A Creative Director’s Take on the Most Effective Super Bowl LVI Commercials

About the Author

Picture of Reid Holmes

Reid Holmes

Holmes has served at agencies including Doner, McCann, and Ogilvy & Mather; working with brands like H&R Block, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza.

A recent New Yorker cartoon portrayed two people on the couch watching a football game. The caption: “So have you given any thought to what you’re going to do with your life after the Super Bowl?”

For most of us without a team in the fight, the day comes and goes. We hope for a competitive game, some good Super Bowl commercials, and maybe a chicken wing or two. For those who have to deliver a spot, it’s been a stressful six months – a huge investment of time, sweat, late-nights eating pizza, missing your kid’s baseball games, and numerous other sacrifices to get to this day.

As a creative director, I have nothing but respect for those who’ve been crafting work for the game. The months of idea generation, budget conversations, casting, location scouting, line read variables, celeb schedule wrangling, filming, editing, special effects, music, and the inevitable “my spouse doesn’t like the part where” commentary.

With all that effort, we need to remember what really makes a brand succeed. I believe those that earn customer appreciation and gratitude win long-term. So, it’s my Monday morning privilege to offer comment and approval or disapproval via a “thank you,” or a “no thank you,” to some of the more notable Super Bowl commercials:

Rocket Mortgage’s Barbie Dream House spot was crowned the winner in the USA TODAY AD METER POLL, so let’s start there. I once tried to get Barbie to star in a commercial. Mattel would not play ball. A non-starter. Seems they finally realized Barbie can get some real pop culture traction. Good for them. For its creators, kudos. It’s an inventive and entertaining way to tell the story of today’s housing market and how Rocket can help. And who doesn’t like Anna Kendrick? Thank You, Rocket Mortgage.

Celebrities Everywhere

There were so many celebs this year, spots stood out for NOT using one. (Clearly the Mannings have an agent who wants a new vacation house. They were approaching Kevin Hart levels of overexposure.) My favorite celeb spot was for Expedia with Ewan McGregor. The benefit of the product, travel, was wonderfully juxtaposed with how ephemeral material things can be. The spot was playing during an event full of immensely budgeted appeals to buy more of those material things. It worked on numerous levels. Thank You Expedia.

There’s a lot to choose from in the least favorite celeb category. But for me: Uber Eats wins. I just plain don’t get the business case behind a brand watering itself down so as NOT to be known by its name. No Thank You Uber. (Tip: Why not save $7MM plus the likely $3MM you spent on celebs and just introduce Uber Goods?)

Interestingly, it turns out there were more celebs than I even noticed. Doritos somehow had Megan Thee Stallion associated with their Oooh Baby Baby spot? Missed that. (I guess there was a teaser?) Chevy had Jamie-Lynn Siglar (Meadow from Sopranos fame.) I didn’t recognize her, which meant the spot was just a story about her meeting a man she was on huggable terms with after a drive through Jersey. And apparently, that was Rashida Jones trying to keep up with the other Joneses in their Toyota pick-ups. Didn’t get that either. Aside from the fact that they blew the “keeping up with the Joneses joke” at the end, I killed many brain cells trying to figure out who that third Jones was. To all the above spots I say: No Thank You.

Successful (And Not So Successful) Super Bowl Commercials

Best Business Building Spot: Bic Reach.

We’ve seen Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart together before, so using them was, ironically, a very safe choice. But it did make sense. His use for Bics and hers are different. But you know, two birds, one stoned. His presence said what couldn’t be voiced, and the product itself solves a very universal human problem. Try to light a candle, or the stove burner, or get in there to light that grill with a regular old Bic and you’ll burn your fingers. Further, an investment in a Super Bowl commercial like this gets you better distribution and better countertop placement. Thank You Bic Reach.

Best Long-Term Brand Building (vs. Merely Entertaining): NFL.

The NFL does it again. With their Bring Down the House commercial they captured the entertainment value of their brand wonderfully. Thank You NFL.

Biggest Waste of Money: Meta.

It was odd. It was hard to understand. It was a sad story with…I guess a happy ending because inanimate objects can put on VR headsets just like humans. It didn’t make sense to me. If ever there was an opportunity to creatively explain what Meta actually is, they missed it. We’ll all just have to keep on guessing. No Thank You Meta, whoever you are.

Best Call-to-Action: Coinbase.

The QR code is back. The guts it took to just have that bouncing around, to NOT include a brand name (instant intrigue removal), at a cost of $7.5MM? This may be the only Super Bowl commercial in history with such a direct and pointed in-the-moment call-to-action. Everyone I saw had their phones out scanning that screen. Thank You Coinbase.

Biggest Ummm…What?! Budweiser.

A dog cheers on a horse who broke his leg. What?! “Down but never out?” Horses who break their legs are always out. They’re shot. Why did you make me think about that? Maybe I’m too cynical, but a beer brand trying to connect with pandemic addled consumers using a story about one of their brand characters? It worked on 9/11. Here, it’s a head scratcher. I have more questions here, but moving on. No Thank You. Budweiser.

My Personal Favorite: Pringles.

I’m a sucker for a human truth. Who hasn’t gotten their hand stuck in a Pringles can? Talk about opening a story loop. They took it to absurd levels, which kept eyeballs locked. No celeb needed. Thank You, Pringles.

The New Yorker is on to something. For those who had a spot on the game, it’s a big deal. Congratulations. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

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