2022 Super Bowl Advertising

By Tim Calkins and Derek D. Rucker

The 2022 Super Bowl was one of the most watched television programs ever in the United States with estimated audience of over 100 million viewers. The football was exciting, and the advertising was just as engaging.

For the 18th year, a panel of Kellogg MBA students evaluated all the ads to identify which ones took full advantage of the opportunity and which ones might have settled for less effective work. This year’s panel featured over 60 students and was back in-person after a virtual event in 2021. You can see the 2021 results here.

Below are the rankings and our thoughts on the specific spots.


Strong Spots: Grade A

Uber Eats

The top ad in the 2022 Super Bowl, according to the Kellogg panel, was the spot from Uber Eats. The ad featured people eating all sorts of unexpected items like cat litter and candles, confused because the items were delivered by Uber Eats.

The spot scored well because it attracted attention and had terrific branding and linkage. The message was clear and it was not easy to substitute another brand. You can easily imagine the creative brief behind this spot.

We were worried this ad could suffer from negative amplification, and the only thing people would remember would be the distasteful imagery. Apparently, that wasn’t a problem; the creative seemed to deftly thread that needle.


Cheetos/Doritos

Frito-Lay ran a spot for both Cheetos and Doritos. Including both brands was an efficient move.

The spot also worked! The ad dramatized Flamin’ Hot and was exceptionally strong: the message and branding were very clear.

One of the great things about this spot is that it completely revolved around the product; this really boosted linkage.

One of our favorite moments is near the end when the sloth scampers off with the chips.


BMW

This was a classic Super Bowl ad: big celebrities, big production, big idea. It was funny and charming. We particularly liked the teaser spot featuring the barista trying to pronounce Zeus and having lots of trouble.

The message comes through: BMW has an electric car, and it is the ultimate electric driving machine.

And, while the panel graded it an A, the spot is not without its concerns. There seem to be two important questions when it comes to electric vehicles. First, is an EV a realistic alternative to a traditional car? How long is the range? How about the charging time? Second, why is a BMW EV better than a Tesla?

This spot doesn’t address either question. It just communicates that BMW has an EV. Establishing category membership is a fine start, but BMW quickly needs to get to the differentiation question. As our review is only a snapshot in time, it will be interesting to see how the brand differentiates in other channels.


Google

The Super Bowl spot from Google was elegant. The ad talked about the challenge of photographing people with darker skin and noted that the Google Pixel has new technology that addresses the problem.

The messages here: Google has great technology and is helping people of color. Instead of just saying that Google supports diversity, the company is taking action, and doing something about it.

Pixel is a small player in the world of smart phones, so Google is celebrating a technology that will have limited reach.

Still, we don’t think that matters; Google will get credit for addressing an important issue and might force Apple and Samsung to do the same. Moreover, when you think about the Google brand as approachable and inclusive, the ad certainly builds on this part of the brand’s personality.


Coinbase

The most unexpected spot on the Super Bowl was the ad from Coinbase that featured a QR code floating around the screen. That’s it. As one panel member observed, “sometimes times simplicity is the strongest way to get attention.”

The code led to a Coinbase landing page where new customers could get $15 for signing up.

This spot rose to the top of the Kellogg rankings because it was unexpected and different.

Coinbase deserves credit for recognizing that the QR code is firmly entrenched in society. Over the past two years, we’ve all learned what to do. If you see a QR code, you scan it.

The spot worked! More than twenty-million people visited, crashing the site. Of course, there are still a number of open questions. Will the website visits result in valuable customers? That remains to be seen.


Planters

When a spot revolves around your product, you are likely to get good linkage. That was certainly the case for Planters, with a spot that featured a debate around eating mixed nuts. Is it best to eat them one at a time or all together? The benefit came through without being clearly stated: these are terrific nuts.


Amazon Alexa

Amazon is perhaps the #1 Super Bowl advertiser over the past five years. The company has rolled out a series of strong spots, all based on the same basic concept: big celebrities interact with Alexa. This year’s spot featuring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost continued the tradition. Branding and linkage were strong. The spot demonstrated Alexa’s functionality.

Some people worried that the concept of Alexa potentially reading your mind was a little too close to home. Still, overall, this spot continues Amazon’s remarkable streak of excellent Super Bowl ads.


Lay’s

In Lay’s Super Bowl ad, Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd look back over the years. Lay’s was part of every story.

Strong branding, good breakthrough and excellent linkage help this spot.

Strategically it is more debatable; we aren’t sure that saying a brand has been around a long time will drive sales.


Avocados from Mexico

How do you bring together a divided crowd? Bring out the food and the avocados! This spot positioned avocados as a delicious food that everyone likes. It is a natural at a party.

Perhaps in our fractured society we need more avocados.

The Low Scores: Grades D/F

Salesforce

Where should we start on this spot? There are so many problems. We lost count of the missed opportunities with this ad, but here are some highlights:

First, the linkage it terrible. Pretty much any brand could show up at the end of this spot and it wouldn’t affect the delivery. That is never a good sign.

Second, the positioning just doesn’t come through at all. What is Salesforce, anyway? Why should we use it? What is the benefit?

Third, this spot feels like inside baseball; this is just Salesforce taking a shot at Meta. It seems like San Francisco technology executives attacking each other.

There were a couple cute rhymes in this ad but not much else to like.


Toyota

This spot is heartwarming, the story of the McKeever brothers. It is a tale of commitment and brothers and excellence.

The problem is the ad has no linkage to Toyota. Yes, Toyota salutes these brothers. But why does that mean we should buy a Toyota? We have no idea.


GM

One thing is clear from the GM spot: the company is willing to spend to build its EV business. Last year GM ran a big spot with Will Ferrell; this year the company is using Dr. Evil.

The spot certainly stood out; it was charming and funny and engaging. For fans of Dr. Evil, this was a nice continuation of the saga. However, in some ways that’s the problem: it was more about Dr. Evil than the brand. Indeed, the ad had weak branding and linkage.

GM and BMW (and Kia!) have the same problem. It isn’t enough the say you have an EV; you have to address the two big issues: convincing people that EVs are a viable alternative, and then convincing them that you have a better EV.

Other Notable Spots

Greenlight (B)

One of the funniest spots was from Greenlight Financial featuring Ty Burrell. He wanders through life buying one impractical thing after another, “I’ll take it!” He is then out of money. It is a fabulous piece of film.

The problem? Linkage, branding and positioning. Who is Greenlight? Why should we use it?


Irish Spring (B)

Anyone who likes brands has to be pulling for the revitalization of Irish Spring. This old brand has lost its way. The Super Bowl spot is part of an effort to give the brand some new life.

Does it work?

Yup. The branding is strong, it attracts attention, and the benefit comes across: a good smell. We are now excited to keep an eye on this brand.


Hellmann’s (B)

Unilever has received a lot of criticism for its support of brand purpose – the idea that a brand should stand for something beyond its purely functional purpose. Hellmann’s helps the world by reducing food waste.

Take that brand purpose, combine it with Terry Tate, Jerod Mayo and Hellmann’s and what do you get? A charming mess.

How does Hellmann’s help with food waste? It isn’t entirely clear.


Meta (B)

What is the metaverse? According to Meta’s Super Bowl spot, a place you can go when your real life is a depressing mess.

Down and out stuffed animals recreate their prior and more joyful life on the metaverse.

Really?


Budweiser (C)

It was great to see the Clydesdales back on the Super Bowl, and the message of resilience was an inspiration, connecting to the rebounding country.

The spot didn’t work quite as well as some of the classic Budweiser spots; the emotions didn’t develop in our audience. The longer cut of the ad was much stronger; it takes time to develop a story.

Will it sell more beer? Will we be seeing a return of the Clydesdales? Will Budweiser reclaim its place atop Super Bowl greatness in the year to come? We are left with more questions than answers.


FTX (B)

In a charming spot, FTX showed Larry David missing out on one great technology after the next: the wheel, the toilet, democracy. When he dismisses crypto currency, the implication is that once again he is getting it wrong. The ad closes with “Don’t be like Larry. Don’t miss out on the next big thing.”

Buried in the spot, and lasting about one second, is the only notable line about FTX: “It’s a safe and easy way to get into crypto.”

The ad doesn’t cover the important questions. Why invest in crypto? Why is FTX a good place to invest?


Carvana (B)

This is a fun, simple ad featuring a lady who just can’t stop talking about her car buying experience on Carvana.

It is a solid spot: the entire commercial is a celebration of the joys of using Carvana.

The challenge with a spot like this is making it interesting enough that people will watch it. The creative situations work.


Vroom (C)

In a big Super Bowl spot, Vroom takes us through the highs and lows of selling a car on your own. Apparently, it isn’t so easy.

Vroom is a simple solution. The company will buy your car and show up to take it away.

This is a pretty good spot. The C grade is likely because the focus of the spot is on the woman’s story, not the Vroom solution.


eToro (C)

Sometimes we come across an advertisement that leaves us simply lost. The eToro spot falls into this camp. It starts off well enough: “Crypto? Stocks? Where to start?” This established the frame of reference: we are in the world of investment.

Then? People fly around and we get “The Power of Social Investing.”

Hmmm.

What is eToro? What is social investing? Would that be subscribing to a dating app? Buying Meta stock? An investment club?


Hologic (C)

One of the most insightful and beautiful spots was from Hologic. The ad featured Mary J. Blige and cut between her active, vibrant life and healthcare. It taps into an insight: there is life, and there is healthcare. These are two different things, and we all navigate that strange balance, ideally seeing as little of the medical side as possible.

The problem here is that Hologic didn’t explain what it is (a new pharmaceutical company focused on women’s health), or why we should care about it.


Chevy Silverado (C)

Fans of the Sopranos might have liked the Silverado spot. We did not. Most of it was someone driving through a city: no linkage, no branding.

And once again, the strategic questions go unanswered. Is it time to get an electric vehicle? Why is the Silverado better than other ones?



Overall, it was a year with strong advertising. Advertisers are being careful with the spots; there were few risky spots, and no disasters. This all makes sense given the huge investment and intense scrutiny.

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