The Super Bowl ads showed celebrities rule the world. We’re just buying stuff in it
Super Bowl Sunday is the one day of the year that television viewers look forward to commercials. Those 30-second spots that interrupted the suspense of “Mission: Impossible” and the comedic flow of “Seinfeld” way back in the 20th century are embraced as a time-honored tradition during the NFL’s annual championship showdown.
Those who grew up before the advent of the DVR and streaming subscriptions can identify one another, generationally, by the jingle lodged in their subconscious: “You sunk my battleship.” “My bologna has a first name …” “Where’s the beef?” “Gimme a break, gimme a break...” But they’ve long since been relegated to the trash heap — nostalgia drawer? — of pop culture history, as broadcast television’s monopoly ended, and with it the Don Draper era, in which a single memorable ad could enchant a nation. “I’d like to buy the world a Coke...”
These days, though, programming breaks are dominated by soft-focus pharmaceutical ads that try their best not to stand out when promising eczema or depression medications that help folks blend in. They often run in tandem with the artless pitches of law offices waging class action suits against drug manufacturers. Which means making an ad that becomes renowned for its innovation, sharp humor and cultural resonance comes down to the last remaining occasion when millions of American viewers are willing to do what their parents or grandparents had to: watch commercials.
To hold our attention, Super Bowl LVI leaned hard on star power, both in the stands and in the ads. They showed up in person at SoFi stadium, a brand-new venue in Inglewood, just 16 miles outside Hollywood. (For those who don’t live here, that equals an hour and 15 minutes in L.A. traffic.) But they were omnipresent in the commercials. Matthew McConaughey, Zendaya, Paul Rudd, Salma Hayek, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Davidson were among the famous faces recruited to create buzz around such exciting products as ... mayonnaise.
Younger viewers aren’t watching TV, but ad-makers are finding a way to reach them through the big game.
Scarlett Johansson and husband Colin Jost featured in one of the better spots. Amazon’s “Mind Reader” shows what might happen if Alexa could read the minds of her users. When the couple wakes up and Johansson yawns, Alexa activates “ordering mouthwash.” She turns on the blender to mute Jost’s boring, pointless ramble. She schedules a calendar date for Jost to fake his own death so he can get out of watching Johansson perform in a play. And when he asks Johansson if she gets turned on while filming love scenes with hot actors, Alexa betrays her “No” by playing Fleetwood Mac’s “Tell Me Lies.” (We can assume the ad’s reminder of Alexa’s potential as a corporate surveillance device was inadvertent.)
Other standout appearances included “Sopranos” stars Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler reprising the HBO series’ theme song for a Chevrolet ad; a cavalcade of stars — Jennifer Coolidge, Gwyneth Paltrow, Trevor Noah, “Succession’s” Cousin Greg — eating household items like diapers and candles (yes, really) to endorse Uber Eats; and the expected flurry of celebrity cryptocurrency endorsements. If even Larry David buys into crypto, the suggestion went, who are we to question it?
Celebrities are particularly useful when the brand they’re paired with is something consumers have never heard of or don’t understand. Ty Burrell’s familiar face and affable goofiness were able to grab the attention of potential Greenlight customers in “I’ll Take it” — even if they (still) don’t know that Greenlight is a financial tech company. See also: McConaughey in a spacesuit, in a hot air balloon, waving at office workers and farmers alike, spreading the word about Salesforce. They look puzzled, just like you will after watching this ad.
Ultimately, though, some of the freshest concepts came from legacy brands older than many of the game’s viewers: handy institutional knowledge if you’re looking for new ways to move soap, cars and potato chips.
GM’s “Dr. EV-il” is a clever spoof on the James Bond spoof “Austin Powers.” In the ad, four members of the ’90s film franchise gather in GM headquarters, where Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) is once again poised to destroy the planet. His minions convince him that to enact doomsday on his own terms, he must first save the planet by making electric cars that lower emissions. Every detail in this one is ridiculously perfect.
Hellmann’s “Mayo Tackles Food Waste” features football coach and former linebacker Jerod Mayo on the offense for repurposing leftovers. He charges through multiple kitchens, tackling unsuspecting folks before they miss an opportunity to salvage what’s in their fridge with some Hellmann’s. He knocks down men, women and even a cute little grandma: “Don’t throw that out. You can make potato salad.” Davidson is his last victim, but by then, Mayo has already bulldozed Hellmann’s to the top of the comically irreverent ads.
Halle Berry, Hannah Waddingham, Pete Davidson and Kevin Hart are quarterbacking some of 2022’s Super Bowl commercials. Here’s a roundup of the celeb cameos.
Lays’ “Golden Memories” features Rudd and Seth Rogen moments before Rogen walks down the aisle. They’re recalling the good times they had before he becomes a married man. In keeping with both their careers on-screen, the memories are a twisted collection of outrageous and nonsensical moments that involve different chip flavors.
And although it’s hard to top the twisted brilliance of 2020’s Mountain Dew spot, starring Bryan Cranston and Tracee Ellis Ross reenacting a scene from “The Shining,” advertisers tried. In Nissan’s “Thrill Driver,” Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara reimagine a “Fast and Furious”-type thriller in a sporty yellow Nissan, Levy replete with a wild-man wig and knuckle tattoos. Schwarzenegger and Hayek played Zeus and Hera in retirement in Palm Springs, pet Pegasus at their side, in an ad for BMW. (No need to charge your golf cart overnight when Zeus is around.)
Whether the product or the spokesperson was the nostalgia piece, boldface names defined viewers’ experience of Super Bowl 2022 — and the trend shows no signs of slowing. Here’s to next year, when Alexa will be reading your mind for the ads you want to see too.
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