2022 was dubbed the Crypto Bowl, and 2023 might be remembered as the year of the celeb spokesperson. From Adam Driver to Alicia Silverstone, brands rolled out famous names and faces to try to strike a chord with audiences.
Unfortunately for some brands, money can’t buy love. Despite their star power, a few commercials fell flat, according to the experts on our Peppercomm Laughing Matters Council, which brings together leaders across the humor spectrum to provide insights and guidance on how to leverage comedy in any business.
In the spirit of learning from other’s mistakes, we present our least-favorite Super Bowl ads.
Busch Light with Sarah McLachlan
Busch Lite dropped in Sarah McLachlan to satirize her own tear-jerker ASPCA commercials. LMC Council member Liz Joynt Sandberg, head of the comedy arts program at DePaul, called this a “successful example of parody,” but questioned how much the humor “is really doing for brand awareness or recognition.” McLachlan’s appearance was so brief and random that, in a week or two, no one will connect her with the brand. “I found this one mostly forgettable,” said Council member Luvell Anderson, associate professor at Syracuse. “The timing of the ‘Also, that’s a wolf’ line was lackluster. It felt phoned in.”
Rakuten with Alicia Silverstone
All of us loved “Clueless,” but this commercial failed badly. Alicia Silverstone reprised the role of her hilarious Cher Horowitz character. But instead of leaning into Cher, Silverstone became a parrot for Rakuten’s trite taglines: “Save while earning cash back!” Joynt Sandberg described it as: “A little dull on the execution. Just ‘Clueless’ behavior in a Rakuten concept.”
For example, the brand spent mountains of cash on recreating scenes from the iconic film (e.g., Cher’s closet), but the scenes flashed by so quickly we couldn’t enjoy them. Anderson agreed, calling this spot “a cheap play for nostalgic laughs, but one that was too lazy to capitalize on it.”
Paramount+ with Sylvester Stallone
Paramount+ tried to capitalize on the success of its Stallone vehicle, “Tulsa King,” but this ad left us scratching our heads. Portraying the real Stallone interacting with the mountainous “Stallone Face” was good for maybe a chuckle, but the brand wasted its money if it was trying to attract new viewers. “This was another ad where it was very unclear what purpose the humor was trying to serve,” said Anderson. “Stallone is featured heavily, but the connection to Paramount+ is left unclear.”
Crown Royal with Dave Grohl
The Foo Fighers’ frontman worked hard to play our funny bones with his litany of gifts to the world from Canada. But he struck a sour note. Anderson said this ad was worth “a half-smile.” He also pointed out Crown Royal’s major mistake: the 60-second spot isn’t humorous enough to hold our attention for the 53 seconds it takes to show the product. “Not very memorable,” he added, “or funny.”
Here's hoping we can all learn from these pitfalls and, in the year ahead, become marketing champs instead of chumps.