Big Game Ads: Tech Wrapped in Nostalgia & Laughs

February 14, 2022

By Lori Heckman Golden, SVP, Celebrity & Influencer

It’s very fitting for a Los Angeles-based Super Bowl to be incredibly packed with celebrity talent and beloved music, both in the commercials and during the halftime show. While the pandemic isn’t yet over, this year’s slate of high-priced advertising (a record $6.5M for 30 seconds of airtime) featured more humorous and nostalgic themes, rather than focusing on world events or getting through tough times. I think it’s safe to say that everyone needs a laugh this year, and advertisers understood this. With NFL viewership up this year, some brands went big. And some of the other trends are a good representation of what we’re seeing consumers interested in, and what’s in the market right now.

Humor & Escapism

One of the biggest trends this year was humor and escapism – seemingly more than ever before. The top three spots on USA Today’s AdMeter all incorporated this – from Rocket Homes and Rocket Mortgage’s Anna Kendrick/Barbie spot poking fun at the current real estate market, Amazon’s Alexa with Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost reading each other’s minds (note: doesn’t always go well), and Doritos/Cheetos’ Flamin’ Hot spot with Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” highlighting animals trying the product (with Charlie Puth and Megan Thee Stallion’s voices) – these all provided consumers with a bit of escapism and laughs.

Multiple Celebrities & Diversity

While some brands chose to sit out this year, others went really big, packing celebrity talent – often leaving a lasting impression with consumers connecting with multiple demographics at once. Toyota’s “The Joneses” is a perfect example, with Tommy Lee Jones, Rashida Jones, and Leslie Jones all in one spot – plus the Nick Jonas surprise, targeting multiple generations. Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” tune in the background didn’t hurt, either. It’s also important to note that in these celebrity-packed ads, diversity and inclusion is also a key factor for brands as they all have the same interest in making progress. In cases where diversity was not prevalent, it was likely that the creative idea called for specific talent. Lay’s spot with Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd really played up their friendship and past work together, so there was likely a very short list of talent they were targeting from the beginning. (My personal guess is that they were the original idea.)

Nineties & Aughts Nostalgia

I don’t think we’ll ever have a Super Bowl without nostalgic advertising included. Last year, I mentioned the Tide spot using Jason Alexander and the Joey Scarbury song “Believe it Or Not,” plus Uber Eats’ “Wayne’s World” spot. This year, Chevy brought back characters from The Sopranos (recreating the series’ opening), GM brought back Austin Powers, Verizon recreated The Cable Guy with Jim Carrey, and T-Mobile reunited Zach Braff and Donald Faison from Scrubs. (Note they have a podcast and a great friendship, so it’s about time an advertiser used them in this capacity.)

Sweet Emotion

Emotion might not have been as prevalent as humor, but Toyota’s “Brothers” spot showed how it’s a great way to get consumers to pay attention as well. This spot featured decorated Winter Paralympic athlete Brian McKeever and his brother, Robin, and how their bond led to winning gold. This was also very timely, with the Winter Olympics this year being contemporaneous with the Super Bowl, a first. In the most recent TMA Super Poll, viewers almost unanimously stated a preference for laughs over tears. However, the top-five results for “Brothers” and Kia’s sweet “Robo Dog” show capacity for sentimentality as well. Meta (formerly Facebook) featured an animatronic who was cast off and saved in the end by a virtual-reality headset that reunited him with his buddies – tugging at the heartstrings of all consumers, even those who might not be familiar with virtual-reality headsets.

Disruptive Technology

Viewers saw a lot of new and disruptive technology including cryptocurrency, electric vehicles, and online sports betting spots. FTX for example spotlighted Larry David – a perfect casting (and not an easy nor cheap “get”) – an ironic and hilarious pairing as someone who is not known for being open to new things such as cryptocurrency. Since the NFL has now partnered with seven sportsbook companies, DraftKings and Caesars both made the large investment in spots – with New York Jets legend Joe Namath also bringing back some nostalgia for DraftKings.


Wellness is also quite new to Super Bowl advertising. While most people associate the Super Bowl with overindulging in unhealthy food and drinks, the advertisers this year included Planet Fitness with Lindsay Lohan, Hologic women’s health featuring Mary J. Blige, and even a financial wellness spot by Greenlight featuring Modern Family’s Ty Burrell. The beverage giants focused on organic seltzer and low-carb brews. Wellness is becoming more mainstream and not going anywhere. It will be interesting to see what the slate of 2023 spots bring – NFTs, sound healing and vitamins? Only time will tell.

Lori Heckman Golden is SVP of Celebrity & Influencer, in TMA’s Chicago hub.

[header image: Adweek]