If the Super Bowl LVI ads are any indication of where we’re headed as a society, there’s much to celebrate and anticipate. Advertisers threw caution and concern into the comfy backseat of electric cars, urging us to obtain cryptocurrency, invest in apps and entertainment, seek adventure, and build community.
But perhaps the most interesting turn of events was the switch in target market.
Historically, Super Bowl campaigns have courted young consumers, but this year, advertisers clearly switched tactics to target established consumers – specifically Generation X (1965-1981).
Xers are a small population in comparison to Boomers (1946-1964) and Millennials (1982-1995). In large part, this demographic had previously been overlooked by big brands as a viable consumer market. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Forgotten Generation’, it’s become a running joke that Xers have spent their lives fading into the background while other generations repeatedly stole the spotlight.
Clearly, that’s not the case right now.
Why the switch?
Youth and young families have been hard-hit by pandemic. Millennials remain in a state of financial distress, still holding the title as the most debt-ridden generation in history. And Generation Z (1996-2009) has remained influx amidst school shutdowns and hybrid learning. As a result, the Z transition into consumer spending has been delayed.
Furthermore, audience demographics for the Super Bowl have shifted. In recent years, the annual game day tradition has been steadily losing viewers ages 18-49.
Now in their prime earning years, advertisers were banking on Xers to tune into the game and crank up the spending, which is why the animals in the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos ad rapped to Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It, the GMC Denali was driving hands-free with Queen on the radio, and Meta Quest urged viewers to connect with old friends to the tune of Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds.
Beyond the music, Xers were more likely to connect with Chevy Silverado’s ad featuring the character Meadow Soprano (actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler), the Austin Powers movie scene replicated by General Motors, and The Cable Guy movie scene replicated by Verizon. (The Sopranos first aired in 1999, Austin Powers was released in 1997, and The Cable Guy in 1996.)
Also, Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus teamed up to ‘save the phones’ in a T-Mobile ad set that looked vaguely similar to the recording of the We Are the World music video recorded in 1985.
Numerous Gen X icons were featured in ads, as well, including Salma Hayek, Ewan McGregor, Rashida Jones, Kevin Hart, Ty Burrell, Serena Williams, Matthew McConaughey, Shaquille O’Neal, Paul Rudd, and Idris Elba to name a few. Even the half-time entertainment show featured four prominent Gen X musicians — Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Dr. Dre.
Nostalgia is a comfort in times of uncertainty, and advertisers tapped heavily into that strategy with 1980s and ‘90s celebrities and memorabilia. Even Barbie’s Dream House made an appearance (Rocket Mortgage).
In addition to the X factor, this year’s Super Bowl ads tapped into a creative element not seen in recent years. From time-traveling (Avocados from Mexico and FTX cryptocurrency), to interacting with Greek Gods (BMW), bringing a video game to life (NFL), putting goats in costumes (Disney Plus), marrying a terrifying ghost (Lays), and Alexa’s mind-reading powers (Amazon), advertisers put extra effort into the production and storytelling components to create memorable, entertaining moments.
Regardless of what advertisers were selling or whether they were going for the funny or sincere, there was continuity in the messaging, ushering up a clear call to bounce back, rediscover joy, and positively contribute to community.
- Will we regret what we didn’t buy or the places we didn’t go? (Expedia)
- Down never means out (Budweiser)
- Start your impossible (Toyota)
- Gotta move, gotta get out (Bud Light)
- It’s not time to escape it’s time to engage (Salesforce)
- We all should have the right to play (Under Armor)
- We all need help just not the same kind (H&R Block)
- It’s only worth it if you enjoy it (Michelob Ultra)
- It takes all of us (NFL)
For the most part, Super Bowl advertisers didn’t try to sell us a quick fix or luxury or glamour. There was assurance in the approach and recognition of the fact that we haven’t been where we want to be.
Yes, we’re tired, stressed, burned out, and worried – but advertisers reminded us hope remains, as does the ability to create a better tomorrow for ourselves and for others.
The key take-away from the Super Bowl LVI ad effort: There are always new markets and new opportunities to discover. There’s always a path forward.
Sometimes you just have to switch up the strategy.