Published: Feb. 7, 2023 By

Image credit: PopCorners

Whether you like football or not, it’s likely you’re watching this year’s Super Bowl in some way. For many, it's through the commercials. Super Bowl ads have become almost bigger than the big game itself—and the big brands have mastered how to connect with their audience well before kickoff to get you engaged with their content.

In this Q&A, Alix Barasch, associate professor of marketing at the Leeds School of Business, shares the ins and outs of how the industry has evolved, why celebrities still reign supreme over influencers and some of the most effective Super Bowl commercials this year.

What makes the Super Bowl such a big deal for brands?

I am always showing my students Super Bowl ads each year because it's such a cultural touch point for Americans. It's the time when the most people in the U.S. come together and watch the same content. Especially with social media and all the niche outlets out there, it's hard to capture so many eyeballs at once. As long as this game is still something that so many people tune into, it's going to continue to be an advertiser's dream.

Alix Barasch

Consumers want to have narratives, they like stories and to feel like their content is entertaining them. They're okay with being advertised to, but they want to get something in return.”
–Alix Barasch

Why do we see the same big brands every year?

The price tag is going to keep a lot of brands out of the marketplace in the Super Bowl. But there's also a lot of research showing that a brand’s continual presence in the Super Bowl commercial lineup actually amplifies the impact of that brand’s memorability because people expect to see them. This means brands like M&M’s, Pringles, Doritos and the big beer companies don't want to take a break from being in the lineup.

How have Super Bowl advertisers embraced social media?

What's really cool now is how brands have used social media to evolve the story leading up to the commercial. Today, that’s really how marketers get the most bang for their buck. If you're spending $7 million for 30 seconds of content, you'd like to stick in consumers’ minds, and a big part of that is producing integrated content that builds up to the big day. This year, we've seen some of that content released even in December, with brands using social media, streaming platforms and other outlets to start teasing out their campaigns.

This is very consistent with consumer psychology: Consumers want to have narratives, they like stories and to feel like their content is entertaining them. They're okay with being advertised to, but they want to get something in return. 

What brands are effective at giving consumers what they want?

Doitos has some of the best examples, both in the past and this year, of engaging with consumers to create their content. In the past, they’ve had fans vote on their favorite flavor of Doritos or had regular people create their 30 second commercials, revealing the winner on the big day. This year they're having a TikTok competition where people can create dances that are triangle focused.

Another one I’m watching this year is the PopCorners ad with Bryan Cranston. He posted a teaser on his social media in January, and it’s going to be fun to see him resurrect his Walter White character from Breaking Bad. That creates a lot of anticipation and adds suspense to the commercials, not just to the outcome of the game.

If social media is so integral, why not use influencers over celebrities?

Celebrities are a constant. This year, two-thirds of commercials are expected to have celebrities in them. Influencers just don’t have the same return as the recognition that you get from a major celebrity or athlete. The Super Bowl is watched by all generations and out of all 100 to 200 million people watching, only so many of them are Gen Z or millennials—the generations most likely to recognize influencers or YouTube celebrities. 

Last year, we saw a lot of crypto ads. What’s the crypto of this year?

We're getting more and more energy with sports betting sites. For example, FanDuel released a build up campaign with former NFL superstar Rob Gronkowski, who is going to kick a 25-yard field goal at halftime. If he makes it, anyone who has bet on the Super Bowl on FanDuel will split $10 million in free bets on the platform. 

One of the great things about FanDuel’s campaign is that they're going to have specific behavioral actions they want consumers to engage in leading up to the big day. While that might mean just a $5 bet, it means creating an account and engaging with the product.

Which commercial do you think takes the cake this year?

I really am excited about the Downey ad because they have a mystery celebrity that they are going to reveal on the big day. They’ve already released a 30 second commercial teasing their Super Bowl spot: The celebrity is covered in clothing and says he's testing whether Downey’s 12-week freshness promise is really true. 

What I love about this content, coming from a marketing perspective, is that it integrates the message with the attribute the brand is trying to communicate—in this case, that Downey’s products keep clothes smelling fresh for 12 weeks.