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Are we not entertained? Well, yes, we were entertained. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room: We’re grading on a curve for our list of the best Super Bowl 58 commercials.
There were almost too many celebrities to count, with uneven results—Beyonce! Scorsese! Posh and Becks! ScarJo! And too many meh ads, those that played it safe and landed near the forgettable middle rather than taking creative risks and rising to the top.
Harsh question: Will anyone be talking about the Bud Light or Pringles or BetMGM ads a year from now? A week from now?
Clever, cheeky and silly ruled the day, and there’s a reason why marketers consistently go for the funny bone given the celebratory vibe of what’s become a national holiday. And in a contentious presidential election year, with inflation and other uncertainty still hanging over the country, goofy fun from the world’s biggest brands isn’t a bad play.
“The Super Bowl is one of the few monoculture moments we have left, and brands seem to be going for broad, mass-appeal humor,” said Stevie Archer, chief creative officer at SS&K. “The environment almost requires that you cut through in a simplistic visual way.”
Not that it was all pratfalls and sight gags—and Ben Affleck doing whatever that was with his lanky body—with viral stunts, poignant moments and solid strategy also at work. Here are our top picks for the best ads of Super Bowl 58, with a regional darling tossed in for good measure.
13. STōK Cold Brew and Wrexham AFC (regional)
Anthony Hopkins, two-time Academy Award winner—so, serious thespian—starred in one of the best ads of the Big Game in a double promo for STōK Cold Brew and Wrexham AFC from Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort. The payoff is Hopkins in a furry mascot costume noting that “it is the cold brew that births the fire-breathing dragon.” Chef’s kiss.
12. e.l.f. Cosmetics
It was a coup to land Judge Judy, who has never done a commercial before but had a Super Bowl spot on her bucket list. Who knew? With the renamed “Judge Beauty” on the bench, the brand filled out its first national Super Bowl ad with a Suits mini-reunion and other familiar faces for an intergenerational message that tapped into the courtroom drama craze and contained just the right amount of sass. Cliffhanger-style teasers and robust social media surrounded the ad, which will continue to air for the next several months.
Amid a flood of celebrity spots, Etsy stood out by telling an original story. The delightfully silly tale, by agency Orchard Creative, imagines the panic of the Americans when trying to think of an appropriate reciprocal gift for the French, who just gave them the Statue of Liberty. Their solution: lots of cheese. Predictable maybe, but the ad manages to subtly poke fun at both sides of the exchange.
The Unilever brand has become known for weepy ads with shocking twists about body image among girls, but this time around it pares down its approach with a commercial that stands apart for its simplicity. Focusing on girls in sports, Dove clearly conveys its message with a catchy soundtrack in “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” from Broadway musical Annie. With each beat of the song, a girl takes a hit or falls during a game, a subtle metaphor for how body confidence can affect their participation.
Smack-talking babies playing pickleball? Yes, please. Granted, the popular E*Trade franchise that began in 2008 may seem long in the tooth to some viewers. But this year’s revival—the third Super Bowl spot in a row, but the first from new agency partner 72andSunny New York—tapped into the zeitgeist with just the right amount of spice. As the toddlers say, pickleball really is “tennis for babies, but for adults,” right? Aside from throwing shade on game day, the brand is trying to bring more would-be investors into parent company Morgan Stanley’s world. TBD if it works.
For its first ad in the Big Game, Kawasaki hit a rich cultural vein. Because the mullet is back with a vengeance among Gen Z, why not give everybody and everything the once-derided hairdo? Through digital effects, longtime spokesman Stone Cold Steve Austin, a grizzly bear, a bald eagle et al got follicular makeovers. Aside from the sight gags, the brand translated the concept into a perfect articulation of the product message. Anyone watching the spot now knows that the Ridge off-road vehicle is the mullet of transportation, business in the front, party in the back. Expect that post-pandemic sales surge to get another bump.
People love puzzles. People also love free stuff. Put those together and potentially set off a frenzy as viewers try to figure out a promo code for a chance to win every item advertised during the Big Game. DoorDash created one of the most ambitious giveaways in Super Bowl history, aiming to change its perception from delivery service to 24/7 personal assistant under its “Your Door to More” platform. Did it work?
Squarespace is no stranger to celebrity ads—remember last year’s meta spot with Adam Driver?—but its most prestigious Hollywood collaboration yet came with an ad directed by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. As expected, Scorsese’s commercial—his first time directing for the Big Game—is beautifully shot and edited, telling an engaging story about an alien invasion. The twist is that no one notices, because they’re all too busy looking at their devices, including Scorsese himself who makes a cameo. Squarespace also cleverly extended the campaign through a teaser showing off the charming dynamic between the director and his daughter.
Ben Affleck seems to be having the time of his life—no more Sad Affleck!—as he adds “pop star” to his CV, crashing wife Jennifer Lopez’s recording session and leaning into his most exaggerated Boston accent. He’s chewing scenery, humiliating his BFF, and announcing flashy new duds and drinks from Dunkin’. His return to the Super Bowl, with Matt Damon and Tom Brady as reluctant co-conspirators, comes on the heels of an ad that ran during the Grammy Awards, seeding the concept of Affleck the rapper (and furthering his and Damon’s agency Artists Equity). The concept is as intentionally goofy as it sounds, and chances are viewers haven’t seen the last of Affleck’s cringey alter ego.
Beyonce is one of the most famous performers on the planet, and she has something to say. Two words: New. Music. And predictably, the crowd went wild. In her 60-second ad from Ogilvy for Verizon, the woman who can bring the internet to its knees found out that she couldn’t break the telecom’s 5G, no matter how hard she tried. Tactics included posing as a pink clad BarBey, unveiling a gorgeous robot named Beyonc-AI, running a lemonade stand (get it?) and singing in outer space. It may be the surprise announcement of a new record that made most impact with audiences, but Verizon still has bragging rights for landing Bey.
3. State Farm
Arnold Schwarzenegger can do heroic things like save puppies and pregnant women as Agent State Farm in a fake action flick. But he needs a little assist on the dialogue, proving that people still aren’t above making fun of the Terminator’s thick Austrian accent. The cheeky spot revolves around his mispronunciation, taking the joke to ridiculous extremes, with a helping hand from Danny DeVito. And who doesn’t love a Twins reunion?
Some evergreen concepts outlive their usefulness, but “A Mountain of Entertainment” from Droga5 for Paramount+ is aging like fine wine. In its 15th iteration, the campaign features human and animated talent from Patrick Stewart and Drew Barrymore to Peppa Pig, and the soundtrack comes from Creed in a rare self-deprecating moment. With so many beautifully wicked touches, it’s tough to pick one, but suffice to say the mandate to “throw the child” to rescue the group may be the biggest LOL moment. And there’s more “Mountain” to come, possibly as early as March Madness.
For its Super Bowl debut, CeraVe ripped up the marketing playbook. Serendipitously, the brand shares a similar name with the quietly oddball actor Michael Cera. So CeraVe and its agency Ogilvy decided to play a massive prank on people by creating the illusion that Cera is the founder of CeraVe. The actor fully embraced the role with bizarre public stunts, and with the help of influencers fed the rumor mill weeks before Super Bowl Sunday. By the time the truth was revealed through CeraVe’s commercial—the brand was developed with dermatologists, not Cera—it was already the most buzzworthy and anticipated campaign of the season, generating attention far beyond the game.