3 Lessons Learned From 2023 Super Bowl Ads

If you were one of the many who described the 2023 Super Bowl ads as “refreshing,” you’re not alone. We believe there’s a reason. The ads this year relied on shock value and were packed full of moments leaving viewers saying, “I didn’t see that coming!” From M&M’s to Tubi, we’re going to dive into what made the 2023 Super Bowl ads effective and how they used the strategy of surprise to capture our attention; but first, how were this year’s ads different from recent years?

To answer this question, let’s first look at the world around us then compared to now. From 2020 to 2022, our world suffered through a global health pandemic while also having many social and political injustices brought to light in impactful ways. This left the American Super Bowl audience divided socially, politically and even physically. The 2020 – 2022 Super Bowl ads were rightfully inspired by these challenging situations. We saw a majority of ads focused on community engagement, personal connection, positive reinforcement and cultural development. In fact, many ads used the phrase, “we’re all in this together,” and Meta, Crypto and other technology companies were focused on sharing their developments to help impact our culture and lives. The general advertising strategy was to “make a difference,” which was appreciated at the time. In 2023, however, most ads charted a new course!

This year’s Super Bowl ads saw a refreshing and welcome return to marketing strategies of nostalgia, celebrity cameos and a general theme of “having fun.” Think back to the number of ads this year where the characters were located at a party or other public gathering. It’s a surprising amount when recalling what our world looked like in the last 2 to 3 years. This year, the marketing strategy was to charmingly surprise and shock Gen-Z, millennial and Gen-X audiences.  

Let’s dive into 3 lessons learned from the 2023 Super Bowl ads!

#1: M&M’s New Flavor (featuring Maya Rudolph)

In this 30-second spot, M&M’s did something none of us saw coming—they announced a unique new flavor, Ma&Ya’s Candy Coated Clam Bites. The ad felt more like a comedy sketch than an actual commercial thanks to M&M’s parodying themselves so well. Did this marketing strategy work? Yes, but it’s less a marketing strategy than it is a masterclass in branding. 

M&M’s is a brand built on fun and not taking itself too seriously. This ad was not pitching the audience a product, but rather a message and tone as to what the M&M’s brand stands for—to make their audience happy. From their product line, their mascots and their pre-movie cell phone silencing skit, the brand’s #1 goal is to put a smile on the face of everyone who interacts with them.  

This spot did just that. From the beginning, viewers immediately know it’s an M&M’s ad, not only from the prominent logo in the first frame but also because of the fantastic use of brand colors throughout the entire ad. (We dare you to try to find a color used in this ad that isn’t representative of the candy.)  Within the first three seconds, the spot announces a new clam-flavored line of candy, and within the first five seconds, the audience has a full understanding of what this ad is—a giant parody. This leaves the audience waiting for the joke to end and the real message from the company to begin. The surprise comes when the ad ends without a punchline.  From second one to second thirty, this ad didn’t communicate even a hint of self-awareness, leaving the audience the choice to either take the ad at face value and await a clam-flavored line of M&M’s to hit shelves or to accept the joke.

Having fun with your brand and not taking yourself too seriously is a fantastic way of engaging with your target audience through the element of surprise, especially when today’s audience has become so accustomed to ads with serious messaging and themes of social awareness.

#2: Tubi Pranked Us All

If you say that you weren’t fooled by Tubi’s 15-second spot, then you’re lying and you know it! This ad took the strategy of shocking its audience to a new level by tricking viewers into thinking they’d been switched from the TV platform playing the 2023 Super Bowl to the TV application, Tubi. We all screamed, “Hey, Jerry. We have a huge problem here!”

We don’t believe any company committed to a strategy quite like Tubi did. Not only was there not a single word uttered about Tubi itself, but the 15-second ad only spent eight seconds referencing Tubi at all. Viewers weren’t even aware of the Tubi brand until seven seconds in. Only eight seconds of the ad visually references Tubi, and there were only seven sound effects within the ad referencing the Tubi app at all. With little reference to their own brand and no message other than showing a brief preview of what content can be found on Tubi, why take such a huge risk?

Having only eight seconds of air time with only seven brand-related sound effects, Tubi flawlessly committed to the shock strategy—causing brief panic for viewers. For eight seconds (which seemed like an eternity), viewers were tricked into believing that someone else in the room was using the TV remote to take them away from the big game, only to realize, with a huge sigh of relief, that it was only an ad. This risk worked because it pulled everyone’s attention immediately to the TV, right when the Tubi logo appeared and captured viewers until the game resumed just moments later. Not only did Tubi grip everyone’s attention exclusively, but the emotional journey viewers were taken on was large enough to cause a moment of pause (or panic) in the room.

Among all of the ads this year, Tubi’s ad is the one still widely talked about days later, with every viewer having a story to tell. Tubi truly did have our eyes glued to the screen. Thank you for the emotional roller coaster, Tubi.

#3: Blue Moon’s Miller Lite & Coors Lite Ad

Blue Moon also did a great job surprising its audience and leaving us saying, “We sure didn’t see that coming.” This 30-second spot only visually and audibly referenced Blue Moon for the final three seconds and showcased Miller Lite and Coors Lite during the previous twenty-seven. Why would Blue Moon advertise their competitors while only acknowledging themselves for so little time? Why was this ad a good idea, and how did it work?

Reason #1: Ownership

The obvious reason this ad is so clever is because all three beers featured are owned by the Molson Coors parent company. So while viewers believed they had just watched a Blue Moon advertisement, they’d actually been presented with an advertisement for three of Molson Coors’ most beloved brands.

Reason #2: Brand Engagement

The ad conveyed that all three of these products are worth fighting over. The beer industry is an industry where there are many subjective opinions as to which product is best. This ad did a fantastic job of showing how passionately everyone can love their favorite beer—specifically, their favorite Molson Coors product. As silly as having a favorite Molson Coors beer sounds, we’ve all been in or witnessed debates where two incredibly similar beverages are compared, with each debater believing their favorite to be the best. Molson Coors did a fantastic job encouraging brand engagement and pride with their target audience.

Reason #3: Relatability

Molson Coors flawlessly identified the behavior and demographics of the target audiences for each of their three products and held a mirror up to each.

Coors Lite is advertised as a beer for active individuals participating in outdoor activities. The main character fighting for Coors Lite wears activewear and is seen using natural items for weapons, including ice, food and a fish.

The Miller Liter fighter, wearing business casual attire, uses coasters and a bar tray to fight off his opponent. This correlates to Miller Lite branding as a beer for any average person relaxing and enjoying themselves.  

Finally, the Blue Moon drinker is a well-dressed young adult, who could only be described as calm, cool and collected. It begs the question, why would I need to fight if I have confidence that Blue Moon is the best? Based on this commercial, Blue Moon stands above the rest. (Let the debates commence…)

Ready to take the advertising lessons learned from 2023 Super Bowl ads and put them to practice through creative and mediaRhycom is here and ready to help you create your next big campaign.  We can even help with your 2024 Super Bowl ad, too! We are built for business today and are ready to help you impact the world.

3 Lessons Learned From 2023 Super Bowl Ads

Austin Kershaw

February 17, 2023

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