The Creative Things We Learned from 2023’s Biggest Game Day Commercials


  • The Big Game is over and the 2023 advertising season has officially begun.
  • Taking USA Today’s Ad Meter Score, EDO’s Ad Rankings, and YouTube’s viewing metrics, we’ve analyzed the creative to determine who were the real winners and losers from Football’s Favorite Sunday.
  • We’ve also cross-checked 2023’s favorite commercials with QuickFrame by MNTN’s 2020 Big Game report to see what best practices did (and didn’t) hold true three years later.

Do you sense that stillness in the air? It’s what happens when a million marketers untangle the anxiety-induced knots in their stomach after launching a major new ad campaign. What can we say? It’s been pedal to the metal in adland for the last few weeks, and now we all get to ease off the brakes a bit as we put the “Big Game” in our rearview mirrors.

Whether you were disappointed or captivated by the creative, it’s hard to overstate the impact Game Day ads make on TV’s biggest annual audience.

But which ads actually resonated the loudest? Well, that’s a whole other story.

One of the first things the industry noticed in the days following the Big Game is that adland didn’t exactly see eye to eye on which ads performed the best. To illustrate this, here’s a breakdown of the top performing ads of the night as ranked by USA Today’s Ad Meter Score, EDO’s Ad Rankings, and viewership metrics from YouTube.

Celebrities Were the Thing (But Maybe Too Much of the Thing?)

Of the fifteen videos featured as the top ads across all three reports, eleven of them had some kind of celebrity endorsement, from actors to athletes and musicians. According to EDO, “Super Bowl ads featuring a celebrity have outperformed those without celebs by 25% for the past three years.” 

They highlighted that the top five celebrities featured in “non-entertainment spots that were most likely to generate consumer engagement than the median-performing celebrity” were: 

  • John Travolta in T-Mobile’s Summer Nights (24x more likely) 
  • Bradley Cooper in T-Mobile’s Ad Attempt (12.3x more likely)
  • Nick Jonas in Dexcom’s Feels Like Magic (11.1x more likely)
  • Chris Stapleton in Ram’s The Next Stage (7.9x more likely)
  • Alicia Silverstone in Rauten’s Clueless About Retail (7.4x more likely)

Here’s the thing though: when does a celebrity’s appearance lift up your brand’s name, and when does it overshadow it? That was something our Chief Creative Officer Ryan Reynolds had on his mind during a recent interview with CNBC. 

Despite being a major celeb himself, he made a salient point about the overt usage of celebrity endorsements in ad campaigns. As he told CNBC, “I think sometimes brands can make a big impact, but sometimes they fail to create a groundswell about the actual brand itself. Like a lot of times you’ll look at an ad and go ‘Oh, I like the Jason Momoa ad!’ and then at the same time you’ll think, ‘Ok, what was he – what was that for though?’ So, I think it’s always a tricky balancing act.”

So, yes, celebrities can bring outsized attention to your Big Game commercials, but their sheer popularity could very well overshadow the viewer’s memory of the ad. So much so that they may completely forget the brand, and only remember the celebrity spokesperson. As Ryan concluded, “I do think that just in the long run, the 364 other days during the year, you want to be moving at a little bit more of an impressive speed, culturally. I think these days ads should be disposable, really, because it’s brands that need to last. 

What Changed About Big Game Ads from 2020 to 2023?

Whether you were excited or disappointed by the Big Game ads of 2023, there are still valuable lessons to glean, especially when contrasted with the previous best practices that were surfaced in QuickFrame by MNTN’s Big Game creative report from 2020. 

Let’s cross-check those findings with what we saw on Football’s Favorite Sunday of 2023.

Dog’s Are Back with a Vengeance

Remember how we said that by 2020, audiences were more responsive to ads featuring reptiles and cats over dogs? The same doesn’t totally hold true in 2023. 

According to USA Today’s Ad Meter score, the most popular ad of the night was The Farmer’s Dog “Forever” commercial. The power of the spot is derived from a best practice we’ve impressed on our readers time and again: ads that instigate relatable emotions are extremely engaging. 

Seeing the graceful aging of a dog, from their owner’s childhood through to adulthood, surfaces your own emotional relationship with your pets, both past and present. The ad pulled our heartstrings so tightly you probably weren’t the only one who screamed at your friends during the game “I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING” as you wrapped your pets up in a downpour of affection.

Not to be completely outdone (though not quite as emotionally devastating) Amazon’s Save Sawyer ad also saw a pooch take center stage. Here the ad highlights a different part of the dog-owning experience: watching them absolutely destroy your house when you are away. It hits on an authentic experience that’s made even more engaging by the narrative being told through the perspective of the dog. Maybe that’s the ultimate lesson here. Don’t just make an animal the center of attention: tell their story. Chances are, audience’s will be able to relate to it just as much as if you were telling the story from the eyes of the pup’s human.

Move Over Musicians

I hope you called to congratulate all of the celebrity actors and athletes in your life: they crushed it at 2023’s Big Game. 

While QuickFrame’s 2020 analysis found that musicians were more popular than other types of celebrities, the top ads of 2023 all featured actors, either recreating famous moments from their career (see: Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston for PopChips or T-Mobile’s John Travolta spot) or watching them live out their own authentic lives (i.e Miles Teller for Pepsi or Bradley Cooper for T-Mobile). 

Audiences were also receptive to athletes during 2023’s game. One of the top spots of the night went to the NFL, who saw strong engagement for their ad highlighting emerging athletes in a style of football that really deserves more of our attention.

With that being said, musicians still did make an impact – specifically in an ad that had a ton of them. Workday’s ad, featuring a rogues gallery of popular rock stars, landed in the number ten spot of USA Today’s top ads.

How Did The Big Game Ads Drive Engagement Off the TV Screen?

While USA Today’s Ad Meter score is based on ratings from panelists, and YouTube aggregates views of individual videos, measurement platform EDO tallied their score “based on the measure of incremental online engagement for a brand or product immediately following the airing.”

Because all of these reports are measuring a different facet of the ads performance, discrepancies arise between what is considered the best ad of the night. 

For instance, according to EDO, Live Nation’s spot for U2’s “Live at the Sphere” tour and Temu’s “Shop like a Billionaire” campaign both landed in the top five ads that drove the most online engagement. 

However, according to USA Today, those same two ads were rated the absolute lowest.

EDO’s score also highlights the outsized impact of non-product advertising during the Big Game. Of their top five spots, only one was for a product or service. The others were trailers for a movie and a concert, one for a non-profit organization, and the other a brand awareness play for Disney’s 100th anniversary. 

I’d argue that this inadvertently underlines the less-than-valuable nature of this kind of data for SMB and B2B marketers. Of course the commercials that drove the biggest engagement were spots that inspired a pop culture conversation – which trailers lends themselves more towards than a product ad. This isn’t exactly an actionable insight most brands across industries can carry into their own video ad campaigns, because most brands aren’t promoting a major blockbuster movie.

However, what EDO’s report does reinforce is that marketers can’t think solely about performance on the TV screen – those campaigns must be driving viewers to take action online, whether it’s with an eCommerce website, or to drive engagement on video-first social media channels, like TikTok.

Linear TV (Still) Only Gets You So Far

If there’s one overarching advertising truth that the Big Game illuminates every year, it’s that you need to always look beyond the big-budget Linear TV commercial. To truly compete in the modern streaming era, you need to extract yourself from broadcast and focus on producing a continuous stream of fresh video ads that take people from the big screen in their living rooms to the small screens at their fingertips.

But that doesn’t mean every new video ad has to be a net-new video ad. Think about it: Brands just threw a ton of money at their ad creative. Rather than letting those ads be a flash in the pan, brands should look for ways to be agile with the footage they have, repurposing existing multi-million dollar creative into videos that feel new – even when they aren’t.

This is super important when you consider that Linear’s viewership (and efficacy) are precipitating dramatically to the point of utter extinction. Tubi’s recent report, The Stream 2023: Actionable Audience Insights for Brands, found that 3 out of 4 consumers agree that AVODs are a practical alternative to cable and satellite TV. Diving further into that, according to Samba TV’s “State of Viewership” report:

  • Less than half of US households watched linear TV every day in 2Q22, with average daily reach in 3Q22 the lowest it has been in the past seven quarters.
  • Less than half (48%) of US adults have a monthly cable or satellite subscription, including 65% of Gen Z.

Long story short: if you want to drive the most impact with your ads, think beyond the bunny ears, and reinvest your marketing budgets into Connected TV (CTV) advertising.


We know what you’re thinking: Will these Big Game advertising tactics hold true come 2024? 

As illustrated by QuickFrame’s 2020 analysis, maybe not? 

But if there is one major prediction we absolutely see in our Magic 8 Ball it’s this: we’re most likely only a decade and change away from Football’s Favorite Sunday becoming the biggest streaming event of the year. 

Currently, the NFL has an exclusive (and recently renewed) agreement with broadcast networks for the Big Game that won’t expire until 2033. If Linear TV already has one foot in the grave today, don’t you think they’re destined to be six feet under a decade from now?

Can this change happen fast enough? Not really. But once that switch inevitably occurs, Big Game ads will become more powerful – and valuable – for advertisers wanting to supercharge their campaigns (after dropping heavy dimes on their creative) through the secretly awesome performance of CTV advertising.

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