Super Bowl ads aimed for funny, but few made it purposeful

The Super Bowl is a rare opportunity for companies to creatively tell a broader story of how their products or services deliver in a bigger way, says Porter Novelli’s Sandy Skees.

(Photo credit: Getty Images).

At about $7 million per spot, brands aim to please when creating a commercial for the Super Bowl. When polled about the tone viewers wanted in their Super Bowl LVII commercials, 56% of respondents claimed they wanted the tone of this year’s ads to be “funny.” And the creative shops and brands delivered, providing an estimated 110-million-plus viewers with a commercial lineup of lighthearted, dancing, singing and improbable pairings — I see you Brie and Hamm. 

Over the last three years, there have been plenty of commercials featuring purpose-driven themes related to COVID, diversity, equity and inclusion, the environment and general support for helping to create a better world. This year, when it came to these themes specifically, there were only a few that could be tied to expressed purpose or values. 

Now, I’m not saying that these commercials need to be connected to purpose or commitments, however, this cultural moment is a rare opportunity for companies to creatively tell a broader story of how their products or services deliver in a bigger way.

The few commercials to take advantage of the moment were electric vehicle ads from GM and Jeep, the WeatherTech “report” on its commitment to U.S. manufacturing and Hellman’s refrigerator-trapped, food-named actors Jon Hamm and Brie Larson talking about preventing food waste. These four spots prove that brands can create ads that tie to meaningful themes, while also being funny.

It's been a rough few years, and the first months of this year proved no exception. From climate chaos and extreme weather to school shootings and police brutality, these challenges continue to find their way into boardrooms and employee-engagement programs. They just didn’t find their way into the Super Bowl.

Of course, a purposeful look at the Super Bowl this year needs to also include a recognition of the challenge it represents to many of our indigenous neighbors who have been working to address the problematic Kansas City Chiefs mascot. To quote Anton Treuer, an American academic and author specializing in the Ojibwe language and American Indian studies: “As the nation tunes in to our national pastime today, remember that all Americans are swallowing a spoonful of racism in order to watch football. Even though the racism is directed at Native Americans today as legions of Chiefs fans play Indian and do tomahawk chops, the racism dehumanizes all of us regardless of our racial and cultural backgrounds.”

So while Super Bowl LVII gave us lots of laughs and moments of joy — something we absolutely need during all of the challenges of our times — most brands missed an opportunity to promote what many claim is intrinsic to their identity: purpose. Luckily, Super Bowl LVIII is just 12 months away.

Sandy Skees is EVP, global lead of purpose and impact, JEDI Advisory Services, at Porter Novelli. 

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