The Super Bowl Ads milked nostalgia dry.

Perhaps it's the desire for a more comforting experience after two years of restricted movements and low-key Covid stress, but this year's Super Bowl ads were so risk-adverse, they arrived wearing more protective gear than the football players. 

We saw tired rehashes of movies (Austin Powers, The Big Lebowski, Cable Guy) and shows (Scrubs, Ted Danson and other NBC relics) that are decades old. When there wasn't a remake of a movie, long-loved celebrities (or in Lindsay Lohan's case, infamous people) were trotted out to make an appearance, or read the product benefit from the brief like a bad strategist or client.

The spots' unabashedly nostalgic tone could not hide their blandness, in an attempt to court millennials who are quickly aging out of a coveted demographic in favor of Gen Z who weren't around to get the references the first time but know them from binge watching or memes. A sample of civilian (non advertising industry) Twitter posts showed some excitement for the celebrities but very few people mentioned the brands.

While I'm glad ScarJo and her husband what's his name benefitted from Amazon's millions (as opposed to their workers who were probably pissing in their Depends in order to keep working during the game) I can't help but think there is a ton of money out there that could have been put to better use on the day where millions upon millions tuned in.

Aside from Toyota's Paralympic heartwarming storytelling spot that kicked off the game, very few spots left an impression large enough for me to care. Most likely because my attention waned by the third quarter after seeing yet another famous person. The closest was Anna Kendrick's ad for Rocket Mortgage that had a fun Mattel tie in. At least it was a head fake. Before she started reading from the brief. Have I mentioned the celebrities were reading from the brief a lot? Either that or the copywriters were all handcuffed and stuffed in their work-from-home closets.

Irish Spring had a nice typeface. Bud's post-apocalyptic Flavor Town might have been the best use of a celebrity because Guy Fieri was actually subdued and playing against type. Much better than Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd's self-written wankery, or the Scrubs musical for phones, or any of the other four dozen ads that featured familiar faces sleepwalking for thirty to sixty seconds. 

The most egregious celebrity spots tonight used famous people in such non-sensical ways I can only assume the ads were client-mangled. Why was Schwarzenegger's "Zeus," upset about generating electricity but then is excepted to get an EV? Why was Dr Evil (which did have a few fun moments if you care about the Austin powers movies) suddenly wanting to end climate change? Why is Jim Carrey reading from the brief?

Not content with resurrecting significant moments from pop culture, the advertising industry also managed to shove its head further into its navel with two self-referential ads. The first riffed poorly on Here's To The Crazy Ones," a spot as oft-mythologized and as overrated as "Stairway To Heaven." I think it was for a hard seltzer but I am hard-pressed to remember the brand, because it was forgettable. The second featured the E-Trade baby, who in real life would have hit puberty by now. His featured a warmed-over action movie trope. The good old "I left the life but they pulled me back one more time." Except who remembers him the first time? Except people in advertising? 

Even Google's pandering spot for diversity was just "shot on iPhone" with people of color. This was a hugely missed opportunity to say something significant beyond touting a product feature. But then this was true of all of the spots this year. The only served to remind you that advertising no longer makes culture but just wants desperately to be a part of it.

Like watching an hour's worth of Instagram reels, everything looked the same and blended in, happy to be a part of the same tribe and not willing to stick out, get some notice or, god forbid, offend anyone, lest the cancel trolls come out to play.

Even the promoted ads on Twitter from said brands all asked the same question: "Did you see our ad during the Super Bowl?" I sure did. And then I forgot about it a second later. And the only thing I'm nostalgic for are the days when we made good ads. 



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