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Super Bowl Commercials, the winners, the losers and top lessons

by | Storytelling

If the Super Bowl is a masterclass in advertising, then a big part of this year’s class flunked.

I grew up in the age of great Super Bowl commercials and entire campaigns that sometimes went on from season to season. There was a rhythm to them and you almost looked forward to what you would see.

There were multiple years of the Bud Bowl. The cuteness of the Puppy Bowl. Fan-directed Doritos ads. Budweiser Clydesdales running through the snow.

Advertising classics like:

  • Wendys – Where’s the Beef?
  • Apple – 1984
  • Coca-Cola – Hey, kid catch

You had moments where advertising and storytelling crossed over. They understood that a good ad is an opportunity to tell a clear story in a very short format. So they used nostalgia and creativity to speak, not just to their brands, but to life as a whole.

While there have always been favorites, and some historic ads have missed the mark, this year was different.

This year seemed to have an outstanding group of ads that missed badly. So badly that I would say…

The biggest winners in this year’s Super Bowl commercials were the ad agencies, not the brands or the consumers.

With ads running $6-7 Million for a 30-second spot, good storytelling would seem like a given. But it wasn’t. It’s almost as if the agencies lost track of the story they were trying to tell. So, instead of serving the brand and entertaining the consumer they delivered shiny objects with little substance.

In the midst of the mess, I found three things that didn’t work in Super Bowl 2023 ads

1) Ads shouldn’t need an explanation

Super Bowl parties tend to be loud and full of chaos. If your ad requires half of the 30-second run time to explain what the commercial is trying to say, then it missed the mark.

Two ads stood out as requiring too much explanation

Michelob ULTRA – New Members Day

It’s been too long since Caddyshack to link allusions to it and expect the room to follow along. We had closed captioning on our TV so we could understand the announcers and color commentators. The only reason I had a clue of what the ad was trying to do was that the CC read “Caddyshack Theme Song.” If not for this, I would have been lost throughout the entire ad.

I’m 49 years old and the target audience for most ads during the Super Bowl. So if you’re doing allusions to stuff that I have very little context for… your storytelling has missed its target audience. The more mental gymnastics you require the audience to make, the fewer of them will go along with you in the story.

T-Mobile – New Year, New Neighbor

Just because you can do a musical number doesn’t mean you should. And, bringing in John Travolta to do a clip from Grease, “Summer Nights,” with the guys from Scrubs doesn’t make sense. Add to it the fact that it looks like they walked onto the backlot stage most recently used for the Disney WandaVision show and the whole sequence felt left-footed.

2) Nostalgia is great until it’s not

A good story finds a shared emotional moment and uses it to support the story and connect with the audience. But when that emotional moment isn’t understood, or it creates too many questions for your audience, you lose them in an instant.


Rakuten – Not So Clueless

Having never seen Clueless, I spent half the ad trying to figure out why this was the schtick they chose to hang the ad on. It was so distracting that the ad was over and I didn’t know why they had chosen Clueless or what company the ad was for.


Uber One – One Hit for Uber One

This started off promising, but within seconds it felt like a string of bad dad jokes aimed at getting sympathy laughs instead of connecting with the audience. It concluded with no emotional connection to the product or context to explain why the brand should matter to me.

Planters – The Roast of Mr. Peanut

Roasts are typically a little awkward and weird. If you go back and watch clips from roasts of celebrities and politicians it can be cringy, bordering on being completely over the top. But on this one, I have no idea what they were trying to accomplish.

It’s 2023 and there is no emotional connection to Mr. Peanut. So the jokes and bad laugh track land like open mic night and a small comedy club in middle America.

VaynerMedia was part of this campaign and released details after it aired, praising the team and its accomplishments. It was a reminder of the importance that every creative meeting includes someone with permission to say “No,” to a project and stop it in its tracks.

The closing line from Mr. Peanut is, “I wish Planters had just killed me off again.” And that is a fitting way to end a commercial that was ready to be done.

3) Don’t insult us with your gimmick.

Comedy rides a fine line between highlighting the absurdity of things and belittling the audience. Sometimes it can be funny, but when it misses it’s bad.

Pringles – Best of us

This isn’t the first time Pringles has run with this concept. They’ve touched on it in different iterations, but it isn’t getting any better.

We aren’t monkeys or raccoons that get our hand stuck in a log while trying to grab something shiny. So trying to highlight that people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and income levels have this problem is absurd.

All they’ve done is highlight a packaging issue that keeps people from fully consuming their product. And let’s be honest, who has ever reached the bottom of a Pringles can and had whole, uncrushed chips remain?


Avocados from Mexico – Make it better

The ad did not make it better. And, I’m not sure what the heck was going on here.

In the opening moments, it seemed like an interesting twist on the Garden of Eden and eating the forbidden fruit. That somehow avocados are making it better and nudity isn’t a big issue. But in the effort to be funny, they missed completely and the whole thing felt off.

The whole ad felt like watching Saturday Night Live in the 2000s when the jokes didn’t land and the laughs were more like groans.

Two Super Bowl 2023 lessons you can apply to your storytelling and ads

Of the 45-50 national ads run during the Super Bowl this year, more of them were misses than were successful. There were a few exceptions though.

What can you do to steer your storytelling and ad creation? To make sure you don’t repeat the million-dollar mistakes made by so many high-profile brands at the Super Bowl this year.

1) Tell Clear Stories

A clear story begins with one idea they want to convey and moves from there. There are not a lot of extra elements wrapped around it that cause confusion. When done well you can stand back as the audience and repeat the big idea of the story after a single view. Three ads did a great job of this in 2023.

Dunkin’ – Dunkin’ ‘Drive Thru’ starring Ben

Our house was loud during the game, with multiple conversations going on and food being served. Even in the midst of the chaos, this ad made sense. It delivered a simple idea and left you wanting Dunkin’ Donuts.

Part cameo appearance. Part being punked. This ad felt as much like a social media campaign as it did high-dollar advertising. The people in the drive-thru looked genuinely surprised and unaware Ben Affleck was actually at the counter. Ending with Jennifer Lopez stopping for a donut in the final moment was a great story twist that kept it fun, connected, and drove home the brand name.

Miller Lite, Coors Light & Blue Moon

The simple concept of this ad is reminiscent of some of the eighties and nineties Super Bowl commercials. Where the core idea was a competition for who is best. But what stuck out was the surprise ending that it’s an ad for Blue Moon.

It was fun. Campy. Clear storytelling. You walked away remembering there were three brands competing and the winner came out of nowhere.

Amazon – Saving Sawyer

The storytelling here is top-notch. The dog is stuck at home, bored, and in destruction mode. He needs some obedience training and some attention. At first glance, it seems like an easy solution. Buy a dog carrier from Amazon to crate the dog during the long days.

But instead, there is a new dog in the crate. The real story here is about the needs, companionship, and connection of a dog. And while Amazon is a brand that sells almost everything, and helps solve problems in creative ways, they make life better… for everyone.

And that’s what wins in ad campaigns.

2) Include a Compelling Message

A compelling message moves people emotionally and points them to something bigger. At times it’s a moral of the story. Other times it is a chance to learn about ourselves or reflect on something bigger than us.


Disney – Disney100 Special Look

Disney is back. If you’ve been following Disney fandom you know there has been a leadership shakeup and an effort to recapture some of the Disney spirit that made them great. The first watch of the ad landed a bit weird for me. I wasn’t sure what the initial takeaway was until I caught the narrative in the connected stories.

They are using nostalgia with voices, clips, and photos to share where they have been and are going. Taking time to thank the people who make it all work, from employees to artists to the fans who spend money and show up at movies and the parks.

This ad does what few others do. It jumps from being about the brand to the reason the company exists and our part in it.

He Gets Us – Be Childlike

This campaign uses very traditional storytelling principles. With black and white photos, and low-level underscore of music, and a powerful lyric line.

It almost feels like a nonprofit fundraising video but you aren’t sure where it is headed until the final seconds when you’re reminded to be childlike and to love others.

A simple, powerful way of telling a story and delivering a spiritual principle for all to apply.


Kia – Binky Dad

This is such a relatable story for families with young kids. Who hasn’t gone out and left a toy or binky behind? At the moment, as your kid is falling apart, you do anything you can to find something to calm your child.

This is a starting point to highlight what the car can do, and the features that make it a great family choice. As dad returns with a binky in hand, the inevitable happens… the baby spits it out and mom says, “She only likes the blue one.”

Every family has had a moment like that and the commonality makes it compelling. You’re sucked in and left with the belief that Ki can help save your say as well.

Dexcom – Feels Like Magic

This was a phenomenal way to give a public face to the health issue of diabetes.

It instantly created a conversation in the room around the fact that a Jonas brother has diabetes and is the spokesman for the technology.

They ditched fancy terms and medical language. Focusing on the ease of use and benefit the technology gives the user. The message was compelling and the ad drove home why.

At the end of the game, the Chiefs may have won, but many of the brands whose ad dollars paid for the game did not.


Your story is important. Your message needs to be heard. What makes it great is clear storytelling and a compelling message that people actually want to act on.

People respond to clarity, and clarity wins the day every time.