The Surprising Winners Of The Super Bowl LVII Brand Battle

Last night the Kansas City Chiefs outlasted the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 in one of the most exciting, action-packed championship games ever. Meanwhile brands paid out record $7 million per 30-second spot to grab the attention of an audience expected to top last year’s record 114 million live viewers. Today as we scroll through everyone’s winners and losers lists, one thing is clear: whether you prefer electric or gas-powered vehicles, mass market or craft beers, online sports betting or the stock market, the biggest brands that captured our imagination last night were personal brands: specifically, the personal brands of the friendly, familiar cultural figures who dominated the screen between downs.

Super Bowl commercial spots, and advertising in general, have always relied on the tried-and-true “celebrity endorsement” as a creative strategy, but rarely has it seemed to be the signature, go-to move of nearly everyone as it did last night. Some of the most memorable moments of between-game action came from top Hollywood talent reprising their most famous characters to stir nostalgia across multiple generations of fans, reminding us less of the products they were hawking than their own glory days.

The emphasis on Clinton-era icons showed brands’ ongoing romance with Millennials, now in their prime spending years. Alicia Silverstone reprised her memorable role as Cher Horowitz from 1995’s Clueless while Supergrass’s period-appropriate “Alright” blasted in the background, advertising… sorry, what was it? Oh yes, Rakuten.

Will Ferrell, though little seen in recent times compared to his 90s-00s peak, reminded the world that he was, is and always shall be the Alpha Chaos Muppet, rambling amiably through the world of NetflixNFLX
properties like Stranger Things, Bridgerton and Squid Game for something-something about GM battery-powered vehicles.

King of all media P-Diddy turned up to remind the world that he made his bones in the 90s and aughts as a super-producer capable of turning even marginal acts into big stars, as he cycled through a series of one-hit wonders auditioning to create a new Uber One jingle.

90s-era rock star Dave Grohl gave us a nice commercial for the ingenuity of our friends in the North, checking down a list of Canadian accomplishments, including their whiskey. Odd that a bona fide Canadian was unavailable, but I guess Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young are a little too long in the tooth.

The prestige TV era of the late aughts-early teens is already ripe for early revival, as fans were treated to appearances of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in their career-defining roles of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.

Jon Hamm, of Mad Men fame, also turned up alongside former costar Alison Brie (with Peter Davidson adding his unique energy) to a cheesy Hellmann’s ad. I have the sinking feeling we’ll be seeing these guys reappearing like clockwork through the 2040s, reminding us all of the good times we had vicariously enjoying whiskey and crystal meth back in the day.

But it wasn’t all about the recent past. Gen Xers with fading memories of the 70s and 80s are still on the board, now rounding into empty-nesters and badly in need of reminding of their own cherished icons, even the ones with more than a touch of grey.

Sylvester Stallone turned up on behalf of Paramount to obliquely observe that 1993’s Cliffhanger, while unfairly underrated, barely scratches the surface of the monumental Rocky. The sporting event of the evening also underscored the relevance of this ad, as Philly’s finest went the distance in a tough bout but lost in the end when it went to the judges’ cards.

In an impressive double-dip of nostalgia, John Travolta and his crew hit the high note of the evening, literally, in a reprise of the “Tell Me More” number from 1978’s set-in-the-50s Grease, on behalf of T-Mobile’s very here-and-now 5G home service.

Even the movie trailers got in on the act, with octogenarian Harrison Ford showing you’re never too old to jump out of an airplane if you’re Indiana Jones, and Michael Keaton bringing goosebumps to 80s-era Batman fans with a single, memorable line in the teaser for the new Flash movie.

In just about every case, the power of the star’s own brand vastly outshone that of the sponsor. And the repetition of this theme over and over again, across ad after ad after ad, underscored how hard it can be to generate emotional connections in today’s oversaturated era without a helping hand from a familiar face.