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February 09, 2023

This year's Super Bowl ads promise more pop culture nostalgia, less crypto

A local advertising expert discusses what to expect for this year's advertisements, including the trends and financial aspects

TV Super Bowl
super bowl commercials 2023 clueless rakuten Rakuten/Youtube

A local advertising expert offers insight on the many expensive, star-studded, nostalgia-inducing commercials slated to air during Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, Feb. 12. Above, Alicia Silverstone reprises her role as Cher Horowitz from '90s rom-com "Clueless" in an ad for Rakuten.

Usually, some of the biggest highlights of Super Bowl Sunday aren't plays on the field but rather the creative, expensive ads that air between timeouts. 

While Eagles fans will be a bit distracted this year (with their team in the game and all), the big game still promises tons of fun commercials to enjoy — and many of them have already been released.

Super Bowl commercials historically tend to reflect the economy and overall tone of the country that year, according to Steve Merino, chief creative director at Aloysius Butler & Clark, a top advertising agency in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

During darker times like the 9/11 attacks or the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the ads took on a somber tone. Commercials this year will embody the 2023 climate, which already differs from 2022.

"Last year, there were tons of crypto, and there were tons of electric vehicle cars," Merino said. "Well, this year, you're going to see almost no car commercials, which is very unusual, because the car market is really soft, and they're really struggling to move and ship automobiles. So the fact that there's very few car commercials is very unusual. And there's no crypto because the market obviously fell out."

There will instead be an influx of commercials for smaller, consumer-packaged goods like snacks and drinks, according to Merino, reflecting the economy and what people are buying right now.

Rakuten, a technology company that helps shoppers save money, capitalizes on the fact that Americans are currently on a budget in their new commercial, which also brings in a nostalgic element by tapping "Clueless" actress Alicia Silverstone to reprise her role as savvy shopper Cher Horowitz.

Rakuten's decision to include a beloved '90s flick also plays to the fact that Super Bowl viewership is so multi-generational.

"The Super Bowl is really, unlike any show, it's really cross-generation," Merino said. "And so you'll have kids watching with their parents, and those parents watching with their parents. The Super Bowl also gets nostalgic, so you get old school celebrities or repeats and things like that."

While 2022 Super Bowl commercials tended to look toward the future (electric cars, cryptocurrency), it seems this year's ads — much like the reboots hitting TV these days — are reminiscing on the good old days. Along with the "Clueless" ad, Molson Coors will be airing an ad for one of its beers during the big game for the first time in 30 years, and Michelob Ultra has a "Caddyshack"-themed commercial.

With the saturation of star-studded, over-the-top, nostalgic ads, it can be difficult for companies to stand out with their 30-second spots.

"It has to be really, really innovative and has to get your attention; it has to match the hype of the game," Merino said. "But also you have to remember who it's from. There are so many times when people are like, 'Oh, that ad was so funny, who was that? Who was that for?' ... So if you can do something that sticks out and get people to remember, those ads are the most successful." 

The ads that do best are often the ones that break through to become part of the pop culture lexicon. Nearly 20 years later, people are still quoting "Wassup?" from Budweiser ads of the 2000s.

There are some that are slated to break through the noise this year, Merino predicts, and one way companies are doing this is through co-branding. 

One of the few car ads this year is an unlikely collaboration between General Motors and Netflix in which comedic actor Will Ferrell drives an electric vehicle through scenes inspired by Netflix shows, and some actors from those shows even make cameos.

Another tactic businesses use to generate buzz around their Super Bowl ad is to create a publicity stunt that builds suspense for the commercial. In 2020, Planters caused a stir when they "killed" the Mr. Peanut mascot only for him to be reborn as a baby during their Super Bowl spot.

It appears one brand may be taking a page from the Planters book this year. Last month, M&M's announced they were discontinuing their "spokescandies" due to backlash over changes made to the talking treats. While many on the internet were outraged, it may have simply been a stunt to generate buzz.

"It's an effective way for M&M's to get people talking about their ad before their ad even runs," Merino said. "It's just a really, really smart way of using those dollars and saying, 'Well, it's only gonna run one time, but let's get as much life out of it as we possibly can.'"

Speaking of dollars, the price for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl has jumped from an average cost of $6.5 million for the 2022 game to a high of $7 million this year. This higher cost is likely due to the economy as well as the way Americans' TV viewing habits have changed with the introduction of so many streaming services.

"If you look at like the cost of ads over time, it's just been this upward trend that has not really stopped and you know, that's a byproduct of just natural inflation," Merino said. "But also if you think about the way that we are now fragmented across all these different platforms, there's no must-see TV anymore ... The Super Bowl is the last opportunity for advertisers to talk to most of America all at one time, and so that opportunity, the value of that increases."

Here are a few more advertisements and teasers that have been released ahead of this year's big game:

In a FanDuel commercial, former New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski is tasked with making a kick.

PopCorners recruits "Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul for its snack ad.

"White Lotus" star Jennifer Coolidge feels like a baby dolphin thanks to the makeup in this e.l.f. Cosmetics commercial.

Miles Teller, the Downingtown native who starred in "Top Gun: Maverick," is joined by his wife in a Bud Light ad.

These commercials and many more will air on Sunday, Feb. 12, when the Eagles take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII. The big game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on FOX.

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