Advertisers, Ditch the Celeb Cameos at the Super Bowl

Star power will only get brands so far—they should focus instead on creating their own gravity 

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Super Bowl 57 is almost here, with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs set to battle it out at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 12 for one of the most-prized trophies in sport. But with more than 100 million tuning in for the self-proclaimed “Greatest Show on Earth”—and the cost of 30 seconds of airtime now up to $7 million—the fiercest contest may not be among the players in pads and helmets but the brands battling it out for our hard-won attention

For advertisers, the Super Bowl represents a huge opportunity to get their products and services in front of a highly engaged audience, almost half of which view the ads as the main event. However, with over 50 other brands spending tens of millions on more than 70 spots that will not only be shown on TV but pushed out online in the days and weeks before and after Super Bowl Sunday, getting your message heard amid the din has never been harder. 

No surprise, then, that many Super Bowl advertisers resort to witty celebrity spots in the hope of being noticed amid a crowded field. And this year’s event looks to be no different. Dave Grohl, Serena Williams, Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Maya Rudolph … these are just some of the celebs that already feature in this year’s slew of Super Bowl teasers and press releases launched ahead of the Big Game. The stars are certainly out for Super Bowl 57—with more expected to join the red carpet parade in the coming days.

There’s no doubt that a little light-hearted distraction can go a long way in the face of our day-to-day anxieties and struggles. Star-studded razzle dazzle provides some welcome relief, and a funny ad with a much-loved movie icon or sports star could well earn brands a few plaudits on the night. It may even win them top spot on USA Today’s coveted Super Bowl Ad Meter. But, as has been said before, just like football itself, building a successful brand strategy is a game of inches: small, decisive steps toward a much more valuable, long-term goal. 

Realistically, the brands with the budget and the clout to be forking out for a Super Bowl spot are already over indexing on pure mass awareness. We all know who they are—what’s less clear is what they stand for. What are the values that ring true within the business; what impact do they have in the world; and how do they connect with the issues that matter most to their consumers? 

These brands should be pulling consumers in by establishing a higher purpose and investing in a long-lasting strategy to nourish consumers long after game day ends. Why, then, would they use this incredible opportunity to bask in the light of some distant star? Why not instead focus on creating your own gravity?

Super Bowl advertisers should use this year’s Big Game to show what’s really important to them—and we’re not just talking about their bottom lines. If the pandemic told us anything, it’s that during times of economic uncertainty, brands need to let their audiences know who they really are. And yes, times are tough, but now is not the time for brands to press pause on their ESG commitments. Brands have already made public DEI commitments, they’ve signed up to Ad Net Zero, they’ve told consumers they care—2023 is the year to honor these pledges. 

In the words of Warren Buffet, “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” You only really get to know someone when times are tough and doing something actually costs them something. It’s the same with brands. Can you really claim to be passionate about a set of values or purpose when you are willing to drop them at the first sign of trouble? 

A recent YouGov poll found almost six out of 10 Americans like it when companies have a moral message in their ads. Sure, consumers want to be entertained, but they also want to know what brands really care about; otherwise, it’s hard to distinguish them from the other 50-odd advertisers battling for your attention on game day. A couple examples of this are Microsoft’s 2019 “We All Win” and Always’ landmark 2015 campaign “Like A Girl,” arguably two of the most memorable and long-standing Super Bowl campaigns from recent years. 

In Microsoft’s case, the company showed its purpose “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” was more than just a marketing slogan. Meanwhile, Always’ ad for pads stole the show and started a global conversation challenging the idea of what it means to do anything “like a girl.” Both ads were showered with awards, positive headlines and gushing praise on social media from people more than happy to crown both ads the “winners” of their respective Super Bowls. Both companies saw a boost in brand metrics, with Always’ brand equity showing a strong double-digit percentage increase during the course of the campaign, while most of its competitors saw slight declines.

But it wasn’t just brand perceptions that were changed. The campaigns also helped change long-standing perceptions across society. Before watching “Like a Girl,” just 19% of those aged 16-24 had a positive association toward the titular phrase—that changed to 76% after viewing the ad. And no celebrities were needed. The stars were the kids featured in the ads and the uplifting messages of diversity, accessibility and inclusion.

The Super Bowl offers brands the perfect stage to talk about the causes they care about, who they really are, what they stand for other than making a profit and pleasing shareholders. It’s time for the so-called “Greatest Show on Earth” to live up to its billing.

For the latest Super Bowl 57 advertising news—who’s in, who’s out, teasers, full ads and more—check out Adweek’s Super Bowl 2023 Ad Tracker and the rest of our stories here. And join us on the evening of Feb. 12 for the best in-game coverage of the commercials.