What the Data Tells Us About Making a Great Super Bowl Ad

It takes a little nostalgia, some celebrities and a healthy dose of futurism

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Super Bowl ads are some of the most watched and talked-about marketing in the world. Every year, more than 100 million people tune in to watch athletes in their prime square off on the gridiron—and 43% say they tune in just to see the ads. We all want to see which unique, creative and potentially iconic TV commercials will be in the Big Game—the Super Bowl is a cultural touchstone for Americans where creativity and triumphant storytelling converge.

But what makes a Big Game ad successful? Which ads create that magic tipping point for viewers where interest develops into intent? How does one 30-second airing stand apart from a crowd of nearly 100 spots to become a topic of conversation the morning after—and for some, years to come?

It’s the transformational declarations that drive talk of the future, or heroes provoking a thoughtful smile or unexpected laugh. And sometimes, it’s a nostalgic nod to the past that evokes a warm memory. 

EDO has measured the performance of every Super Bowl ad since 2016—as well as over 400,000 unique TV ads across more than 126 million airings. By connecting ad airings to consumer engagements—that magic moment where awareness becomes intent—brands can know within minutes if an ad is moving the needle for their business and the hearts and minds of consumers. 

So let’s unpack—with EDO’s performance data—which ads stand the test of time and portend trends for future Super Bowls.

The Sunday when the past turns present

We all yearn for a simpler time, which is why Super Bowl ads that give a whiff of nostalgia are so powerful. They allow viewers to reminisce about a person, place or thing remembered fondly. 


Perhaps it’s a song—like the Cheetos’ Super Bowl 55 spot featuring Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Shaggy, who gave a brilliant cheese-fingered cover of the ’90s classic, “It Wasn’t Me.” The spot topped EDO’s ranker that year (2020), outperforming the median ad by 247%. The brand had a similar strategy that paid off during Super Bowl 54, where Cheetos featured MC Hammer in his signature parachute pants and shuffle dance, which performed in the top 20 most engaging Big Game ads of 2019.


Or maybe it’s your favorite pop culture character, who may have aged about 20 years but is just as funny as the last time you saw them. Last year, for example, Verizon’s Cable Guy spot with Jim Carrey outperformed the median Super Bowl ad by 365%, securing a spot in the top 20 most engaging ads of the night.

General Motors

General Motors also reintroduced Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) and a cast of characters played by Rob Lowe, Seth Green and Mindy Sterling. The spot was full of Dr. Evil’s usual gags, including nearly dropping his son and business partner into a pit of hungry sharks, quippy one-liners and, of course, a plot to take over the world—but not before promoting General Motors’ new fleet of electric vehicles.

There are an infinite amount of combinations that can resurrect memories long forgotten and bring your brand in line with some of the best moments of your target audience’s life. Interestingly enough, most of those combinations will include a celebrity.

Super Bowl ads: Now starring your favorite sports, reality or Hollywood star

Have you ever noticed that the celebrity you see everywhere or the celebrity you haven’t seen in a while is suddenly the main character in a Super Bowl ad?

It’s by design. Companies across industries—like Salesforce, Nintendo Switch or Hyundai—know that featuring a popular, familiar face will increase the likelihood of a viewer engaging with their brand online. And in the past three years, Super Bowl ads with celebrities have performed 25% better than ads without a celebrity, proving that endorsements really work. 


That means that when Matthew McConaughey tells us it’s time to build trust with Salesforce, we listen. When Serena Williams shows us gaming with the Nintendo Switch really is for all ages, we believe her. When Jason Bateman’s dry sense of humor underscores how difficult it is to do anything, except buy Hyundai, we start thinking about the mileage on our own automobiles.

The point is: A powerful Super Bowl ad that evokes a viewer’s emotions is great, but a Super Bowl ad featuring a celebrity evoking those emotions? Even better. 

For some Super Bowl ads, the ‘you’ before and after you see it are two different people

The most engaging Super Bowl ads jumpstart the adoption curve for forward-thinking categories. Consider the giant rainbow QR code bouncing around the screen like the DVD logos of yesteryear in Super Bowl 56—I haven’t mentioned the brand yet, but you may already know it’s Coinbase. 


This ad not only crashed the Coinbase app but underscores one element that makes a great Super Bowl ad: the ability to shift our way of thinking and usher in a new era of innovation.

It wasn’t the first commercial to use a QR code, nor will it be the last—for 2023, Avocados From Mexico is already making pregame waves with a campaign that will feature both a QR code and a ChatGPT social post generator. But on advertising’s biggest stage, Coinbase played directly to its audience with a fun, hardly branded 60-second ad that performed eight times better than the median Super Bowl ad last year. 

But Super Bowl advertising isn’t just about the small shifts. It’s about the big ones. Before Super Bowl 56, cryptocurrency was for early adopters. With high-profile spots from Crypto.com, FTX, eToro and Coinbase, suddenly after the game, it was for everyone. Before Super Bowl 55, viewers may have known about SpaceX, but afterward, we all went to sleep dreaming about a day when we’d wave to friends and family orbiting above us—and potentially have a chance to go ourselves. 

These are the moments that take Super Bowl ads from a moment of entertainment to an unforgettable experience. These are the advertisements that break through, inspiring us to think differently about ourselves and our world. To be bold, to take chances, to lead with empathy.

Which spots will win in 2023?

As you gather around the biggest screen you can find this Super Bowl Sunday, keep track of the ad that resonates with you the most and ask yourself why. Are they making you think a little bit differently about something? Did it feature one of your favorite celebrities who just can’t miss? Or did it take you back to a more exciting time when the world for you was perfect?

Don’t go big for big’s sake. Tell your audience a great story that evokes fond memories and emotions. We have a feeling that’ll be an ad worth remembering. 

Editor’s note: EDO and Adweek are partnering to deliver morning-after Super Bowl insights. Check back here on February 13 for the top-performing ads and celebrities the day after the Big Game.