Best ads this Super Bowl? The ones that dared to be different

super-bowl-2024

This year’s Super Bowl was the most watched live event since the moon landings – so it was a huge moment for brands to get their Super Bowl ad pitches just right.

As Alistair Schoonmaker, co-Founder and Managing Director at Ultra Brand Studio, writes below, the best ads proved to be those that were intelligent, aware and memorable for the millions watching…

Alistair-Schoonmaker
Alistair Schoonmaker, Ultra Brand Studio

The Super Bowl is where sport and star power mix. The drama on the field – with Kansas City Chiefs edging San Francisco 49ers – was matched with the show off it.

Taylor Swift’s influence was a big factor in pulling in the casual viewer. The record TV audience of 123.4 million meant that the Super Bowl was the most watched broadcast since the moon landing.

Around 20% of that audience tuned in because of Swift’s relationship with Chiefs’ Travis Kelce. And forget the more traditional Super Bowl parties, fans of the pop mega-star were holding Swiftie versions.

With such a captive audience, it’s no surprise that brands rolled out the big guns during the commercial breaks, with each ad slot costing $7 million.

And this year’s lineup ticked many boxes – the biggest celebrities, humour, irreverence and nostalgia.

But some went down better than others. And in some cases, apologies had to be made.

For me though, the winners were those who dared to be different – not just those rolling out the celebs. They were subversive, disruptive and used their star power intelligently, incorporating humour, nostalgia and irreverence.

They avoided sameness, bringing exceptional and memorable story-telling to our screens.

Chiefs of the Super Bowl ad break

Take State Farm’s commercial for example – video below, for your delight. Arnold Schwarzenegger is no stranger to sending himself up and is clearly enjoying himself with a well pitched self-deprecating performance (“like a good neighbah”).

And just when the formula gets a little predictable in steps Danny Devito. The little and large combo throws it right back to 1988, and the surprising hit Twins in which they played…twins. Roll on the sequel!

Nostalgia was also at the centre of Kawasaki’s nicely crafted effort. Its mullet-filled extravaganza (“Business at the front, party at the back”) gets the humour level just right and taps perfectly into the audience demographic.

Some brands try to go too big in a big moment vs. doing something focused and clever that ends up being more memorable.

Off-roading with added eagles and turtles sporting mullets – what’s not to like?

Finally in our trip down memory lane, is Pluto TV’s ad. The couch potato farm concept is a brilliantly original idea and taps into the disruptiveness of the product.

And it also brings in a bit of all-American nostalgia (“we are living in a golden age of television”) that allows the past to meet the present.

But it isn’t just about the past. And with it being the Super Bowl, brands didn’t forget that the commercial breaks come in between a mega sporting event.

And three ads – E*trade, STok Cold Brew and Paramount Plus – remind the viewer that sport is (mostly) the reason why they’re watching.

E*trade’s ad is clever and irreverent, with the brand revisiting its e-trade babies concept. There are some nice one liners in there (“So this is pickleball? It’s basically tennis for babies but for adults.”)  while also getting its message across with clarity.

Meanwhile, SToK Cold Brew brings in the big guns, in the form of an Oscar winner. Hannibal Lecter himself, and proud Welshman, Sir Anthony Hopkins dons the costume of Wrexham FC’s mascot, Wrex the Dragon, while discussing the acting process.

It’s terrific multi-layered copywriting and works so well that you almost want it to be longer.

The stars behind the brand and Wrexham’s owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElheney, were able to use their clout to bring in Hopkins, who appears to be having an awful lot of fun.

But for the ultimate show of celebrity force, look no further than Paramount Plus and its wintery mountain-themed effort.

The football is taken care of through Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa while Patrick Stewart and Drew Barrymore also join in the fun.

Stewart stands out in particular, eyeing up Hey Arnold’s football-shaped head and also wonders how best to deploy Peppa Pig (“now if there was only someone made of pig skin…”).

It’s simple, it’s clearly thought through and is one of many star-driven campaigns that flooded the commercial breaks during the Super Bowl.

In a year when celebrities were the focus on and off the field, using talent differently along with some great copywriting and visuals, made more of a mark amongst the noise.