Restore the integrity of Super Bowl commercials

The year is 1984. Two of the most famous and effective advertising campaigns have just dropped during Super Bowl XVIII, those being Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” commercial, as well as Apple’s “1984” commercial. When initially brought into the public zeitgeist, these were immediate successes. They had achieved the ultimate goal of any Super Bowl commercial: becoming news and therefore, getting free replays. Since then, it seems like every company has tried to recreate the success of the 1984 Super Bowl commercials, without any of the tact or innovation.

Super Bowl commercials are in a crisis. What used to be a playground for big ideas and brand-new marketing techniques has fallen into a grating routine. A person used to be able to tune in and be surprised by a genuinely creative and funny commercial, but now it seems as though everyone has caught on to the repetitive nature of Super Bowl commercials.

For example, every year I can expect at least three commercials where the whole “joke” is two celebrities standing next to each other talking about something unfunny. Oftentimes, it will be a younger celebrity with an older celebrity to reach as many demographics as possible. It is my understanding that this trend gained popularity during Super Bowl XXVIII, with the famous McDonald’s commercial starring Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. What made that commercial special, however, was the entire conceit of the premise. Seeing two of the world’s most famous basketball players who, at the time, were rivals in the game, have a one-on-one for the prospect of a Big Mac is both endearing and brilliant.

One of the most tragic instances of a good format-gone stale are the genre of commercials where an older actor returns to recreate a shot-for-shot remake of a movie or TV show in order to sell a product. I’m not quite sure when or how this trend started, but every year it appears again makes it just slightly more annoying. This year alone, Super Bowl LVII had two of these commercials: The “Clueless” ad for Rakuten, starring Alicia Silverstone, and the “Breaking Bad” ad where Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul reprise their roles as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman respectively in order to sell Popcorners. The “Clueless” commercial felt soulless, like a vacuum sucking up the last bit of good integrity that the property had. The “Breaking Bad” ad was slightly less egregious, since it wasn’t just a shot-for-shot scene recreation, but it does feel slightly odd that the last appearance of two of the most iconic fictional characters of all time are relegated to a commercial for popcorn-flavored chips.

Creativity is lacking in these new commercials. Everything feels more artificial, rather than genuine. The worst thing that a commercial could possibly do is remind you that it was created solely to sell something. Super Bowl commercials used to be able to fool people, making them forget like a wonderful magic trick. Unfortunately, the more times an audience sees the same trick, the more they’ll begin to see through it. The only way Super Bowl commercials will remain a fun tradition is to become more creatively driven and less of whatever the marketing team has in their Rolodex.