Simple Ads Win The Day at the Low-Scoring, Low-Ratings Super Bowl

Super Bowl LIII hit the lowest ratings in a decade. This decline was fueled by New Orleans fans boycotting the event - the home of the Saints came in last in 56 markets in terms of viewership. During the commercials, it felt like the ad budgets were also boycotting events. For what is usually a competition to see who can produce the most expensive ad with the most celebrities, brands took a simpler approach to Super Bowl ads this year.

T-Mobile had three spots, each showing a phone screen during a text message conversation. While we found that it would be difficult get simpler execution these ads were relatable and funny.

Google’s second ad of the night, which promoted its feature to help veterans find employment may have been targeted at those who served, but it intrigued and inspired everyone watching. This ad is a prime example of a straightforward concept that can both do good and build goodwill for a massive company.

Simple does not always mean good. Burger King revived footage of Andy Warhol awkwardly eating a Whopper over 30 years ago. This ad may have been an attempt at nostalgia marketing, but it is hard to understand how this tactic reconciles with their usual millennial-focused strategy. Although the spot probably grabbed people’s attention, it got them talking for all the wrong reasons. Andy Warhol is great, but it is difficult to decipher the brand’s message. (Also, he removes the bun to put ketchup on the side and then puts the bun back on. It’s very strange.)

The clear winner for funniest ad is Pringles. The spot features two guys stacking Pringles when they engage in an existential conversation with an Alexa-esque device. This ad is short, simple, and features Pringles in every single shot. They do not waste a second of the 30-second commercial.

Of course, there were some “go big or go home” style ads the Superbowl is famous for. Mercedes’ “Say the Word” commercial featuring Ludacris was memorable and had a clear brand message. The Bud Light commercials brought back some classic characters in a big way, collaborating with Game of Thrones to promote the beer and the hit show. Pepsi also had a Big Game-worthy ad featuring Steve Carrell and Cardi B, an audacious marketing move for a game taking place in Coca-Cola’s hometown.

Overall, Brands that use the Super Bowl as an opportunity to continue an existing narrative fare better than those that take the short-term strategy of creating momentary hype.