Super Bowl LVI Commercials: Wins & Losses
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Super Bowl LVI commercials covered a handful of new categories consistent with current macro trends, such as cryptocurrency, hybrid cars, and exploration of the metaverse. Millennial nostalgia overarched the evening with ads and a halftime show built around hero characters of the 1990s and early 2000s: Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Larry David, Guy Fieri, Steve Buscemi, and Lindsay Lohan are just a few of the cult-classic stars spread across the lineup of this year’s halftime show and new era ads, like David’s commercial for the crypto exchange platform, FTX. But they were also the face of legacy Super Bowl ads like Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, and Chevrolet.
The cost of Super Bowl ad time has doubled in the last 10 years. With NBC reporting a 2022 price tag of $6.5 million for a 30-second slot, brands are expected to deliver big star power, cultural relevancy, and over-the-top production, all within the context of our current news cycle and cross-platform users. The reported 30-second average unit cost for this year’s game represents a 6 percent increase over the average price paid for a 30-second commercial in 2021, and a 10 percent increase from five years ago, according to a recent study by Kantar.
But a viral Super Bowl ad can drive big money back to media buyers: 2021 commercials delivered an average ROI of $4.60 per dollar spent, with ads for Mountain Dew, Verizon, T-Mobile, and General Motors achieving the best results.
Naturally, some brands do this better than others each year. Brands with commercials that find harmony between cultural context and timing, a nuance that becomes increasingly more difficult to define in a mobile landscape of meme culture and viral phenomena. Here are the wins and losses from yesterday’s Super Bowl commercials.
- Bud Light Hard Seltzer Sodas in Guy Fieri’s Flavortown
The ad: A one-minute video where Bud Light Seltzer customers travel to “Flavortown,” a utopia governed by Mayor Guy Fieri. The majority of the people in the ad were dressed like Fieri, complete with bleach blonde wigs and soul patches. The ad itself checked a lot of boxes Super Bowl viewers have come to expect: (1) celebrity hero, (2) new product announcement, (3) huge production: this one was reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate room (note the bridge made of Fieri’s signature sunglasses), and (4) a funny storyline that integrates major pop culture references like Fieri’s TV show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Bud Light is a veteran Super Bowl commercial brand, however, this was Fieri’s first Super Bowl ad, which also created a sense of notoriety for viewers.
The response: Bud Light won with this ad because it delivered an over-the-top feel built around a beloved meme hero. Fieri is generally adored for signature catchphrases about flavor and this commercial also offers countless freeze frames that are vastly exploitable. The ad was particularly well received by Twitter users who joked about wanting to live in Fieri’s utopia. Bud Light also utilized a popular Super Bowl ad tactic that incentivized customers leading up to Sunday with a contest to give one fan a chance to see their name in the commercial by entering the contest through the Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda website or on social media. We expect to see a continued uptick in Fieri memes this week with particular emphasis on the image of Fieri opening the seltzer can (pictured above).
2. Chevrolet Recreates The Sopranos Theme Song
The ad: Chevrolet played perfectly into last night’s ’90s nostalgia with a one-minute commercial that recreated the theme song montage from HBO’s cult classic The Sopranos, starring Jamie-Lynn Siegler who played Tony’s daughter, Meadow, in the hit series. B-roll from the original theme song of driving through New Jersey while Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning” plays in the background was curated around Siegler driving Chevrolet’s first electric Chevy Silverado before she parks outside of a diner, another nod to the series epic finale where Siegler struggled to parallel park her car before running inside. The ad also featured actor Robert Iler who played Tony’s son, AJ; he and Siegler shared an emotional embrace before they went inside the diner together.
The response: Chevy’s commercial has been one of the most discussed and well-received thus far. The ad was directed by Sopranos showrunner David Chase, which gave the ad an authentic effervescence that offered instant recognizability to a broader audience while also referencing iconic moments from the series that deep cut Sopranos fans could resonate with. In the 15 hours since the commercial aired, a Reddit thread from r/Sopranos titled “Ok, that Sopranos Super Bowl commercial was awesome” has received 5k upvotes and 1k comments from viewers who are sharing popular one-liners and jokes based on various Sopranos references. This type of viral discussion is free PR for Chevy, who enticed viewers with nostalgia without being overtly obvious that this was in fact, just a car commercial. We expect to see more discussion surrounding this ad with particular emphasis on Sopranos memes and reaction GIFs.
3. Michelob Ultra Nods To The Big Lebowski
The ad: Following a similar nostalgia recipe for viral success, Michelob Ultra’s bowling alley commercial recreated freeze frames from the 1998 film The Big Lebowski, but swapped actors for A-list athletes of the ’90s and early 2000s, like Serena Williams, Peyton Manning, Jimmy Butler, Nneka Ogwumike and Alex Morgan. The ad also featured beloved actor Steve Buscemi as an employee at the bowling alley, who was both a key character from The Big Lebowski and a frequently memed persona. It’s also worth noting that the athletes chosen for this ad have a meme history of their own that Michelob Ultra was smart enough to highlight in their commercial — recall Alex Morgan’s Goal Celebration that she imitates during the ad.
The response: Channeling the star power of frequently memed athletes and actors combined with nostalgia for one of the biggest movies of the ’90s proved successful as many users considered this one of the best ads of the evening. The commercial has also received positive reviews for its emphasis on gender equality in sports as it features an equal number of male and female athletes, a smart move following recent news of Michelob Ultra’s five-year partnership agreement with the Women’s Sports Foundation to help fund the travel and training needed for female athletes to compete at an elite level. The ad received a lot of buzz on Instagram as Michelob Ultra released a limited run of merch to accompany their Superior Bowl ad campaign and promotional event.
- Coinbase QR Code
The ad: No surprise that we saw a handful of cryptocurrency ads in this year’s Super Bowl roundup. Despite user fatigue over NFTs and crypto controversies, crypto exchange platforms like Coinbase made up the majority of first-time Super Bowl ad buyers this year. Coinbase arguably had the biggest flop of the evening with a color-changing QR code that bounced around a black screen like a DVD screensaver. If viewers scanned the QR code with their phones, they were supposed to be guided to Coinbase’s website and subsequently encouraged to sign up for the country’s largest cryptocurrency exchange platform. The commercial’s simplicity was arguably successful, however, the traffic overload to Coinbase’s website via the QR code created a slew of technical problems that outshined their effort to strike analog nostalgia. Many who tried to scan the QR code were redirected or unable to access the free Bitcoin that Coinbase advertised.
The response: User reactions to Coinbase’s QR code were particularly negative on Twitter, with many joking that this crypto company spent $6 million to put up a QR code on TV for an app that fails when you open it. Other users reacted with classic memes like Hide the Pain Harold or Swole Doge vs. Cheems and reaction GIFs from a popular episode of The Office where people get excited about the DVD logo finally hitting the corner of the screen. Despite their best efforts, Coinbase’s Super Bowl ad execution, unfortunately, played into the bad stereotype about cryptocurrency being notoriously unreliable or scammy.
2. UberEats: Celebrities Will Eat Anything
The ad: UberEats’ commercial featured fan-favorite actors from big shows this year like Jennifer Coolidge from White Lotus, Succession’s Nick Braun, and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, consuming a wide array of household items like aluminum foil, diapers, dish soap, and sponges to the tune of Capone’s “Oh No,” a song largely made popular by TikTokers in 2021. It’s worth noting that UberEats was one of the only brands that aimed to appeal to Gen-Z viewers as the majority of the evening was centered around millennial hero figures. Beyond highlighting popular stars from big shows, UberEats also tried to flex an understanding of viral phenomena with moments like Gwyneth Paltrow taking a bite out of the notorious vagina candle from Goop Lab.
The response: Reception of the UberEats Super Bowl commercial is a great example of how brands overcorrect in trying to flex pop culture understanding. User reactions were focused more on the celebrities and confusion over the storyline about why they were eating these items while the brand itself was mostly removed the dialogue and worse, missing altogether from the ad’s most viral freeze-frame, a close-up shot of Paltrow biting into a candle. One Twitter user joked that the ad was likely written by a child with cringey lines like “Wait … if it was delivered with Uber Eats … does that mean I can ‘eats’ it?” Even marketing execs chimed in, with Eli Langer stating that UberEats should request a refund from its agency for failing to deliver. Adweek senior story editor Nicole Ortiz critiqued the use of a TikTok song like “Oh No,” claiming that users’ over-exposure to references like these create an instant turn off for either being overplayed or too late to the conversation.
3. Cue Health Inc COVID-19 Testing/ Smart Home
The ad: Cue Health Inc. is a publicly traded healthcare tech company that develops portable diagnostic tests for at-home use. The company became a household name in the last few years after they developed the first FDA-authorized COVID-19 diagnostic test for at-home and over-the-counter use without a prescription. Their Super Bowl commercial focused on Cue, a smart device for your health, as a newcomer to house full of gadgets. Gal Gadot provided the voice of Cue in the spot. The ad shows a mom giving her son an at-home COVID test using the Cue device.
The response: Cue Health already faced an uphill battle as they were one of the only commercials that aired yesterday that contextualized the current state of the pandemic which was inevitably going to draw groans from users on every side of the political aisle. However user reactions were more disturbed by the over-bearing nature of the smart home tech littered throughout the commercial, with many criticizing the dialogue as threatening or drawing comparisons between Cue and Theranos.
Despite the Super Bowl owning one big Sunday each year, the commercials and subsequent memes surrounding the game are only just starting to circulate. We expect that viral discussion and freeze frames of the ads mentioned will be a hot topic for most of the week, putting each brand under a microscope that will guide marketing budgets and commercial campaigns for the rest of the year.
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