“You kinda just had to be there:” The elusive unicorn of mass appeal in Super Bowl LVIII

Are the expectations on brands for the big game too high? What is an ad for the masses when there is no longer a clear “mass?”
13 February 2024
Football couch
Lexi Capelli

Senior Director, Creative Solutions Delivery, Food & Bev Team Lead, North America

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We’re binge-watching Seinfeld in our household right now, mainly because our wildly different tastes in TV mean we can’t agree on anything to watch with a more recent release date. While I’m not quite old enough to remember Seinfeld in its hey-day, I am old enough to have heard about viewership numbers that sound ludicrous in today’s world. 35 million in the last season? It’s an outstanding achievement for a network show to get a few million now. This shift presents marketers, brand managers, and creatives with a unique challenge when it comes to the Super Bowl. In the absence of guaranteed instances of mass viewing prior to the event, how do you create something that feels like a good fit for everyone? 

What does average enjoyment mean for overall entertainment? 

In our assessment of this year’s Super Bowl ads, LINK AI picked up the implications of this shift with the average enjoyment of intentionally humorous ads coming in at the 49th percentile. Average enjoyment for the ads containing big celebrity moments, which our LINK AI tool is now equipped to recognize, reaches an average 52nd percentile. Humor and celebrity use are classic conventions for entertaining Super Bowl ads and yet, we’re not seeing payoffs on broad enjoyment. However, given the conjecture that there is no longer a clear “mass,” maybe this isn’t such a disheartening takeaway. It’s just reflective of the world as it is today and the notion that it is truly getting more difficult to please everyone. Fragmented access is a contributor and is something marketers will have to consider and contend with in future Super Bowl events. 

Limited access contributes to limited mass appeal in the Super Bowl  

While the novelty of a reboot is wearing off, for 2024, many brands have leaned into one of our creative trends of 2023: nostalgia. In this instance, the nostalgia of a reunion. 

If you watched, Parks & Rec, you were probably thrilled to see Aubrey Plaza and Nick Offerman reunite in Mountain Dew’s “Aubrey Plaza is Having a Blast” during Super Bowl LVIII. Fans of Friends likely got a kick out of Jennifer Aniston forgetting David Schwimmer in “Don’t Forget Uber Eats.” e.l.f. and T-Mobile leaned into the resurgence of Suits, casting most of the main ensemble between the two ads. Booking.com gives us an ode to 30 Rock. T-Mobile reunites Zach Braff and Donald Faison (twice!) while Superior Beach reunites Jason Sudeikis with soccer – go with me on that one. 

We also have a number of brands with takes on “viral” cultural moments: for those that have seen “Beckham” on Netflix, Victoria’s “Jessica Aniston” faux paus in one of the “Don’t Forget Uber Eats” Super Bowl LVIII teasers is an obvious nod to her hilarious downplay of her upbringing. Silk uplifts us with Jeremy Renner’s comeback following his battle with the snowcat. Michael Cera “invents” CeraVe. Pete Davidson – whom you either know from Saturday Night Live, Thank You – Next by Ariana Grande, or as everyone’s favorite rebound – plays on his personal life in Hellmann’s “Mayo Cat” by, some of you may have guessed, dating and then breaking up with the Mayo Cat. 

Let me pause here…are any of you feeling left out? Are some of the “obvious nods” lost on you? Do you have a little FOMO? That’s purposeful – I do apologize. In order to translate that full hodgepodge of references, you would have needed access to a number of services over the past year:  

  • You need to have a Netflix subscription to watch Suits (+ Amazon Prime for the last season) and Beckham or have seen Suits on USA back when it aired. 
  • You’d need to have seen Scrubs (esp., the musical episode), which is currently available on Hulu and used to air on NBC/ABC in the early ‘00s. To see Parks & Rec or 30 Rock, you’d need to have watched them on NBC’s Thursday Night Comedy Night or, in today’s universe, have a subscription to Peacock. 
  • For Friends? I hope you watched NBC in the ‘90s or currently subscribe to Max. 
  • Don’t know who Ted Lasso is? Then you don’t have Apple TV, and you have no clue what I mean by “reunites Jason Sudeikis with soccer.” 
  • Have you seen a Marvel movie in the past decade? Do you have Disney+? If none of the above, this story might not have captured your attention. 
  • You need to know who Michael Cera is (most recently Alan from Barbie) AND either have a TikTok account or a friend that sends you TikToks to understand where this brilliant gag originated. 
  • At least some of you had to google Pete Davidson’s dating history. 
  • Social media also helps with late-night deep dives into why anyone cares. 

This is not a soap box on the wild west that the streaming world has become – you can read all about that here. It is a commentary on access. The barrier to entry continues to get higher as the costs for streaming services increase. Ad tiers help, but that doesn’t change the fact that access has become a luxury that not everyone can afford. And as a result, mass appeal becomes more elusive, and we have just 12 out of the 67 ads we assessed reaching that “top performer/broad appeal” status. 

Are our expectations too high for Super Bowl creative? 

Seinfeld was accessible. You could choose to watch a different channel while it was on, but there wasn’t a barrier like cost locking you out. The everyday life depicted in the “show about nothing,” may not have been universally relatable, but enough people felt that it was reflective of their daily lives to tune back in every week. We’ve gone from having a few instances of mass viewing weekly to one of these events per year: the Super Bowl. It begs the question if the expectations on brands for Super Bowl LVIII and future events – and the creatives, brand managers, and marketers behind them – are too high. What is an ad for the masses when there is no longer a clear “mass?” Bottom line is this stuff is hard. We should collectively enjoy the wins we did get. Finally feeling free to laugh this year, for example, is a thing to be celebrated. And moving forward, we may just have to accept that sometimes, the ad is for you, and sometimes, you kinda just had to be there. 

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