Super Bowl storytelling: the fumbles and touchdowns (winners / losers)

February 13, 2023

Ads have come a long way over the past few years, moving away from sales focused “buy buy buy” messaging to focus more on storytelling.  It’s been a slow but significant shift as companies have started to focus less on a particular product and more on the brand and what it stands for. 

When it’s done well, the business impact is huge. Converting someone from casual product purchaser to long-term brand loyalist can create a sustainable sales pipeline with readymade brand advocates just waiting to sing your praises to friends and family. 

But not all of this year’s Super Bowl commercials landed their story. 

The Oscars of the Ad World

When it comes to advertising, there’s no bigger spot in the calendar than the Super Bowl. The game itself has almost become a supporting act for the commercials and half-time show. 

Drawing in at least 100 million viewers almost every year, over 40% of people tuning in say they’re watching the Super Bowl for the commercials. 

It’s why companies pay an average of $7 million per 30-second spot – and that’s just for airtime alone, not production costs. 

Big names over big stories 

From A-list actors and chart-topping singers to sports stars, there was no shortage of famous faces in the 2023 Super Bowl commercials

For many of the ads, it felt like a competition to include as many celebrities as possible as a way to grab attention and make it onto one of the many coveted “Best Super Bowl Ad Ever” lists. 

Uber One fell into this trap. Their commercial featured everyone from Montell Jordan and Kelis to Donna Lewis and Ylvis trying – and failing – to resuscitate “What does the Fox Say?”. The result was a disjointed collection of cameos tenuously tied together with a simplistic “one song for Uber One” tagline. 

Doritos took a similar approach, packing together the unlikely combination of Jack Harlow, Missy Elliot and Elton John in a triangle-themed attempt to appeal to everyone that was just a bit… cheesy.  

By focusing on big names rather than a story, these ads feel like a dated step back to those “buy buy buy” commercials – and not in a fun nostalgic way. 

They felt chaotic. Worse still, they were forgettable. 

Selling the story

Some companies managed to fight the temptation to land as many big names as the budget allowed, focusing on creating a story instead. 

Dunkin’ Donuts nailed it. Teaming up with of-the-moment newlyweds Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, it was a masterclass in the power of the unexpected. 

Going to a Dunkin’ drive thru and being served by Ben Affleck? Unexpected. Superstars doing everyday things? Unexpected. JLo eating a donut? Unexpected. 

Wrapped up with the “Get me a glazed” tagline, it’s immediately memorable because of the story it’s told and what that story says about the brand – delicious enough for superstars, but still part of your everyday life. 

Gamification of the game 

Another show-stealing commercial was Molson Coors. With Budweiser ending their 33-year exclusivity deal with the NFL, there was a major opportunity for other alcohol brands.

The pressure was on for booze brands who decided to invest. For their first Super Bowl commercial since the 1980s, Molson Coors perfectly matched their ad to the occasion using gamification and betting through their partnership with DraftKings

Viewers could win a share of $500k through a free-to-play pool on DraftKings where they had to predict the answers to 12 questions, including which Molson Coors beer would be the grand finale of the ad.

With wagers placed on everything from the length of the national anthem to the color of the Gatorade, this commercial was a masterclass in matching an ad to its context and the power of interactivity. 

Why stories matter 

The 2023 Super Bowl ads are an important reminder of the importance and power of storytelling – especially when time is tight. It’s not just that stories entertain, our brains are wired to listen to and react in a more emotional and meaningful way to a story. 

Research by neuroscientists has shown that brain activity increases five fold when we hear a story. More activity means more connections are formed in the brain, helping us remember things better when they’re presented as a story. 

Not only that, but stories also release a burst of Oxytoxin – the feel-good or love hormone that’s mostly associated with bonding. Recall and a sense of connection – the holy grail for advertisers, especially those spending the big bucks to reach millions of Super Bowl viewers. 

It is powerful stuff. Brands that can tell a story shift from demanding attention to earning it, creating a memorable link that’s more likely to last beyond the next commercial break. 

Telling your story 

From pizza to Fintech, the Bodhi & Co. team work with companies around the world to help them define their story and tell it in a way that delivers commercial impact.  Get in touch to tell us more about your brand challenges and find out more about how we could help you tell your story.

Author Headshot

Roanna Lynch

A creative copywriter who really gets the context and company behind the campaign, Roanna helps brands express themselves in a way that’s memorable to the audiences that matter most.

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