of the night, right? It was just a person who we like, doing her thing, grabbing a product that she believes in, and using it. And so it's interesting that that dominated the conversation about what worked or didn't. And it was this kind of natural unscripted moment, the stuff we are always trying to do in the influencer space. So, brands probably spent a billion dollars creating, running, and supporting their ads during the four-hour Super Bowl or however long it is. And I like to think about our ability to compete with this. As I think about what influencers are doing and if we or this industry were given that billion dollars, would we be better stewards?
Would we get more return on that investment for brands? I absolutely 100% believe in essentially every case that the money would have been better spent with influencers. And I think we should all feel a huge amount of confidence and excitement about where things are going over the coming years.
Because I think this Super Bowl marks a bit of a line in the sand of when it becomes clear that this industry is withering on the vine and dying.