ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Here’s what you can expect from Super Bowl commercials this Sunday

Feb 10, 2024, 6:00 PM

This image provided by Paramount shows the Paramount+ 2024 Super Bowl NFL football spot....

This image provided by Paramount shows the Paramount+ 2024 Super Bowl NFL football spot. (Paramount via AP)

(Paramount via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Big name advertisers will be pulling out all the stops on Super Bowl Sunday — enlisting high-profile actors, investing in dazzling special effects and, they hope, going for laughs as they seek to win over viewers during game breaks.

In an increasingly fractured and polarized media environment — and with fewer people watching live TV — the Super Bowl is an anomaly. The big game’s viewership has actually increased, with a record 115.1 million people tuning in last year.

So marketers will use the game on Sunday, which will air on CBS and stream on Paramount+, to draw attention to new products, brand extensions and their marketing message as they again vie for the eyes of more than 100 million expected viewers.

Almost as an escape from the divisive U.S. presidential election and conflicts deepening around the world, most Super Bowl advertisers appear to be doubling down on flights of fantasy or light humor, often with a dose of nostalgia and a lot of mini-reunions of TV characters.

“Serious is out,” said Kimberly Whitler, marketing professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. “Marketers have figured out entertainment, enjoyment and escapism is the name of the ad game.”

Many Super Bowl commercials have already been released. Here’s what we know heading into this year’s big game.

TV SHOW MINI-REUNIONS

Perhaps taking a cue from the success of last year’s PopCorners ad that featured a reunion of “Breaking Bad” actors stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, this year there’s a slew of mini TV show reunions in ads.

T-Mobile, which has been reuniting Scrubs co-stars in Super Bowl ads since 2022, teams up Zach Braff and Donald Faison to sing a version of “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” with Jason Momoa — along with a cameo by Jennifer Beals.

In an ad stuffed with celebrity cameos — including “Judge Judy” Judy Sheindlin — e.l.f. cosmetics reunited “Suits” stars Gina Torres, Rick Hoffman and Sarah Rafferty in a courtroom spoof.

NBC sitcoms have quite a few reunion moments during the game. In an Uber Eats ad, which shows people forgetting things so they remember Uber Eats can deliver a wide variety of items, Jennifer Aniston seemingly forgets she ever worked with her “Friends” co-star David Schwimmer.

In an ad for Mtn Dew Baja Blast, Aubrey Plaza says she can have a ‘Blast’ doing anything, including reuniting with her “Parks and Rec” boss Nick Offerman as they fly on dragons.

And in an ad for Booking.com, Tina Fey hires body doubles to stay at different lodging because she has so many options on the site, including her “30 Rock” co-stars Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer.

Bringing well-known TV show characters together can help connect to the audience, said Northwestern University marketing professor Tim Calkins.

“A younger, more on-trend figure might be more exciting, but could lack the awareness of these well-established characters,” he said. “Surprise is a key element of Super Bowl advertising, so unexpected reunions can work well.”

NOSTALGIA, LIGHT HIJINKS

Humor and a touch of nostalgia can be found in many ads. Molson Coors ‘ ad brings back their “Chill Train” that last appeared in advertisements nearly two decades ago, in 2005. A tongue-in-cheek ad shows the train crashing into a football watching party to bring partiers Coors Light. LL Cool J turns out to be the conductor.

For Sofia Colucci, chief marketing officer for Molson Coors, which is advertising for the second year after Anheuser-Busch ended its decades long exclusive sponsorship of the game, the Super Bowl is a unique venue to reach existing customers and attract new ones.

“One of the things we’re really trying to be thoughtful about is making sure that we are retaining and protecting our core drinkers at the same time attracting new drinkers,” she said. “The Super Bowl is a huge stage where you do have that opportunity to talk widely to those audiences.”

In another hijink-filled ad, Doritos introduces its new Dinamita chips — the 24th year Doritos is advertising in the Super Bowl — by depicting two grandmotherly women in a store with actress Jenna Ortega. They reveal their action-prowess by taking off to pursue “Top Gun: Maverick” actor Danny Ramirez who grabbed the last bag of chips from a store shelf.

Frito-Lay North America CMO Brett O’Brien says Dinamitas is aiming to reach a “multicultural young audience” aged 16 to 24.

CELEBRITIES ABOUND

There are always tons of celebrities in ads, and the star power seems to go up and up every year.

“It’s celebrity on steroids right now,” Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter’s Jessica D. Collins said. While that is not necessarily new or surprising for the Super Bowl, she added, “it’s just going to be so heightened this year.”

That means big names like Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in a State Farm ad, Ice Spice making an appearance for Starry, Christopher Walken facing imitations of himself for BMW, and Super Bowl Halftime Show headliner Usher showing up in an Uber Eats’ spot.

Many ads have stuffed multiple celebrities in ads. Beyond the TV show reunions, Michelob Ultra features soccer legend Lionel Messi, “Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis and retired Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. BetMGM features Vince Vaughn, Tom Brady and Wayne Gretzky. And Paramount+ touts a star-filled lineup, including Drew Barrymore, Sir Patrick Stewart and Creed.

Squarespace also hired a big name for behind the camera with Martin Scorsese directing his first Super Bowl ad for the domain hosting site.

While star-power is exciting, it’s always possible to overdo it. Advertisers can risk viewers remembering what stars they saw in a commercial but not the brand name, University of Minnesota associate professor of marketing Linli Xu notes.

One organic way advertisers can pull off celebrity appearances is to choose a featured star that already has a connection to the brand, Collins said, or tap into a recent pop culture moment.

“A lot of times you’ll see a celebrity just show up and you’re like, ‘That person would have never used that product. Why are they there?'” she said.

SOME SERIOUS MOMENTS

Of course, this year’s Super Bowl commercials won’t all be laughs.

Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism has said it will run an ad featuring Martin Luther King Jr.’s speechwriter Dr. Clarence B. Jones. Dove’s ad focuses on the fact that low body-confidence leads to girls quitting sports. And Google’s heartstring-pulling ad follows a blind man as he uses “Guided Frame” — Google’s A.I.-powered accessibility feature for the Pixel camera that uses a combination of audio cues, high-contrast animations and tactile vibrations — to take pictures of the people and places in his life.

SURPRISES

As always, there will still be some game day surprises. Some advertisers such as Amazon have stayed mum on any plans. Upstart e-commerce site Temu has reportedly bought several ads. In a presidential election year, it’s possible we might see a candidate ad. And while there have been no indications of such, many wonder if advertisers will capitalize on this year’s Taylor Swift buzz in some way.

Regardless of whether or not she makes her way into the commercial-side of the big game, marketers say advertisers are taking note of the “Taylor Swift effect” and trying to reach everyone, not just sports fans.

“We have people that have never watched Football a day in their life now watching the entire game — not just for the ads, but for the game itself and for the celebrity sightings,” Collins said.

___
An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the names of Jennifer Aniston, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wayne Gretzky and Martin Scorsese.

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Here’s what you can expect from Super Bowl commercials this Sunday