What can small businesses learn from this year’s ad spend at Super Bowl LVI? A LOT. Our team spent Sunday afternoon together geeking out watching and re-watching Super Bowl ads. It was a challenge because the ads move fast! Some ads – too few, in fact – really grabbed our attention and had us pausing speed typing into our shared spreadsheet because even our hardened marketing selves were not strong enough to break from their spell.
YEAH YEAH Agency is here to boil down the biggest trends so you can direct your creative advertising strategy in ways that are most effective. Now, we’re not saying that following these trends is the most effective course of action for you, but we can definitely learn from the way the public reacts after each ad. We can make key decisions when targeting your prospects. In this analysis, we put together the biggest themes and what we can learn from them. What was our favorite ad this year, you ask? Great question! We’ll answer that at the end.
We’ve retired the phrase “in these difficult times.” People don’t want to be reminded of the pandemic. This year’s commercials were all about levity, escapism, and “vibes.” And oh did we heard the word “vibe.” A lot. While brands striving to be associated with a positive feeling isn’t new, over the last couple of years many companies have put more effort into addressing social concerns, not wanting to seem tone-deaf. Maybe on other days this will continue, but most brands seemed to have realized that nobody wanted that from their Super Bowl commercials in 2022. The somber undertone that marked much of 2020-2021 is gone. Now, the ads tell us, is the time to travel! Invest! Take risks! Stream a movie! Gamble! Buy a new car! Drink!
Crypto Believers Need a Name
Social concerns were pointedly ignored, but interestingly, so were many concerns with some of the products advertised. Cryptocurrency ads, especially, seemed to choose to speak mainly to people who are already believers –– we don’t know what to call them –– extolling the positives rather than addressing any concerns that many people have, like high volatility, environmental damage of “mining,” not to mention the intimidation of testing something new with their own money. It’s an interesting decision, underlining the almost frenetic positivity of the whole day, as though advertisers thought that by addressing potential negatives of cryptocurrency, they’d be announcing those concerns to people who had never heard them before. Their strategy seemed to be to convince people who were already in to invest more, rather than convert new investors.
Any Time But Now!
Nostalgia was huge, and for obvious reasons, nostalgia ruled the day not so long ago. Pairing a throwback song with a more recent popular celebrity or look was one way some brands targeted multiple generations at the same time. A T-Mobile commercial featured two actors from Scrubs, a show that aired its final episode in 2010 and was popular among older Millennials and younger Gen X. The actors sang a parody cover of West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty,” taking the nostalgia even farther back. Bud Light NEXT targeted both Gen Z and Baby Boomers at the same time by pairing what we’re calling a “Gen Z aesthetic” with a classic Barbra Streisand song. A Kia commercial paired our society’s current deep love for dogs with Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Multiple commercials featured ancient Greek mythology, others ancient Egypt, even cavemen, adding to the feeling of “any time but this time.”
Streaming Service Wars: Netflix and Please Chill
The final trend we found interesting was the direction that streaming services took. Streaming services used to emphasize the variety and options available on their platform. That no longer seems to be much of a selling point—we’re saturated with options. Instead of promoting all the different things you can watch, the streaming services chose to release a trailer for something specific instead. Building hype for their original content, giving the audience one clear call to action—“watch this!”—and not adding to the decision fatigue plaguing so many of us? Honestly, a very smart move.
Other working titles for this section included:
- Netflix and Disney+ and Prime, oh my
- Six streaming services walk into a Super Bowl party
- Every streaming service wore the same outfit to the party and it was super embarrassing for everyone
To Hell With Cute
A common advertising trope that was noticeably missing? Cuteness. Even brands that frequently feature puppies didn’t really focus on those this year. There were few babies, small children, happy couples, adorable animals (with the exception of the tiny Pegasus in the BMW commercial featuring Selma Hayek and Arnold Schwarzenegger—that was VERY cute). When children were shown, cuteness wasn’t the main idea. Liquid Death’s advertisement featured very young children who appeared to be underage drinking, giving an impression of chaos rather than sweetness. Rocket Mortgage’s ad featured children playing with Barbies, but again, the message was the stress of home-buying, not how cute the children were. E*Trade resurrected their campaign of eight years ago featuring a baby with an adult voice, perfectly exemplifying this year’s trend of using cuteness to subvert expectations and provide some shock rather than cuteness for the sake of cuteness. This, again, is likely due to the older male audience being targeted. The theme of the day was escapism, nostalgia, and silliness—not warm fuzzies.
Somber: Out; Fun: In!
What we’re taking away from the 2022 Super Bowl ad experience: as always, people remember how they felt more than what they heard. Funny is good, aesthetics are good, and aligning your brand with good feelings is always good. Right now people are tired of apprehensive, somber tones and want some fun again. Targeting different audiences with different elements of your media can be a pretty successful move.
And for the love of all that is holy, we never want to hear the phrase “unprecedented times” ever again.
YYA’S FIELD GOAL AWARD WINNER
The ad that had us the most excited turns out to be one that was widely panned after – so who knows, a lot of this is subjective and we can’t please everyone, but YEAH YEAH’s award for attention-grabbing goodness goes to:
COINBASE with their 80s inspired VHS-Atari pong QR code. At the end of the day, Coinbase wins YEAH YEAH’s Super Ads Hole FIELD GOAL Award for pure originality!
YYA’S BLACK HOLE AWARD “WINNER”
And YEAH YEAH’s Super Ads Hole BLACK HOLE Award goes to Meta’s Quest 2 virtual reality headset in an ad that zigged where everyone else zagged. Where others shunned the cutesy, Meta gave us an adorable animatronic dog and then attempted to mercilessly crush his head in a trash compactor right before our eyes. Any time but now? We were all happy to travel back in time to our favorite childhood pizza joint. But Meta took us there only to SHUT IT RIGHT DOWN, again right before our eyes. Sadistic much? Nostalgia was a big trend. But let’s see how Meta did it. Nostalgia is a great way to escape the sometimes harsh realities of the present, but please do not start by mapping out in painstaking detail, minute by minute, how terrible our lives really are, thank you very much. We threw this ad straight into the black hole even before we were tempted to dive into the abyss ourselves just to escape it.
In summary, here are some multi-million dollar tips based on Super Bowl ads for your small business marketing:
- Retire using “in these difficult times” or any pandemic-era language
- Is there a nostalgic or escapist quality you can tie to your brand? If so, use it in your marketing!
- Follow the streaming services’ example by highlighting your best product or service. What would a “movie trailer” of your product look/sound like? What emotion would it convey to get your customers or prospects to buy?
- Anything “not cute” or silly you could use to draw attention to your brand?
- Fun is IN.
- Oh! And don’t run an ad with a sentient being about to be crushed by a trash compactor. Unless you’re Star Wars: A New Hope.