Disney’s Super Bowl ad rated ‘most effective’
February 13, 2023
System1, a specialist in advertising effectiveness, has unveiled the top performing commercials from the 2023 Super Bowl, ranked according to their long-term brand building potential. In a night packed with movie and TV homages, Disney’s 100th anniversary celebration held off the M&Ms spokescandies to take the top effectiveness spot.
System1’s Test Your Ad platform predicts the short- and long-term commercial impact of ads by measuring viewers’ second-by-second emotional responses to creative. It assigns ads a Star Rating, from 1 to 5.9-Stars, based on their ability to drive market share growth. Usually only 1 per cent of ads secure a 5-Star score.
In 2020, big game ads averaged 2.7-Stars, with three brands scoring 5-Stars. In 2021, the commercials averaged 2.8-Stars, with just one brand achieving a 5-Star score. In 2022, the average fell slightly to 2.6-Stars and zero 5-Star ads. This year, advertisers bounced back with a 3-Star average and one 5-Star ad.
The Top 10
- Disney – Disney100 Special Look – 5.3-Stars
In a Super Bowl full of movie stars and movie-themed ads, it’s fitting that the top-scoring ad comes from Disney, whose 100-year anniversary celebration is crammed with famous faces and big moments. From 1923’s Steamboat Willie to 2022’s Avatar sequel, when Disney deploys its full armory of characters a high-scoring ad is almost guaranteed. And a major anniversary is the perfect opportunity.
- M&Ms – Back For Good – 4.8-Stars
M&Ms’ move to ditch their ‘spokescandies’ for their main Super Bowl ad paid off with this follow-up just after the game concluded, which saw the iconic characters return. The first ad, with Maya Rudolph’s clam-flavored replacements, scored a rock-bottom 1-Star. And as the game minutes ticked by it looked like M&Ms might have made a historic fumble by not restoring the candies in time. At the last minute, though, they returned and the audience loved it, pushing M&Ms into 2nd place on the night. The publicity around the stunt and the warm welcome back underline how crucial Fluent Device characters like this can be to brands.
- T-Mobile – New Year. New Neighbor. – 4.7-Stars
Grease is the word, nostalgia is the theme. One of the best of the several 2023 ads that harked back to classic movies or TV shows, with John Travolta updating his famous Summer Nights performance to sing the praises of T-Mobile broadband alongside Zach Braff and Donald Faison. Braff and Faison are clearly thrilled to be appearing alongside a legend, and all three men are having a great time – one that’s infectious for the audience who rated this one 4-Stars despite some very corny lyrics.
- Amazon – Saving Sawyer – 4.4-Stars
A rollercoaster of emotional storytelling from Amazon, advertising their Prime shopping service with the story of a lonely dog. The ad pulls a bait-and-switch with the viewer, building up sadness and fear as the viewer believes Sawyer’s family might decide to give up the misbehaving dog. Fortunately, they come up with a better plan. It’s the top scoring storytelling ad in the Top 10.
- Jeep – Electric Boogie – 4.3-Stars
Last year Doritos scored a 4-Star ad with cartoon animals dancing to Push It. This year it was the turn of Jeep and Electric Slide, with beasts of every kind lining up to do the slide and Shaggy handling vocal duties. Animals tend to be a Super Bowl crowd-pleaser and Jeep’s are no exception. The electric vehicle connection may be a stretch but in a Super Bowl short on great automotive ads Jeep got the basics right: entertain for commercial gain.
- Michelob Ultra – ULTRA Club I New Members Day – 4.2-Stars
Serena Williams joined Succession’s Brian Cox and a star celebrity lineup for an ad paying tribute to 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack. Michelob packed plenty of visual gags into their quickfire ad and tapped this year’s most successful theme of nostalgia and cultural references. A strong 4-Star performance for a beer ad.
- Paramount+ – Stallone Face – 4.2-Stars
Paramount+ may not be able to match Disney for famous names, but they do have a mountain with a giant stone Stallone face. And they have Sly himself, who tried to scale the peak in this weird but memorable entry in the streaming wars. A strong 4-Star score shows viewers liked the surrealism, the humour and the lineup of famous Paramount+ faces like Captain Kirk.
- The Farmer’s Dog – Forever – 4.2-Stars
A pet that’s been with the family a long time is a living library of memories and love, and Super Bowl newcomers The Farmer’s Dog make that point beautifully in this heart-warming ad. The Farmer’s Dog’s preservative-free dog food is designed to keep dogs happy and healthy so they can enjoy more years as part of a family, and viewers loved this simple but well-executed spot bringing that idea to life. The Farmer’s Dog are the top Super Bowl debutante of 2023, and proof that in-house ads can compete at the top level.
- Bud Light – Hold – 4.1-Stars
Real-life couple Miles Teller and Keleigh Sperry starred in an unusual but very successful beer ad, which swaps in-your-face celebrity cameos for a fun, romantic moment. The fact that this moment is created by that scourge of modern life, on-hold music, only adds to the creativity. A TikTok-inspired Super Bowl ad which feels like few others, and one of the high points of the night. The public liked it too, earning Bud Light a strong 4-Star score.
- Popcorners – Breaking Good – 4.1-Stars
Snack brand Popcorners are new to the big game and make the most of their shot with a great use of cultural references – something that we very often see associated with high effectiveness. Breaking Bad’s Walter and Jesse are the stars here, making baked snacks instead of meth, and the ad milks that incongruity beautifully. A well-deserved 4-Stars for this Super Bowl debut.
Five key themes sum up Super Bowl ads this year:
- Movie/TV homages: Super Bowl night sometimes felt more like Oscars night as brands like T-Mobile, Michelob Ultra, and Rakuten made ads riffing on classic movies. Popcorners joined in with a Breaking Bad homage, bringing TV into the mix. Cultural references are a proven way of boosting effectiveness and emotional response, and as long as there’s a clear tie-in to the brand it’s hard to go wrong with them.
- Playing it safe with celebrities: Only three of the Top 10 ads – Amazon, Jeep and The Farmer’s Dog – did without celebrities or star characters, and all of those filled that space with animals. A celebrity has become what a cute puppy or baby used to be – a safe bet. Celebrities can be used well, particularly when they exaggerate or refer to what they’re already known for, like John Travolta in the T-Mobile spot.
- Co-branding on the rise: As Super Bowl costs keep rising, we’re seeing more brands splitting the cost with co-branded ads. The most creative this year came from Netflix and General Motors, recruiting Will Ferrell for a road trip through Netflix properties. But it didn’t score well, and illustrates the peril of this approach – it can just muddy the message and reduce Brand Fluency.
- Ads about ads are still a thing: We again saw meta-advertising – ads which are self-referential about being a Super Bowl ad. It’s easier to pull this off now that there’s a whole ecosystem of commentary and gossip around the big game. But not much cuts through the public – the exception being the M&Ms “Spokescandies” controversy, a PR stunt that really worked. Other meta-ads didn’t work as well, like Molson-Coors’ fight between three beers and T-Mobile’s pseudo- behind-the-scenes ad with Bradley Cooper.
- TikTok: TikTok didn’t advertise at the Super Bowl but the fingerprints of the video-sharing app and its memes and challenges were visible in other ads. Bud Light’s on-hold music dancing felt like a TikTok challenge, and Kia’s Binky Dad looked at how quickly an ordinary person can become an internet celebrity. As the Super Bowl demographic keeps changing we’d expect to see more TikTok influence creep into ads.
“The Super Bowl is the most anticipated US advertising event of the year and a sizable investment for brands so there’s a lot of pressure for commercials to drive results,” said Jon Evans, Chief Customer Officer, System1. “This year saw a welcome jump in overall scores, and a rich 5-Star ad from Disney. The big theme we saw was nostalgia with homages to classic film and TV doing particularly well. Nostalgia can be great at boosting effectiveness but it can lead to an over-reliance on celebrities, and that’s what we’ve seen in a lot of ads this year. After all, celebrities are no replacement for great characters of your own.”