America is exhausted and brands offered A-list celebrities and light humor-driven Super Bowl ads.
Advertisers chose to eschew purpose-driven brand ads in a year where the nation is as divided as ever, no one is quite sure where the economy is headed, ESG is contentious, tension with China is increasing and we have seen the Ukrainians fight back against Russia harder than anyone imagined for nearly a year now.
Why it matters:
The Super Bowl is the one time every year that people want to watch the ads, providing advertisers with a prime opportunity to burnish their image.
- This is the night to define, build, or reinforce your brand.
- The best brands choose to highlight who they are, what they stand for and celebrate the people who make them possible—their employees and customers.
- Companies should illustrate how they align to a higher purpose of advocating on behalf of their stakeholders—employees and customers—to bring their expertise and assets to bear to add value to society.
- They do this by telling a compelling story to build an emotional connection.
- In 2023, just two advertisers advocated for its stakeholders—Disney and The Farmer’s Dog.
- WeatherTech is an honorable mention.
Unlike most Super Bowl ad reviews, this one doesn’t focus on identifying the funniest or most popular ad. I use APCO Worldwide’s work Five Acts of Corporate Advocacy, which examines how the best companies fulfill their role as a societal shareholder, as a framework.
- The Disney ad “100 Special Look” hits all the notes of a classic Disney film or trailer. It tells a story, drawing us in with the invitation to “open your eyes” and asking us to “think about the one place you always wanted to see” to propel the story forward. It is a magical ad that evokes memories “from one generation to the next” and across genres (and sub-brands). In its 90-second run time, the ad celebrates storytellers, cast members, and fans, interspersing scenes from movies, series, theme parks and stage productions, with fans in character realizing their dreams, including kids having fun, a marriage proposal and children meeting their idols. The ad concludes with Walt Disney himself distilling the essence of Disney until the end frame displays the ultimate message “You made this dream come true.”
- The Farmer’s Dog “Forever” is a story-driven 60-second ad that follows the life arc of a woman and her dog through the years, drawing us in with the promise to “always take care of you” and proceeding to document that commitment during their time together, first from the woman’s perspective and then through an interesting little snippet based on the dog’s. There is solid storytelling for its brand building effort, with the only indication of the sponsor coming at the end. Its mission of healthier dog food links to the benefits that Bear and Ava derive from it to match its tagline: “Nothing matters more than more years together.”
- The WeatherTech “We All Win” ad has its heart in the right place—it wants to celebrate its workers and show the company’s commitment to America in overcoming the “experts” who said “you can’t do that” to provide “world-class products” by “building our own factories in America” and hiring workers in the United States. However, WeatherTech focuses a little too much on itself and not enough on its workers and the consumers who benefit from their effort. Expanding the 30-second ad to 60 would allow them to tell a worker’s story that might make that emotional connection that is missing, even with the “when you buy something made in America, we all win” sentiment at the end.
- In the USA Today Ad Meter ratings The Farmer’s Dog took the top spot while Disney came in at #9 and WeatherTech at #30.
Did this year’s ads strike the right balance given the nation’s mood? Perhaps.
Overall, most brands missed an opportunity, and I applaud those who advocated in the right way by focusing on their audience, recognizing and embracing their strengths, and acting in a way that is authentic to their brand.