Too Many Celebrities, Too Few Laughs: Why There Was Nothing Super About This Year’s Super Bowl Ads

We need to talk about this year’s Super Bowl ads. Super Bowl? Super flop, more like. The Kansas City Chiefs may have written themselves into the history books with a thrilling win over the San Francisco 49ers in overtime on Sunday, but the nail-biting drama on the field was certainly not replicated off it.

Ian Forrester

Ian Forrester

22 Feb 2024

Original article appeared on the ANA website

Record viewership figures, record ad revenues, and first-time brands forking out the $7M for their 30 seconds of fame at the Big Game – the stage was certainly set for advertisers to carve their own names into Super Bowl folklore.

 However, even the much-lauded Taylor Swift Effect couldn’t save this year’s Big Game, with advertisers fumbling the ball. Sure, there were some notable exceptions. Michael Cera’s starring turn for CeraVe’s campaign, for example – but overall brands at the Big Game missed the mark. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Here at DAIVID, we used our advanced content testing platform to measure how people felt while watching all the ads shown during the Super Bowl broadcast and the impact on each brand – and the results speak for themselves. 

When measuring the overall effectiveness of all the ads from Super Bowl 58 using our Creative Effectiveness Score – a composite metric that combines the three main drivers of effectiveness: attention, emotions and memory – we found scores were 4% below the US average. 

Overall attention levels and brand recall were also 3% and 9% below the US norm respectively. Now, that may not seem like a massive difference, but when you consider the average Super Bowl campaign costs at least 7X more than the average US ad, you have to say that’s a wasted opportunity. 

So what went wrong? Well, here are our suggestions:


1. Marketers relied too much on star power

Super Bowl advertisers are well-known for their use of A-listers. But even by the standards of the Big Game, this year’s crop of ads felt like celebrity overkill.

Certainly, the conveyor belt of star names was at full tilt during Sunday’s broadcast, with random stars popping up all over the place. Maybe if you’ve paid for a celebrity to feature in your campaign, it’s perhaps easy to think that’s job done. But, of course, it’s not. Ideas, scripting and production are what drive attention, emotions and memory – the constituent ingredients of effectiveness.

Too many advertisers wished on a star. They relied heavily on the fact their ad had a celebrity in it (or loads of celebs, in a lot of cases) to grab viewers’ hard-won attention, and they forgot to actually come up with something interesting and new.   

Rather than create their own gravity, it felt like brands were more comfortable bathing in the cold glow of a distant star, with very little connection to the product or service they were selling.


2. Many tried to be funny – and failed

As any comedian will tell you, making people laugh is the world’s toughest job. But that didn’t stop two-thirds of the brands at Super Bowl 58 giving it a go. Only problem is, they barely managed a smile. 

According to our research, 66% of this year’s Super Bowl advertisers put amusement as their lead emotion, but only seven made more than a quarter of their audience actually laugh.

Even the sight of Ben Affleck strutting his stuff in an orange tracksuit was not enough, with only one in five viewers finding the Dunkin’ ad actually funny.


3. Too much focus on humor

Humor is a tough one to get right. While most people have a good understanding about what makes something sad or inspiring, humor is harder to nail down. That’s because it’s highly subjective. What one person finds hilarious, leaves another person cold. 

What’s interesting this year is that the spots that moved away from the standard funny celeb spots were rewarded. The most effective ad from this year’s Big Game was The NFL’s “Born To Play” campaign. The ad, which told the story of a young African boy dreaming of playing football, evoked under-used emotions – including inspiration, admiration, warmth and hope – that helped it stand out. It also scored highly for brand recall (83.5%), evoking the Von Restorff effect (what feels different gets remembered). 

For the brands that do insist on sticking with the tried-and-tested funny celeb recipe, it’s crucial to mix it up with other key emotions. That way the ad can generate intense feelings that create memories without relying entirely on being funny. 

For example, Uber Eats’ “Never Forget” was the third most effective ad we tested, managing a high brand recall score of 80.4%. How did it do it?  By mixing strong feelings of amusement (24.3%), with interest (17.8%), nostalgia (12.2%) and excitement (12.2%).


4. Too many brands played it safe

One of the key criticisms of advertisers at Super Bowl 58 is the sheer number of brands unwilling to take a risk. A lot of the content followed a similar template – lots of celebrities starring in humorous, self-referential ads – leaving viewers drowning in a sea of sameness.

Brands were unwilling to take a risk. But you can’t please all the people all of the time. If you try to then it’s likely you’ll water down the emotional impact of your ad. Beyonce’s Verizon ad is a good example of this. Only 1 in 10 of viewers found it amusing, which meant brand recall (67.8%) was well below the US average. Put simply, the ad simply wasn’t funny enough to be memorable. 


So get comfortable with the fact that you can strike a high positive emotional note, but you might pick up some haters at the same time. 

For example, CeraVe’s ad scored high for ‘amusement’, but a lot of viewers also found the beauty ad pastiche awkward and confusing. The amusement could not have happened without that set up, though, so ultimately this scored highly because of that creative decision. Humor is polarizing. Often making some audience members laugh out loud requires turning off others.