What Makes a Culturally Relevant & ‘Big-Game-Worthy’ Campaign?

Super Bowl Editorial 01
  • Text Maggie Fischer
  • Design Philip Cheaney

The 2024 big game was one for the history books, with a heart-pounding game, pop-star-studded audience and steamy halftime show. But, if you’re like us — you’re watching for the ads.

This year, as every year, industry publications, social media, and even my great-aunt had something — very different — to say about the campaigns.

So, ultimately, what makes a good ad? We surveyed D1Aers and their social feeds to see what stood out from this year’s campaigns.

Celebrities: Here, There and Everywhere

Celebrities are a fixture in big game ads. Seeing which brands shelled out for whom is part of the ad-watching appeal. But casting a celebrity doesn’t guarantee a good spot. “I kinda feel like the celebs are a little overdone,” says Val Kim, VP of Brand Strategy.

Instead, it requires casting celebrities in a way that feels authentic to their personality — or to your brand.

For example, Verizon challenged Beyoncé to break the internet again, after she “stopped the world” (in her own words) with a digital album release in 2013.

“Beyonce is a humble queen for agreeing to do an ad where she's saying that even she can't break Verizon's internet. Whoever pitched that is hella smart and tapped into internet culture,” says Alexandra Hardwick, Senior Brand Strategist.

Paige Zidek, Account Director, agrees, “I noticed a ton of folks on my feed immediately forgot about the game and spent time hunting on the internet, TIDAL, etc. for tracks.”

Dunkin, too, tapped into internet culture. The coffee chain’s spot expanded the Ben-Affleck-Dunkin-meme universe, this time roping in JLo, Matt Damon, and Tom Brady.

“[Dunkin’] leaning into something true,” Val Kim says about Affleck’s unabashed Dunkin’ love. “The ‘you make it really hard to be your friend’ line from Matt Damon to Ben Affleck was my fave.”

(It’s worth noting: social media is speculating that the spot may also be a redemption tour for Damon and Brady’s 2022 crypto ads.)

Directory of Story, Charlie Quiroz, says one thing that brands may want to keep in mind while casting celebrities, is that relying too heavily on them can muddle a brand’s message and make the spot less memorable.

You Make or Break on Social

Similarly, reactions on social media can cement, or destroy, a brand’s message in pop culture. For example, D1Aers’ feeds were swamped with groans about the sheer number of Temu ads (“How many 99 cent items are they selling to afford that?!”) — but buzzing over DoorDash’s impossibly long promo code and the Duolingo owl’s BBL.

The social underdog of the night, however, was Nickelodeon. Though the company had no official spot, they hosted a big game broadcast on their channel featuring their IP. The “broadcast from Bikini Bottom” was screenshotted, memed and reposted to no end.

“I saw lots of ‘look what Nickelodeon is doing’ tweets,” says Trey Taylor, Senior Director of Editorial. Highlights included: Plankton dumping a chum bucket on the crowd, Dora explaining a false start, and Sandy Cheeks reporting live from the sidelines.

Story Wins Every Time

In the end, however, the spots that succeed tell a story that outlives the social media cycle. These ads become a part of our vernacular and culture, says Nick Hartland, Associate Director of Creative Strategy, referencing spots like Bud Light’s “Wassup.” “Most brands get too caught up in the spectacle of it all and let it influence their ideas. Nothing stands out because they’re all too ‘big,’” he says. “A lot of the best Super Bowl ads in history are simple stories that people can remember.”

This year’s memorable stories? Disney+ and PlutoTV.

With “simple, straight-to-the-point” text-on-screen, Disney “leveraged iconic lines from classic movies,” says Jenny Chang, Associate Director of Creative Strategy. The spot reminded us of Disney’s own storytelling power — and how a single line of Disney dialogue can capture countless memories and emotions.

PlutoTV, on the other hand, celebrated the cultural truth that there’s nothing more American than being a couch potato in front of the TV. The extremely literal ad “was one of those spots where you just think to yourself: 'that is so unbelievably dumb (and true),' and that's exactly why it works,’" says Eli Williams, Director of Creative Strategy.


So, How Do You Make an Internet-Breaking, Culturally Captivating Big Game Ad?

Know your brand and your audience.

The challenge, and the joy, of creating big game ads is that the results are subjective. (Though, we think our employees’ opinions are 100% correct). The game, this year, was the most-watched TV broadcast since the moon landing. And it’s nearly impossible to surprise and delight all 123 million viewers.

But, when you create a campaign that speaks to the heart of your brand and how your audience perceives it, you’re sure to strike big game gold.