Cultural Experts Critique Super Bowl Commercials
While numerous football fans watched Sunday’s game, waiting to see who would be crowned victor between the Chiefs and the Eagles, we at Collage Group tuned in with different intentions.
February 14, 2023
Quintin Simmons – Public Relations & Communications Manager
We wanted to – no, we were compelled to – critique the most highly anticipated commercials of the year. As cultural experts, we regularly analyze advertisements and marketing campaigns for the nation’s best brands, so Super Bowl Sunday is kind of like . . . our Super Bowl . . . but for commercials.
We already did a review of the pre-released Super Bowl ads. If you missed that, you can check out our analysis here.
As for the commercials that didn’t air until Sunday, our team of cultural experts had a wide range of thoughts. First, we noted there was a heavy reliance on celebrities, and in some cases, the joke or plot, or even the brand and product seemed to take a backseat, as if just having the star would suffice. Next, a couple of spots made the choice to lean on television shows that were popular not at this moment but one or two-plus seasons ago, i.e. “Squid Game,” and “Breaking Bad.” We did like that a few ads incorporated the use of Spanish. However, we noted that engagement on social issues that matter to many diverse Americans has definitely taken a backseat, and we were disappointed that not many acknowledged diversity or the LGBTQ+ community.
Here are our thoughts on a handful of specific commercials:
Google Pixel’s spot was a favorite across the entire team. The ad features celebrities popular among multicultural consumers – Doja Cat and Giannis Antetokounmpo – and showcased a unique photo-editing feature.
Director of Cultural Insights, Katya Skogen: “When this ad played, the room fell silent. Everyone was paying attention – kids and adults alike. Something about seeing “magic” happen “in real life” really drew people in. From the cultural relevance perspective, this is a practical solution to a common problem, but this particular tool doesn’t cross the line into “hyper editing” or retouching that we know is putting so much pressure on everyone to get that “perfect,” SM-worthy shot. So, this lands well with Gen Z and Gen Z teen’s “Pressured” Cultural Trait, and resonates with their desire for authenticity.”
Research Manager of Cultural Insights, Giana Damianos: “Google Pixel continuously impresses with product innovation. It’s almost hard to distinguish – was the leading force here the ad execution or the product itself? Honestly, I think both are doing a pretty killer job. I like that the ad isn’t (doesn’t have to) work too hard to get the point across. The simplicity in the ad execution is what makes this great. I loved the cheeky examples of use cases. And I think that really helps portray the feature as useful in everyday life, and not for “perfecting” your pics (which could’ve started to get into a tricky territory of promoting photoshopping and face tuning and stuff, which is what I almost started to get worried about). I almost don’t think the celebrity appearances were necessary here. One of my favorite things was the music in the background! Really moved the ad along and made me feel in a happy mood, which fits the context of Super-Bowl-Party very well.”
A commercial from McDonald’s was also well liked. It did a great job of hitting various multicultural angles, including featuring a same sex couple, seniors, those with disabilities, and a bit of Spanish in the dialogue – not to mention a few beloved celebs.
Cultural Insights Research Manager, Jill Rosenfeld: “I loved this one, perhaps the only clear LGBTQ+ representation in any ad that aired during the entire game. Relatable even to those who aren’t big fans of the McDonald’s brand already because having usual orders at places and knowing your partners’ order is common.”
Research Manager of Custom Insights, Niki Goncalves: “Loved. It showed diversity in a way that didn’t feel forced. Used celebs in a way where they were more than just a ‘character’; it gave you a little window into who they are beyond their performance personas and made them super relatable. And the vignettes were adorable – pointing out everyone has this experience in common and of course loved the inclusion of the Spanish vignette.”
Then there was an E-Trade ad – a brand known for incorporating talking babies. This commercial inspired somewhat mixed reviews.
Executive Director of Cultural Strategy, Victor Paredes: “Investment is all about your family’s future and your kids. It’s a fun use of kids, which are a Super Bowl go-to. It’s akin to Boss Baby, yet cleverly able to portray the key value of E-Trade investments.”
Director of Cultural Insights, Sudipti Kumar: “I like that this ad brought back the E-Trade babies. Plus, its babies and it’s cute. I think this would appeal cross-segment because it is speaking to universal themes like weddings/marriage plus with adorable babies that everyone loves.”
Rosenfeld: “In my opinion, it’s very creepy to show the babies getting married, especially because child marriage is not even illegal in the whole country. Also, there has been a lot of news recently about Wyoming Republicans trying to veto a bill that would raise the legal age of marriage to 16.”
An ad from WeatherTech was very well liked among the group.
Senior Director of Cultural Insights, Jack Mackinnon: “Nothing shocking here, but solid, simple representation and un-politically addressing the economy. I liked the connection with Black Americans’ optimism. While obviously appealing to the more traditional ‘made-in-the-USA’ crowd.”
Paredes: “This is likely to connect with ‘American Dream’ nostalgia that is notably strong among Hispanics and Asian Americans, as highlighted in our 2022 Roundtable research. And likely to play well especially at a time where job security is important. There is growing interest in made in America in every segment.”
NFL Super Bowl LVII Commercial
The NFL’s ad was another crowd pleaser and successfully hit a few different notes in regard to diversity.
Cultural Insights Analyst, Alonzo Bailey: “This was a great ad. I loved the dynamic between the Hispanic girl and her mother at the end. Also, it featured a cameo from Billie Jean King, a trailblazer for women in sports (tennis). Overall, I’d say this spot definitely resonated with women and Hispanic consumers.”
Cultural Insights Senior Analyst, Jenny Wolski: “This spot showcased cultural nuance while appealing to the general NFL audience: It showcased a really successful Hispanic woman. It contains Spanish speaking, and touches on warmth. It appeals to women and the Hispanic segment.”
Skogen: “I am a tiny bit skeptical with respect to the actions behind the ad, in terms of supporting women in/by the NFL. But the ad itself was really fun to watch. The kitchen scene is the best – both from the bilingual perspective, but also, every parent/teen relationship goes through this stage where the kids are dodging their moms’ hugs and kisses.”
Executive Director of Cultural Strategy, Victor Paredes: “This was my favorite of this Super Bowl. The NFL brought it with their group of commercials, not just with the game and show. The ode to the women pushing the sport was super inspiring. The cameos were very thoughtful from the opening, and I loved the mom/daughter fun Spanish moment. It touches on the group traits across the spectrum, especially women, plus Self-Directed, and Resilience, among others.”
Feelings were mixed toward a commercial from Booking.com.
Skogen: “Everything I have said about the Booking.com teaser still applies plus I appreciate the “As long as they have childcare” tagline. I think there is still so much stigma around moms (especially) who are supposed to love every moment they have with their kids, and sacrifice everything, including their personal enjoyment. So, to have a mom who’s shamelessly singing (ha ha ha) about how she actually needs a break from her kiddos – I dig that. And our own Parent & Kids research shows that younger parents aren’t willing to center their entire lives around parenthood. Additionally, Women’s Group traits reveal a tension between the desire to meet the needs of others and prioritizing your own needs, interests, and priorities. So, for me, this checks the box.”
Damianos: “I didn’t like this in teaser form, and now after seeing the full ad, I still don’t really like it. The settings are all very theatrical and fake. The part that tends to bother me a bit is the “as long as they have childcare.” My perspective is coming from someone who doesn’t have kids, but from a gender POV, I think the I’m-sick-of-my-kids bit is an outdated trope. If the message was intended to be one where women should be empowered to take time for themselves, that could’ve been done in a different way.”
The Two Dog Commercials: The Farmer’s Dog and Amazon
Two commercials played heavily into humankind’s love of dogs. (We love dogs (and cats) here at Collage – we post pics of our pets on our “Furry Friday” Slack channel every week!) Both The Farmer’s Dog and Amazon commercial relied on a tried-and-true ad favorite – the use of a cute doggie . . . or two. First, The Farmer’s Dog:
Goncalves: “Loved. Biracial lead. Universal insight of growing up with pets, home love etc.”
Skogen: “Very relatable, tugging at the heartstrings for sure. And the central character (a biracial?) young woman with natural hair.”
Wolski: “Component of memories. Relatable if you’re a pet owner, but also just really touching.”
Vice President of Client Services, Zekeera Belton: “OMG, I loved The Famer’s Dog and was nearly teary eyed. It just touched on the universal insight of connection, family, and the love of pets.”
But the Amazon dog commercial had a slight plot twist, which garnered mixed reviews.
Paredes: “This spot contained a clever depiction of the pet/owner relationship, as well as a clear challenge that, at some point, all dog owners face. There was also a nice touch of subtle Spanglish drizzled in that I didn’t miss.”
Damianos: “I thought this was endearing, relatable, and authentic – that is right up until the narrative of the dog’s poor behavior. Once I started seeing that, I was feeling pretty nervous and scared for how they were going to react to and treat the dog. And ultimately, buying a crate, or even getting another dog, doesn’t really seem like the right solution to me :/ This was a miss in my book. And for how much they played into emotions, this didn’t have a satisfying story arc/redemption in the end. Did the crate and the new dog end up alleviating the first dog’s behavioral problems? I’m an animal lover and these are the things I think about.”
Kumar: “I really, really loved this ad. I can totally relate to dog separation anxiety. We got a second dog recently, and the joy of the two dogs together all day is amazing. So maybe I am the prime target market for this ad? It was just a sweet story, and so relatable in regard to the pandemic and people being with their dogs and then leaving them. Yes, I agree that they are buying the crate and you think it’s to lock up the dog, but in fact, it’s not! The family is helping the dog ultimately because they do love it, even if they are frustrated. And crates are just an important part of having a dog – you need crates to transport them, and to train, etc. Just a smart way in my opinion that Amazon speaks to how they help with the things you need. Also, it’s a Hispanic family, and there is the bilingual piece, too. To me, it does tie to warmth with the Hispanic segment, and how that does (in the end) extend to their dogs, too!”
Skogen: “I hated it! The emotional manipulation of a very different kind. And got especially turned off by frame when they showed the Amazon shopping app (sort of the opposite of what an ad should really conjure). And I am not even a dog lover, but the very hint that the family appears to be shopping for a dog kennel to lock up their (presumably) pandemic puppy who’s acting up because he’s lonely now. Not cool, Amazon.”
Avocados From Mexico
The Avocados From Mexico commercial was probably the most disliked (and a bit confusing), according to the Collagers. While the intent was assumingly a lighthearted play on Adam & Eve, there was a flag on the play when it came to execution.
Paredes: “The brand sought to dramatize the versatility of avocados, while just having lots of fun with history. It wasn’t entirely culturally in tune, but rather irreverent and provocative.”
Director of Client Services, Chanelle Okenchi: “I didn’t understand how the Adam & Eve reference was applicable, here? I was confused after watching this commercial.”
Damianos: “I’m not sure how I feel about the Adam & Eve storyline. At the core, this is a religious narrative discussing the topic of original sin. The brand probably didn’t intend for it to be read into this deeply. But I can’t help but consider the gender implications in that religious narrative, of the woman being the one to initiate a sinful act. I don’t care for this ad.”
One message was really evident, regardless of our cultural experts’ hot takes on any individual ad, and despite the swings in themes, use of celebs, who was directing the commercials, and so on. The lesson is that the data on America’s demographic changes implies that more needs to be done to authentically portray cultural diversity in advertising. We need diversity behind the camera, too: on marketing teams, in leadership positions, and in board rooms. No marketer can be successful in the United States now without understanding and acting on the cultural transformation of the American consumer. Contact us to learn more about how Collage Group’s programs and services can help you advance your Cultural Fluency journey.
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Public Relations & Communications Manager
Quintin Simmons is Public Relations & Communications manager at Collage Group. He has over two decades of journalism and communications experience, having written and edited for a variety of publications, and servicing as media rep for a number of national outlets. Quintin, a communications and media relations expert, is always looking to connect and engage with writers and reporters.