Insights Scoop

Beyond Halftime: Super Bowl Ads Culturally Deconstructed

From Beyoncé’s powerhouse presence to e.l.f. Cosmetics’ courtroom quips, the Super Bowl ads of 2024 offered a rollercoaster of emotions and innovation. Dive into our panel’s breakdown, uncovering the hits, misses, and the game-changing moments that define the future of advertising.

For many viewers, this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads was characterized by an excessive use of celebrities, thin narratives lacking in emotional depth, and a strange reluctance to go beyond the brief. We also saw many ads relying on a “iykyk” vibe leaving many viewers bemused and baffled.

For the first time, we hosted a panel discussion with a guest member, available as a webinar on-demand. In this webinar, we discussed the panelists’ top ads, runners-up, and candid takes on what wasn’t working.

Fill out the form below to watch a recording of our on-demand webinar.

Special member guest Jesse Nicely from Cashmere Agency joined three Collage cultural experts in this complimentary, on-demand webinar, providing commentary on the ads the panel liked best, what didn’t work, and other topics.

In 2024, our panelists choose two standout ads each.  In the first section of the panel, they discussed three of these ads from Verizon, Dove, and Disney+.

Verizon, Dove and Disney+ Were Praised for Sheer Star Power, Emotional Depth and Catchy Minimalism

Verizon’s “Beyoncé Breaks Verizon” featuring Beyoncé was a masterclass in leveraging celebrity star power. Jesse nominated this ad, aptly noting the layers within the ad, from humor to nods to various trends. The strategic use of Beyoncé‘s announcement of new music release tied seamlessly with Verizon’s message of network reliability, generating cross-audience impact and engagement. This ad exemplified the power of aligning with a global icon to reinforce brand messaging and create buzz.

As Jesse said, “Whoo! I mean, there’s layers in there. But most importantly, I thought, was that when she was heading out it says dropping new music, and that’s when my ears peaked up. That’s a brilliant way to tie in with an artist of her caliber. That’s what you want. Right? You wanna have Beyoncé in the spot, and then see that there’s new music available. That’s so smart to leverage that. This is the type of stuff that marketers dream up, and to actually see it pulled off – kudos to them.”

Dove’s “It’s a Hard Knock Life” ad struck a chord with viewers through its emotional depiction of internal struggles faced by girls in sports. Shawna nominated this ad, sharing her personal connection to the story as a former athlete, highlighting the ad’s relatability across generations. Dove’s partnership with Nike to address the issue of girls quitting sports by the age of 14 demonstrated a commitment to meaningful action and social impact, resonating with audiences on a deeper level.

Shawna summed it up beautifully: “I really loved like the idea of the girls falling down, but at the end, with the girl sort of examining herself in her swimsuit (which is, by the way, the most excruciating thing for a girl and a woman to do, so we all can identify with that experience). But then, at the very end, she just jumps in right in [the pool].  She takes back her power, her strength, and it just signals her bravery and her overcoming and transcending her insecurity in that moment. I also loved the fact that it had that hard music play in the background, and I immediately thought, ‘Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem).’ So even if you didn’t pay attention to any of the people or the characters that were in that ad and you [just] heard that song? So, it was really resonant for me in so many ways. The music, the characters, the story, all of it.

In contrast to the maximalism often associated with Super Bowl ads, “Well Said” from Disney+ took a minimalist approach that was equally impactful. Vic nominated this ad and praised it for its simplicity and emotional resonance, noting its clever use of Disney’s iconic stories and an Easter egg from Taylor Swift’s music. Jesse echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the ad’s inclusivity and departure from the typical extravagance of Super Bowl commercials. By capturing attention with minimalism and tapping into cultural moments, Disney+ effectively engaged audiences and reinforced its brand identity.

As Vic said, “It has this wonderful arresting simplicity. It leans into some of the most magical lines in the vault of stories that we all know from Disney. And as you’re watching you finish each line, right? It says “to infinity…” and you’re like “…and beyond.”  It really connected with what the brand is about: that magic, that story in a very natural organic way, and it was a joy to watch for consumers. Plus, it made super clever use of the Taylor Swift Easter egg, and it did all of that with just such a magical, simple 3 words. “Ready for it.” I suspect it’s going to do incredibly well. What a fresh a breath there not to have to watch [all these] crazy, spectacular things or outrageous amount of celebrities.  The clear, focused, simple message that hits your heart, that connects and participates in the current passion points of the audience.”

These ads exemplify the importance of strategic messaging and emotional resonance in effective advertising. By aligning with cultural trends, leveraging celebrity partnerships, and addressing meaningful issues, brands can create ads that not only capture attention but also leave a lasting impression on audiences. As the advertising landscape continues to evolve, these lessons from the Super Bowl ads of 2024 serve as valuable insights for marketers striving to connect with consumers in meaningful ways.

“Celebrity Overload” and other Reactions to Lower Performing Ads

In a candid discussion, Jack then turned the discussion toward what didn’t work with the panel sharing their critiques of several ads that fell short of expectations.

Shawna began by dissecting “Yes” from candy brand Reese’s, acknowledging its entertainment value but questioning the rationale behind the diverse cast. While the ad successfully tapped into absurdism, a feature Jesse liked, Shawna raised concerns about cultural fluency and inclusivity.

As Shawna said, “The Reese’s ad was just so entertaining: It kind of mimicked these videos that you see online of guys who mimic sounds, they’ll play the sound first, and then a guy will mimic the sound and all the people behind them will go nuts. So for me, it tied into that social media thing. But if you watch the ad again, you notice the cast. “Why is that person there? Why is that person there an older lady?  There was an Asian guy. There was a black guy…  It seemed they wanted to like throw in all these generational and segment components. Maybe it was intended to be a pun, but it sort of felt a little bit like: hmm! Why did they do that? But overall: are they trying to be culturally fluent, or they just trying to be ironic?”

Jesse echoed Shawna’s sentiments about Reese’s, but focused his disappointment on the prevalence of celebrities in so many of the ads. While celebrities can enhance brand visibility, Jesse argued that their excessive use detracts from the core message and brand identity. Additionally, he noted a lack of emotional sentimentality in several ads, highlighting the importance of authenticity and brand voice.

“I think too many spots relied on an overload of celebrities, and I think you lose the big idea. We’re losing focus of what the big idea and concept should be. When you dig deeper into them, you’re not really seeing there’s much ‘there there.’ It’s just sort of trying to lean into all the massive fan bases. [Who knows] to what extent they’re tying it into bigger activations on social or long-term relationships with these different celebrities. So in that regard, that’s a loss for the craft. And is the ROI there. These are expensive spots that they’re making, and just again thinking about it from the business standpoint of it.”

Vic emphasized the importance of craft, of maintaining brand voice and purpose in advertising. He criticized ads that strayed from their brand identity, citing examples like State Farm and M&M’s. Furthermore, Vic highlighted the failure of Poppi’s “The Future of Soda is Now” to tell a compelling story that resonated with its intended audience, emphasizing the importance of responding to the brief rather than repeating it.

In Vic’s words, “Just because you’re on the grand stage and want to do something disruptive doesn’t mean that’s an invitation to step out of your brand voice. Sure, some of the humor was funny, but was it in your brand voice?  Was it in State Farm’s voice to make fun of Arnold [Schwarzenegger]’s accent. Was it in BMWs voice to have a cruel edge to their humor about Christopher Walken’s voice?  And [what also got] my attention from that space was Poppi’s ad. One of my mentors used to critique work [saying] it’s your responsibility to respond to the brief, not to repeat the brief. And the Poppi ad felt like it [just] repeated the manifesto.”

Overall, the discussion shed light on the pitfalls of Super Bowl advertising, ranging from cultural insensitivity to a lack of authenticity and purpose. These critiques serve as valuable lessons in crafting effective and impactful campaigns.

Starry, Google Pixel and e.l.f. Cosmetics Challenge Conventions

Finally, Jack turned the panel back to top performing ads, asking each to discuss a runner-up.

Jesse selected “Love Triangle” from Starry which, took a bold approach by challenging industry giant Sprite. Leveraging humor and wit, the ad not only targeted a new generation of consumers but also disrupted the status quo with its direct confrontation of Sprite’s tropes. This demonstration of fearlessness and innovation highlights a key aspect of great advertising – the willingness to challenge conventions and take risks.

As Jesse said, “This is the underrated ad for the night. [As we know,] Sprite has been the de facto soda of hip hop culture for almost 2 decades. But hip-hop culture is in a critical moment where the new generation is coming in and there this tension: “hip hop, isn’t it right”?  So [Starry is] partnering with the next generation star of this moment to make this spot and go right at Sprite and make fun of them.  I thought was brilliant and have lasting power. I think we’re going to see it running in the pre-rolls across YouTube and against different kinds of music videos. They’re being aggressive and not afraid to take on the big competitor in the space with a punchy, comedic way, and a visual gag that goes right at some of these classic Sprite tropes.  As Shawna concluded, “It was just almost a direct affront to like what Sprite tends to do.  It was very refreshing and very funny.”

In contrast, Shawna chose, “In e.l.f We Trust” from e.l.f Cosmetics, which opted for humor and representation to resonate with diverse and younger audiences. Featuring the iconic Judge Judy in a comedic courtroom setting, the ad seamlessly blended fashion, value, and sustainability messaging. By appealing to multiple generations and demographics, e.l.f. Cosmetics effectively showcased the power of humor and inclusivity in capturing audience attention and fostering brand affinity.

Shawna said: “So anytime you’re doing the Judge Judy courtroom, you know that you’re gonna have [all these] quips. And then there was the cast of suits, and this aspect of fashion interest in there. And we know that Hispanic consumers [will respond because of their interest in] sustainability and environment. Plus, how the ad tapped into Gen Z’s love of dupes and their skincare goals, emphasizing the affordability of their products and that they’re cruelty free. It kind of spanned across different segments across to different generations. It hit on so many different things within that one clip. It was just pretty phenomenal.”

Finally, Google Pixel’s “Javier In Frame” tugged at heartstrings with its poignant narrative of inclusivity and accessibility. Through the lens of a visually impaired director, the ad highlighted the technology’s ability to capture memories and connect people on a profound level. By addressing real-world challenges and evoking genuine emotions, Google Pixel demonstrated the power of storytelling in creating lasting brand impressions.

As Vic said, “This was a super thoughtful piece of work. At Collage, we talk a lot about how message importance drives cultural fluency. And this message was important, but also, importantly, it was made right. It talks about representation [in general], not just that we made a story to make a point about a particular disability. It was made by a person with the disability, taking [us on an] emotional journey on how it was made, and what it means to the makers, and gives back the power to capture a memory, which is one of the key things we measure in the Collage in our brand cultural fluency score, as measured in our new platform.  How will you [as a brand] connect to a memory?  It was incredibly magical.  And it made [use of] the technology in a in a way that you won’t soon forget. So, I thought it was a well told story and a very natural intersection that came across right in terms of you know the identity even of Javier. And you know the family that he is building. [There is] some poetry there between what you can and cannot see.”

The Super Bowl ads of 2024 presented a diverse array of strategies and executions, showcasing the evolving landscape of advertising. From the sheer star power of Verizon’s collaboration with Beyoncé to the emotional depth of Dove’s partnership with Nike, and the catchy minimalism of Disney+, these ads demonstrated the power of strategic messaging and emotional resonance in captivating audiences. Moreover, the bold approaches of Starry, e.l.f. Cosmetics, and Google Pixel challenged conventions and embraced inclusivity, humor, and storytelling to connect with diverse audiences on deeper levels. However, the panelists also critically analyzed ads that fell short, highlighting the importance of cultural fluency, authenticity, and brand purpose in advertising. As marketers navigate the ever-changing advertising landscape, the lessons learned from the Super Bowl ads of 2024 provide invaluable insights into crafting campaigns that truly resonate with consumers.

Contact us to learn more about our ad measurement system we call CultureRate:Ad, and other ways we can help you engage diverse American consumers.

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