Analysis by Brian Lowry, CNN
(CNN) - Big celebrities, but often, not-so-great ads.
The Super Bowl presents a formidable challenge to advertisers, trying to justify the giant price tag for 30-second spots (as much as $7 million each, per Variety, for ads between kickoff and the final gun) by coming up with campaigns that feel as big as the game.
This year, the scales tipped heavily toward celebrity talent -- in several cases, thrown together in incongruous bunches -- in commercials that were loud but frequently didn't make a whole lot of sense.
For starters, it helps when the talent has some kind of logical connection to the product, or at least figures into the creative in a way that advances that message. Being cute for its own sake can be fine, but it's seldom particularly memorable.
Using that logic, bravo to Rakuten, a shopping site, for enlisting Alicia Silverstone to reprise her "Clueless" role as the shopping-obsessed Cher, which she slid into like an old private-school uniform; and thumbs down to a celebrity-studded spot for Michelob Ultra featuring Serena Williams, Brian Cox and a host of others in an odd tribute to "Caddyshack."
Then again, this year's crop of beer ads were mostly flat, especially given the high bar that Budweiser has customarily set for Super Bowls past. The main exception would be the Miller-Coors-Blue Moon spot, which was fun, if a little confusing.
As was noted before the game, crypto ads that sought to make a splash at Super Bowl LVI sat out this year's showcase, a reminder that newer product categories brave entering the Super Bowl derby at their own peril.
Where were the other highlights, which were outnumbered (as usual) by the middling or low ones? Here's a snap-decision breakdown of who scored and who fumbled on TV's biggest stage. While this doesn't include every spot that aired, if an ad featured four or more celebrities, assume it leaned toward the "loser" column.
Movies: The movie business hasn't rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, but the number of ads for upcoming blockbusters (and hoped-for blockbusters) felt like a collective vote of confidence in theatrical movie-going. Hollywood will likely never completely bounce back in the streaming age, but the studios appeared to serve notice that they're not giving up without a fight.
Of that roster of titles, give the nod to "The Flash," which should stoke enormous interest in that Warner Bros. title (like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery), and put the focus on the film instead of star Ezra Miller's off-screen issues. Give honorable mention to "Indiana Jones" and "Creed" among the sequels, which also included pregame spots for "Transformers" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." Also featured: "Air," based on Michael Jordan's Nike deal.
Ram: There were again several electric-car ads, but give Ram the gold medal for its cheeky double-entendre about "premature electrification."
Rakuten: Would Silverstone waste this kind of opportunity to bask in a little of that "Clueless" nostalgia? As if.
T-Mobile: Bradley Cooper and his mother were pretty adorable, especially when she told him that while he's been nominated for stuff, he hasn't won anything. Much better, alas, than its John Travolta "Grease" homage.
Pepsi Zero Sugar: Steve Martin and Ben Stiller gave mini-classes on acting. So, do they really drink this stuff? Probably not, but it was fun to watch them pretend, and enhanced by the one-two punch of it.
PopCorners: Just the idea of a "Breaking Bad" reunion gets high marks (plus the line "We don't eat our own supply"), even if the snack-food product might not have been the ideal vehicle for it.
Farmer's Dog and Amazon: Two winners about our canine companions: Watching a dog's life unfold, and thinking about losing one, served as one of the few genuine tearjerkers of the day; and on a lighter note, getting a destructive pooch a pal, via Amazon.
CrowdStrike: If only the cyber-security company had been around during the Trojan War. A great visual idea.
Google: Another spot that brought together unlikely celebrities -- Amy Schumer, Doja Cat and NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo -- but in a clever demonstration of how its pixel product can "fix" old photos.
Kia. If you forget your baby's binky, this is definitely the car for you.
Disney: Marking its 100th anniversary, the studio ran a spot to demonstrate the sweeping depth of its content, and its intricate hold on childhood memories.
Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen: After the histrionics of Fox's pregame show (never mind the issues with the sound being off), the announcers -- handling their first Super Bowl -- rose to the occasion, with a solid call that identified the problems with the field, debated a "game-altering penalty" at the end; didn't get in the way of the action and reminded everyone this was, after all, a football game.
NOT BAD, BUT...
General Motors and Netflix: GM teamed with Netflix shows to push its EV cars, with Will Ferrell as the guide through shows like "Bridgerton" and "Stranger Things." Not great, but at least it felt big and inventive.
Dunkin': Ben Affleck (mostly) and Jennifer Lopez brought some celebrity sizzle to the idea of a star moonlighting at a donut store.
Paramount+: The advantage of featuring Sylvester Stallone in a streaming show, apparently, is one more star to help promote "Paramount Mountain."
HeGetsUs.com. The ads for this evangelical campaign were certainly arresting in reminding people, say, that Jesus was a refugee, and to love everyone. Yet despite being one of the few ads about something that played Sunday, the goal of its message seemed muddled, a perception reinforced by details about the group behind it.
Workday: Rock stars differentiate between calling someone a rock star and actually being one. A fun idea, indifferently executed.
Etrade: Nobody ever went wrong with talking babies, but that said, talking babies is a pretty tired gimmick.
Weather Tech: A solid "Made in America" pitch.
Beer ads: Miles and Keleigh Sperry Teller seem like a cute couple to have a beer with. What the ad didn't do is make a case for that being a Bud Light. Ditto for Budweiser connecting a six-pack of Bud to "Six Degrees of Separation" (or Kevin Bacon), which had the right vibe to it but felt like a bit of a stretch.
Booking.com: Hey, who couldn't use a vacation? But why are we watching Melissa McCarthy sing about it?
Doritos: Jack Harlow, Missy Elliott and Elton John pushing triangles? Another case of trying to be too hip and just looking square.
Downy Unstoppables: Danny McBride likes it so much he'd change his name. But the whole thing was pretty McSilly.
DraftKings: Kevin Hart and a host of celebrities appeared, but will it be remembered as a great Super Bowl ad? Don't bet on it.
Hellmann's: Jon Hamm and Brie Larson in a refrigerator? Yes, mayonnaise goes with ham and Brie, but as Hamm said at the end, "That's weird."
Remy Martin: Serena Williams' speech was stirring, but the product was a complete afterthought.
Planters: A Friars Club-style celebrity roast of Mr. Peanut felt like a weak attempt to butter up consumers.
Jeep: The "Freedom is electric" tag line worked. The CGI dancing animals, not so much.
Pringles: Another version of the hand stuck in the can campaign? That just feels like their creative is stuck in the '90s.
Squarespace: Adam Driver is already pretty overexposed, but that commercial -- featuring dozens of him -- made him really overexposed.
Tubi: Someone should have talked the ad agency and marketing team out of going down that bizarre rabbit hole.
M&Ms: The only real comment to that Maya Rudolph spot was "???"
Limit/Break: Yes, saw the bar code. No, did not scan now.
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