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In the years to come, we’ll all remember the 2024 Super Bowl as The Year the Celebrity Ad Formula Failed. Fine, fine, we’ll remember it for other things too: for a game that went down to the final seconds of overtime, for a halftime show in which Usher roller-skated through someone’s legs, and, yes, for the most famous woman in the world sitting in a luxury box at Allegiant Stadium and cheering throughout the entire thing.
The presence of Taylor Swift at Super Bowl LVIII posed a real problem for the ad agencies that have grown accustomed to stuffing as many celebrities as possible into their Big Game spots. Normally it’s sort of fun to count the A- , B-, and Z-listers shilling for mayonnaise and sneakers. In 2024, though—with Swift’s mere presence an arguably bigger storyline than the game itself—Pete Davidson and Mr. T felt a little low-wattage by comparison.
The ads that broke through this year were those that offered something more than just an endless parade of celebrity cameos: a strong conceit, a clear message, a witty script. The ads that failed were ultimately insubstantial, or otherwise objectionable. I suspect we’ll hardly remember any of them by this time next year. I’m calling it here: The Golden Age of Watching the Super Bowl for the Ads is officially over.
BMW’s first-quarter ad made clever use of celebrity pitchman Christopher Walken by directly addressing a question that I’ve often wondered about: What does Walken think about the terrible impressions that people do of him? According to the ad, he finds them pretty irritating! The ad follows him through his daily routine as he’s forced to contend with an endless string of people badly imitating his unique cadence. What does any of this have to do with BMW? An end-of-ad voice-over brings home the point: “There’s only one Christopher Walken, and only one ultimate driving machine. The rest are just imitations.” Sharp, salient, and funny.
While most of this year’s “funny” commercials were real duds, I actually laughed out loud at the Dunkin’ spot featuring Ben Affleck, Tom Brady, and a very reluctant Matt Damon barging into Jennifer Lopez’s recording studio to lay down an execrable track as the “DunKings.” Unlike many other commercials this year, this ad eschewed disorienting jump cuts and stuck with one idea. Damon’s character’s embarrassment is what put this ad over the top for me. Yes, yes, the commercial had very little to do with either coffee or donuts. But the Dunkin’ brand and its conceit are so well known that it doesn’t really need to make you aware of its products; instead, it can waste money putting Tom Brady in stupid sunglasses.
While some brands work far too hard to find an angle, others realize that it’s sometimes enough just to cast an actor whose name sort of sounds like the product being advertised. I thought that skin-care brand CeraVe did a great job picking that particular low-hanging fruit with its spot starring actor Michael Cera. “I’m Michael Cera, and human skin is my passion,” Cera announced, just like he does in all of my fan fiction. Cera, CeraVe—get it? That was basically all the ad was, but, you know, sometimes that’s enough.
The ad for the Kawasaki Ridge ATV did a good job at acknowledging the pastime’s “country” image while also communicating a salient point about the product in question. Two guys jump into a Kawasaki Ridge and magically sprout magnificent mullets as soon as they turn the key. As they drive around, they bestow mullets upon everyone they come across, including notoriously bald wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The takeaway: Much like the mullet hairstyle, the Kawasaki Ridge ATV is business in front and party in the back. I thought this ad did exactly what it needed to do.
For years now, Uber Eats has been trying to remind people that you can use the service to deliver more than just food. Apparently, the message hasn’t sunk in, so the brand hired Jennifer Aniston to offer viewers a helpful memory aid: “In order to remember something, you gotta forget something else.” From there, the ad runs through a series of funny scenarios in which celebrities remember Uber Eats’ versatility by forgetting other, much more salient facts. David and Victoria Beckham struggle to remember the name of Victoria’s famous singing group (“Basil Babes? Paprika Girls?”); the musician Jelly Roll is startled by his own face tattoos. In Aniston’s case, the “something else” she chose to forget in order to clear space for Uber Eats is the identity of David Schwimmer. Fair trade-off!
I suppose one way to counter Taylor Swift’s star power is to cast the second most famous woman in the world in your Super Bowl commercial, which is what Verizon did in its third-quarter ad starring Beyoncé—who, as good as she is at breaking the internet, is incapable of breaking Verizon’s strong network. The ad also starred Arrested Development’s Tony Hale, who is also very capable of breaking the internet, mostly by dropping things on it. Effective and funny—a good ad.
I was initially on the fence about this year’s Reese’s commercial; my first notes on it featured words such as “offputting” and “What is happening??” Upon further reflection, though, I think it was a good ad, or at least an effective one. The goal was to inform people that Reese’s is launching a new type of peanut-butter cup with caramel in it—and while I’ve already forgotten the substance of most of this year’s Super Bowl ads, I somehow still remember that caramel peanut butter cups will soon be a thing.
I was never a Scrubs guy, and so I’ve never really loved the T-Mobile spots in which Zach Braff and Donald Faison sing about the virtues of America’s third-choice wireless provider. But the addition of the charismatic Jason Momoa to this year’s commercial really changed my mind. Momoa is charming! This ad made good, coherent use of its celebrities. If they rebooted Scrubs as a one-man show starring Jason Momoa and only Jason Momoa, I’d probably watch it.
While I did not expect to see a Super Bowl ad touting the presidential candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—the ad was produced by the American Values Super PAC—it’s objectively sort of funny that a commercial promoting Kennedy’s ostensibly independent candidacy focused entirely on the fact that his dad and uncle were famous. Indeed, the ad’s jaunty “Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy” jingle was lifted directly from a campaign ad that John F. Kennedy ran in 1960. Play to your strengths, I guess: “Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy” is ultimately a more compelling message than “Vaccines make you sick.”
I thought that ice-cream novelty brand Drumstick missed the mark with its debut Super Bowl spot, starring comedian Eric André as a man feeling ill on a plane. To the rescue: “Dr. Umstick,” a tiny figurine who magically distributes prepackaged chocolate-and-nut-covered ice cream cones to everyone else on the plane as André weeps miserably. The goal of this spot should have been to remind viewers that Drumsticks exist and are delicious. Instead, it reminded me that air travel is terrible, while giving me the impression that people who like Drumsticks are jerks who would gladly let me die of anaphylaxis.
Is it fair to interpret this year’s commercial for shopping app Temu as a sign of societal collapse? Probably not, but let’s contemplate the prospect anyway! The Chinese-owned online discount shopping site has been blasted by U.S. lawmakers for its failure to provide public data about whether its products are made using forced labor. The ad itself was aesthetically ugly, featuring a style of animation that looked as if it had been ripped straight from some unpopular metaverse. The site’s tagline is “Shop like a billionaire,” and, you know, I suppose there are a lot of billionaires out there whose wealth is derived from questionable labor practices and skimping on production values. At least the ad clarified how to pronounce the company’s name: It’s TEM-oo, as in “I’ll lay you 50–50 odds that the Republican-controlled Congress bans TEM-oo before the end of the year!”
Ninth-tier streaming service Pluto.tv ran a disconcerting spot that made the rookie mistake of portraying people who watch their streaming service as disgusting anthropomorphic potatoes who sit around in a field and stream old reality-show reruns all day. This premise might have worked as a direct-to-video low-budget Matrix sequel or something, but it did not convince me that it’s fun and cool to be a “couch potato,” nor did it convince me that watching Pluto.tv is a better choice than, say, not watching Pluto.tv.
I don’t normally review Super Bowl commercials in sequential pairs, but the direct juxtaposition of the fourth-quarter ad for Dude Wipes with an ad for the Church of Scientology deserves notice. (I don’t know if these ads ran nationwide, but they definitely ran in Florida, where I watched the game.) The Dude Wipes spot featured a bunch of men wandering around in public with their pants down, to illustrate just what a good job the aforementioned wipes do at cleaning their users’ butts. The Scientology ad, meanwhile, was a Scientology ad. Both ads made me uncomfortable in very different ways, and I hope these two “brands” always run their ads back to back until the end of time.
It definitely counts as a flex when you can land a filmmaker as legendary as Martin Scorsese to direct your Super Bowl commercial. Unfortunately for Squarespace, the ensuing commercial was completely nondescript, thus making the flex a somewhat bewildering one, like hiring Thomas Pynchon to fill out your grocery list. The aesthetic unremarkability of Scorsese’s ad is particularly problematic given that Squarespace’s whole thing is that it promises to help you quickly make aesthetically memorable websites.
In 2023 sports gambling site FanDuel ran a boring Super Bowl ad that attempted to answer a question that nobody was asking: Could Rob Gronkowski kick a field goal? (He could not.) Presumably under the logic that doubling down on losing propositions is a very “gambling” thing to do, FanDuel brought Gronk back to miss another field goal this year in a live spot right before the game began. Then, midway through the game, FanDuel ran another ad that began with John Cena cheering at Gronk’s failure, and ended with what felt like a very tacked-on tribute to recently deceased actor Carl Weathers. It didn’t make much sense. This ad badly misgauged the extent to which the average person is invested in the minor details of the FanDuel Rob Gronkowski Field Goal Cinematic Universe (FDRGFGCU). We’ll see how FanDuel completes this trilogy in 2025!
For the second consecutive year, the very well-resourced Jesus advocacy group He Gets Us ran multiple Super Bowl ads that, taken together, posed a fascinating theological question: Would Jesus Christ approve of spending eight figures on ads touting the virtues of Jesus Christ? I can’t speak for the King of Kings, but the ads sure struck me as an exercise in mixed messaging. “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet,” the first He Gets Us ad announced. True enough! He also had some pretty spicy things to say about Pharisees and the public performance of virtue.