A Super Bowl with little purpose
Posted on 2023 Feb,15  | By Thomas Kolster

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“Product, product, product was driving Super Bowl this year. Purpose and sustainable communication were left on the bench,” writes Thomas Kolster, one of the most notorious marketing experts in the sustainable space.

If Super Bowl commercials are a symbol of the times we live in, then put on your helmet and shoulder pads sustainability and purpose communication is in for a tough game. Each year I get to be the line judge and review all the Super Bowl commercials on sustainable excellence. Brace yourself, this year it was easy: they were few and far between.

One brand that didn’t let the opportunity go to waste was Hellmann’s that was back for the third consecutive time fighting food waste. The commercial "Who's in the Fridge?" bring actors Brie Larson and Jon Hamm together in Pete Davidson’s fridge for a cheesy play on words. You get it, right? “Brie” and “Ham”?


Now, it’s down to candy and sport to make us feel more inclusive

Diversity is usually a hot topic at Super Bowl and in advertising. It’s great to see the strides being made in this space, as it’s no longer enough simply to raise the representation flag, but brands – and their agencies and suppliers – are expected to make this an integral part of their efforts. But hey forget about that, we’re back to scratch this year. All eyes were on the candy as M&M had retired an updated version of their candy characters because of complaints they had become woke; for example Green M&M no longer had high heels but was instead wearing sneaks. Would M&M stick to their values with the introduction of their new spokesperson actor Maya Rudolph? I’m still trying to make sense of what hit me in the chocolate clam filled Maya Rudolph commercial “Clams”, as it felt more like an LSD-trip than anything else and when I woke up… tadaaaaa M&M had reintroduced their woke candy characters with a vengeance. The whole tongue-in-cheek exercise was fitting for the playful brand although the whole Maya Rudolph appearance ended up being more weird than value-adding, but kudos to M&M for placing their feet firmly in the chocolate. A clearer and compelling commercial came from NFL with “Run with it”, which featured a long chase scene with Mexican flag football star Diana Flores. Although the chase felt like a hook I have watched many times before in sport commercials, it was still well told, engaging and drove home the pay-off “To the women pushing football forward – we can’t wait to see where you take this game”.


EVs are here to stay

Last year, saw an unprecedented number of commercials for EVs and this year was no different. From an “Electric boogie” commercial from Jeep that felt more like a freeze than a dance to an even more embarrassing commercial from Ram Truck packed with teenage like jokes with sexual connotations. The title gives away the bad joke: "Premature Electrification". Again, you get it right? Oldest trick in the advertising toolbox, word puns.

A brilliant example of why we need more diversity on the agency and brand side, sorry guys!


This year winner is …

One commercial did stand out as a clever initiative, clear value-add to brand and business – without boring the shit out of me. "Why Not An EV?" featuring Will Ferrell was a collaboration between Netflix and General Motors to showcase a Netflix commitment to use EVs instead of fossil fuel cars in their productions, whenever possible. Will Ferrell demonstrated all the possible and impossible scenarios where an EV could be playing a part in Netflix’s treasure chest of films. Netflix turned a boring commitment into an entertaining commercial, which should serve as a lighthouse for any brand trying to brag about its commitments. And hey, General Motors got to integrate a whole range of EVs as a natural part of the storytelling.


Last and least

Let me just mention a few others that ventured into this space although with little success. WeatherTech pitched a “Made in America”-narrative, which felt more like a salesguy putting a foot in the door. Bass Pro Shops was no less clumsy with a male narrated cliché-ridden story about the joy of the outdoors and a last-minute mention of how you could save while supporting conservation efforts. What’s in it for me? At least, you get to learn from other brand’s mistakes.


Far from purpose or on purpose?

This year saw little value-driven work from brands but could also be a sign of what to expect in 2023 and beyond. It’s a challenging economic climate and people are anxious. Do they have enough money for rent, food and utility bills? Are their jobs secured? In this environment, it’s easy to choose value over values for brands and people alike. As the sustainability market is becoming more competitive virtue signaling won’t cut through, you have to translate societal good into tangible value for people. In these times, people need brands to have their back – and not to brag. Well done, Thomas; word pun.

The old purpose pioneer Unilever is also signaling a change in strategy with its new CEO Hein Schumacher. Their investors will be scrutinizing every little step where purpose doesn’t translate to profit. We might see a different Hellmann’s commercial next year that’s more about not wasting advertising dollars than food. Maybe the purpose movement went too far when every candy company suddenly needed a purpose like was it simply a new flavour? No doubt, brands lack stamina. The sort of stamina it takes to win a Super Bowl championship, where it’s about setting your eyes on the goal and keep fighting for it.

Every year I see brands come and go with their purpose messaging. They behave like an insecure teenager embracing every fad from oceans plastic to the latest digital innovation like there is no tomorrow. It takes time to build a purposeful brand and demands a laser-sharp focus on translating societal good into value for you and I. Moreover, it demands common sense. How believable is it anyways when every beer, potato chip or car is on some sort of world-saving quest? Take your friends, they all play different roles in your life. And to be honest, if I had to pick a friend to bring to a Super Bowl match, I’d bring the fun one. Maybe, this is all on purpose?