What Legacy Creative Can Tell Us About Adland’s Biggest (Game) Day in 2023
by Jacob Trussell10 min read
- Teasers for 2023’s Big Game commercials are out, and we’re cross-checking their creative approaches with a legacy QuickFrame by MNTN report to understand just how much has changed (and stayed the same) with video ads during this yearly advertising tradition.
- In 2020, QuickFrame unearthed vital data about what makes an effective commercial during the first big sporting event of the year.
- Their report found that, among other factors, ads with strong bold statements that leveraged humor and sentimentality drove strong performance. But does the same hold true for 2023?
We’re approaching “Football’s Favorite Sunday”, the first huge sporting event of 2023 that is colloquially known as “The Big Game”.
But around here, we like to call it the kick off to a whole new season of advertising.
(Ed. note: by “we like to call it” we really mean “our legal department says we can’t use the official title for the-game-which-shall-not-be-named because #lawsuitstuff.”)
So far, many of the major brands have released previews and teasers of their upcoming slate of commercials for the Big Game. This is a tactic brands have started to employ over the last decade to help build anticipation for the commercial’s debut – as well as squeeze the most juice out of ad creative they no doubt just spent quite a bit of money producing.
According to Statista, in 2020, the cost of ad time during the game hit a record high— $5.6 million for a 30-second spot, which climbed to $6.5 million in 2022. And according to Front Office Sports, the average cost will have increased to upwards of $7 million in 2023.
With a price tag that steep, game day impressions alone are not enough. For advertisers to see a real ROI, their ads need to have sustained impact from Sunday night into Monday morning and beyond. That’s because a winning game day commercial isn’t just seen – it’s shared and remembered. Sometimes even forever.
The early teasers for 2023’s collection of commercials, ranging from major CPG brands like Downy to emerging B2B power players like Workday, have given us a birds-eye view of the tactics that brands are employing for the biggest (ad) creative moment of the year.
But we had a question: how many legacy strategies are represented in this new slate of Big Game commercials?
That’s a question QuickFrame by MNTN can help us answer. In 2020, they ran a study that identified specific video elements within Big Game commercials to see what attributes helped drive a lasting impact on the largest American audience of the year.
QuickFrame unleashed an early iteration of Video Vitals on every Big Game ad from the four years preceding 2020. They compared the elements against USA TODAY’s Ad Meter scores to uncover which video attributes are most strongly tied to viewer preference.
Sample Attributes Analyzed Included:
- Presence of Animals
- Presence of Robots
- Presence of Celebrities
- Audio Style
- Video Style/Format
Here are the insights they uncovered:
Tone: From the ridiculous to the sublime, hitting the right tone – from fun to sentimental – moved audiences to laughter or tears. But was one more effective than the other? It all depends on your vertical. QuickFrame’s study found that humorous ads performed better in the alcohol, automotive, CPG, and finance sectors, whereas sentimental Big Game ads resonated the loudest with audiences in the food and beverage, gaming, tech, and telecom industries.
Gender: How did shifting cultural tides reshape the gender landscape of Big Game ads in 2020? They cast more female-only commercials. While spots that featured both men and women remained the most popular in the years leading up to 2020, the significance of recent cultural movements is evident in the sharp uptick in ads with all-female talent since 2017.
Music: A license for a catchy, recognizable song will increase your production budget, but it will also increase the likelihood that viewers will sing your praises. But if brands have the budget for it, 100%, yes. A catchy, recognizable song will leave a lasting impression on your audience.
Animals: It is no surprise that commercials with animals are enjoyable. I mean, why else do you think they invented The Puppy Bowl? But despite pooches having an outsized presence in that fictional matchup, you may be surprised to know that it was actually cats and reptiles that left a more lasting impression than any other animal in 2020. As someone with a cat for a roommate, sorry not sorry dog lovers.
Robots: Here’s a funny little element that our friends at QuickFrame tracked back then. Apparently, in the years leading up to 2020, marketers were featuring robots more than ever. Yes. Robots. But those commercials became less memorable on average year-over-year, and by 2020 they were consistently struggling to move the needle for audiences. I guess the robot uprising will not be televised.
Messaging: While it may have caused sparks to fly across your living room, commercials that touched on a spectrum of political issues burned into people’s minds. Brands that took a bold stance on social and political issues really struck a chord, proving that an authentic message about a timely, topical cause is more galvanizing than divisive.
Style: You may think that live action commercials are always better than animated ad creative. Not so fast. Choosing whether to shoot a live action commercial or produce an animated spot has little bearing on overall memorability—but it is best to stick to one style. Viewers reportedly responded more negatively in 2020 when ads combined both live action and animated elements.
Celebrities: As much as people tune in for the actual game, many more tune in just for the always anticipated musical halftime show. With that in mind, is it really that strange that viewers preferred to see musicians in star-studded cameos in Big Game ads than athletes, actors, and every other type of celebrity? (Ed. Note: Sorry about that Ryan.)
Analyzing the Slate of 2023 Big Game Commercials
Everyone still loves musicians
Running through all the ads that have been announced or released so far this year and you’ll see one clear common thread: musicians are still the stars of the show.
Find a fan of rock music, and you’ll likely find a fan of Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. After a particularly tragic year for the musician, it’s heartening to see him show up in this ad from what is allegedly one of his favorite alcoholic beverages, Crown Royal.
The ad gets Dave into his comfort zone while also leveraging our natural affection for this talented musician, but it also does something that you’ll see across many early Big Game campaigns. These initial ad spots are nothing but teasers, doling out clues to the ads climax that will be revealed during the Big Game.
Sure one musician is good in an ad. But how about two? The nacho cheese flavored chip brand is looking to harness the fan bases of two hugely popular rappers, Missy Elliott and Jack Harlow, by bringing them together for a “collab.”
Will that collab be a new song? Just this commercial? Something completely different? Only time will tell, but they’ve electrified their campaign by bringing the social sphere into the conversation by hosting a dance contest on TikTok that ran through the first weeks of January. If you’ve got the best “triangle dance”, you may very well join this MissyXHarlow collab.
Oh you only have two musicians in your ad? That’s cute: Workday has five.
Between Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Clark Jr., Joan Jett, and more, this enterprise software company is casting a wide net with whom they are targeting. Each of these musicians come from different genres of rock music, which will resonate with different audience demographics. You only have one shot to make a big splash during your first Big Game ad, and Workday looks like they may have found a recipe for success.
Other celebrities are getting love too
Musicians aren’t the only ones taking center stage for ad creative at this year’s game. Audiences are still receptive to celebrity endorsements from athletes and actors, like Michelob, who plan to recreate famous scenes from the film Caddyshack, swapping out the likes of Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight for Serena Williams and Brian Cox, just to name a few.
Budweiser is also going the actorly route, leveraging the popular game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon by tapping the Baconator himself for their spot.
Not only is he an instantly recognizable face, but our familiarity with these movie mind puzzles can potentially make it easier for audiences to recall the ad well after the game is over. Because the next time you think Six Degrees, your mind will likely connect Kevin Bacon to Budweiser.
The ad campaign Downy has planned for the game is leveraging something a few other brands are doing this year: publicizing how they are not publicizing the celebrity who will endorse their product.
In this spot, the celebrity is masked in a hoodie, telling the audience that they are incredulous to the benefits of Downy. At least, that is, until Football’s Favorite Sunday. Side note: we see you Danny McBride. We. See. You.
Topical messaging works
From getting into the conversation about emerging AI tools to meeting the moment for new trends in consumer consumption habits, video ad creative in 2023 is still leaning into the power of topical messaging.
AI creative tools have been making a lot of waves, and those waves are spilling over into the Big Game. AI tools like ChatGPT have proven divisive over the last year, but brands are leveraging that cultural conversation and curiosity by infusing AI-inclined creative into their ads.
Are they making a profound point? Time will tell, but there is clearly still a lot of upside for being bold with creative messages and concepts.
Over the past few years, alcohol consumption has been noticeably under a microscope as younger demographics begin to reflect on their relationship with booze.
This is in part why many beverage brands have been inspired over the last couple of years to release their own non-alcoholic beers and spirits to target these more health-conscious consumers. And that conscientious messaging for a better way to drink is at the heart of many ads this year, including this Marvel Cinematic Universe themed ad from Heineken.
Robots are still out, creepy CGI babies are back In
Remember the talking baby commercials from E-Trade? Yes, we’re still getting over the nightmares too. But hey, nightmares just means the ads are so memorable that they stick indelibly in our subconscious minds!
You can also argue that this ad is leveraging something that is perpetually popular in advertising: nostalgia. Seeing the familiar face of that deep fake-ish baby will instantly conjure your first terrifying memories of being delivered an ad that lingers in our cultural consciousness.
What’s new for 2023’s Big Game? Bigger Brand Partnerships
We saw quite a lot of mergers last year in the streaming space, from rumors that Disney+ is making moves to claw back Hulu, the flying sparks between Discovery+ and HBO Max, and now the news that Paramount+ is bringing Showtime under their banner. Maybe all those changes should have clued us into a major new trend that is popping up this year: big(ger) brand partnerships.
AdAge reports that Netflix and General Motors are partnering this year for a major push that will see them tap into a topical conversation – the adoption of more electric vehicles – as they leverage Netflix’s assortment of TV shows and movies alongside comedian Will Ferrell. AdAge intimates that we’re seeing a whole new “phase of growth for the trend” with these changes potentially being due to the presence of multi-screen viewing. This likely will lead to even more integrations between your channels, like translating Connected TV content to social media platforms.
As Cristel Russell, professor of marketing at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, told AdAge,
“This new age that we’re in—I call it transmedia—everything is interwoven, intertextual, and so consumers are on multiple social media platforms, they’re multi-screening. It just was a matter of time before we saw more of these partnerships that just take people from one brand to another from one platform to another.”
In the advertising world, video trends emerge quickly and dissipate even faster, but where success is found, strategies are spammed.
As you can see from the current slate of 2023 Big Game ads, the creative elements that worked a few years ago essentially are still represented today. What is clear is that, with each new slate of ads, these strategies are only being reinforced as high-level best practices.
But that doesn’t mean you need all of these elements to make a winning Big Game commercial. We encourage you to still keep an eye on experimentation and ingenuity with your ad creative. After all, remember that the most memorable commercial of 2022 was nothing but a QR code bouncing around a black screen.
But I guess as creative AI tools come more and more online, who knows. A QR Code could be the next hottest celebrity of Big Game advertising.
Subscribe to the MNTN Research Weekly.
Sign up to receive a weekly feed of curated research, sent straight to your inbox.