Themes & Takeaways From The Year’s Top Commercials

The 2023 Super Bowl delivered exceptional ratings and an exciting game. As per usual, however, some viewers were more interested in the commercials than the action on the field. This year’s lineup certainly delivered, even though the ads were far from groundbreaking.

While we anticipated all the usual themes for this year’s commercials, there were a few modest surprises. Yes, familiar concepts dominated — but they still managed to make us feel inspired, delighted, and nostalgic. Our favorites this year included these gems:

1. Dunkin’ Donuts: Drive-Thru Featuring Ben Affleck

Blending the best of viral, TikTok-inspired themes with big-budget celebrity magic, Dunkin’ Donuts produced a clear winner with its iconic Ben Affleck ad. In this showstopper of a commercial, the Hollywood star hit up a drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts location near Boston, where he played up his notorious love for the franchise.

Affleck’s superfan status alone would have been enough to get viewers talking, but the commercial took an unexpected turn when his fiance (and former halftime show star) Jennifer Lopez suddenly showed up and questioned why her sweetheart was working at Dunkin’. This was a fun twist, but the ad can’t quite be deemed cutting-edge. That’s exactly what made it so enjoyable: it’s fun to see familiar faces in a comforting setting.

2. The Farmer’s Dog: Forever

Every year, at least a few Super Bowl ads pull at the heartstrings. It’s a tried-and-tested method that never fails to get even the most cynical viewers to sit up and take note. In 2023, a commercial from the subscription service, The Farmer’s Dog, clearly accomplished just that.

This impactful ad followed a familiar, but touching story: the love between a child and her dog — and how it remains constant through adolescence and adulthood.

While it might feel slightly formulaic, this type of commercial is a consistent winner for a reason: it reminds us what really matters — and lets us know that brands, like The Farmer’s Dog are aligned with our deepest-held values. It certainly struck a chord, as it was top dog in the USA Today Ad Meter rankings.

3. Amazon: Saving Sawyer

Again proving that dogs are a recipe for Super Bowl success, Amazon put a different, but highly relatable twist on a familiar concept. The heartwarming Saving Sawyer ad reminded us how far we’ve come and how much we’ve dealt with these past few years. Through brief snippets of conversation, we revisited the biggest shakeups of the era — all from the perspective of a loyal canine companion.

Another central theme in this ad? How dogs and humans alike struggle to adapt to change. For Sawyer, this difficulty surrounded the return of his human companions to the office after constant togetherness during lockdown.

The commercial reminds us that creative solutions are always around the corner; in this instance, a second dog should do the trick. The marketing takeaway, however, involves the enduring power of ad-based storytelling, especially when it contains compelling details from collective experiences such as life during the COVID era.

4. PopCorners: Breaking Good

Following the series finale of Better Call Saul, fans assumed that the world was finally finished with the Breaking Bad universe. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul thought otherwise; they returned to their trusty RV in fine form, just in time for the Super Bowl. They replaced their iconic blue meth with something even more dangerous: mouthwatering chips.

This ad’s unexpected popularity reveals the power of a well-timed and thoroughly unexpected throwback. Just enough time has passed for a Breaking Bad callout to feel exciting but not overplayed. With the fast pace of marketing trends, there’s something to be said for familiar faces and a hilarious premise. This prompted impressive engagement on Twitter, where PopCorners was one of the most talked-about ads of the evening.

The casting and TV parody concept, is not the only part worth remembering, but also, PopCorners’ emphasis on social media promotion before, during, and after the Super Bowl. This digital-first approach produced a lot of buzz, which clearly contributed to the ad’s success.

5. General Motors & Netflix: Why Not an EV?

Every Super Bowl broadcast is packed with automotive ads — and 2023 was no exception. Electrical offerings were a clear theme this year, but one name went above and beyond in its efforts to build goodwill for EVs: General Motors.

GM’s ad stood out simply because the automaker had the foresight to partner with Netflix. The creative premise centered around Netflix’s efforts to incorporate more EVs in its productions.

To drive this theme home, the ad included callouts to top hits of the past few years: Squid Game, Bridgerton, and Stranger Things. Add Will Ferrell to the mix and you have the makings of an unforgettable ad. CMO Deborah Wahl described this strategy as a concerted effort to “place EVs into the epicenter of modern culture.”

There’s little to call groundbreaking about these 2023 Super Bowl ads but that’s not what’s required of a solid commercial. This year’s ads reflect a clear understanding that tradition and throwbacks can pay off, especially when digital channels complement these TV-based efforts. We expect this well-rounded strategy to once again dominate in Super Bowls to come.

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