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Arts & Culture

Super Bowl Ads 2023: Overindulging on Food, Drink and Celebs

Marketing Professors Weigh in on Which Commercials Flourished and Which Flopped

By Annie Krakower

Collage of puppy, Paul Stanley, Ben Affleck working at Dunkin', and Jesse Pinkman and Walter White from "Breaking Bad"

Ads (clockwise from top left) by The Farmer's Dog, Workday, PopCorners and Dunkin’ were among those that scored during this year's Super Bowl, said two UMD marketing experts.

Images and videos courtesy of companies

The stars were out Sunday night during Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium—and not just the injured Patrick Mahomes leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a comeback win over the Philadelphia Eagles, or the pregnant Rihanna pumping up the crowd during the halftime show. Famous folks also showed up on the golf course, in human resources, at Dunkin’ and even in the fridge.

Celebrities—from Jon Hamm and Brie Larson (hawking a Hellmann’s sandwich) to Amy Schumer erasing exes from old pics to a singing John Travolta—packed this year’s slate of commercials during the game. Companies shelled out $6 million to 7 million for a 30-second spot on the world stage, but some of them fumbled in connecting with the broad audience of 100 million.

“There was a theme throughout where I thought they were rewarding viewers that really understood movies,” said Hank Boyd, clinical professor of marketing in the Robert H. Smith School of Business. “You've gotta make sure if you're gonna go retro, we all get the reference—or, you know, the train left the station, and I wasn't on it."

A lighthearted vibe emerged throughout the night, added Judy Frels, another clinical professor of marketing, with few of the serious ads that referenced struggles against COVID and racial inequality in recent years.

The pair chatted with Maryland Today for some Monday morning quarterbacking, discussing which ads scored and which ones fell short:


Ben Affleck, a real-life Dunkin’ diehard, works the drive thru in a suburb of his hometown of Boston, handing Munchkins out the window and asking unsuspecting customers if they recognize him in his uniform. It’s all fun until his wife, Jennifer Lopez, rolls up—and questions whether this is what he does all day. (She also asks for a glazed doughnut on the way out.)

Frels: “I thought that was fantastic. And they really previewed that very softly—they didn’t give the whole ad away. They only did a little bit just with the word ‘Ben.’”

Boyd: “And I think that we like when celebs can just be human, just like the rest of us.”

In another celeb sighting, actors Miles Teller and his wife, Keleigh Sperry, dance around their living room while on hold with customer service—“Your estimated hold time is now less than 96 minutes”—cracking open a few drinks to show how easy it is to enjoy a Bud Light.

Boyd: “(Bud Light) can get there with the fewest words, and it’s just the actions of young people. And Lord knows we’ve all been there where you’re waiting on a call, losing your mind.”

Frels: “I also thought it kind of played to the current theme of everybody video-recording themselves dancing on TikTok.”

PopCorners | Breaking Good

“Breaking Bad” characters Jesse Pinkman and Walter White are back, but instead of crystal meth, they’re cooking up delicious, air-popped PopCorners chips—but “we don’t eat our own supply,” White scolds his hungry partner. Distributor Tuco Salamanca is quite impressed, encouraging (threatening?) them to make seven flavors instead of six.

Frels: “Because ‘Better Call Saul’ just finished, a lot of people have kind of re-engaged their love of ‘Breaking Bad.’ And they not only had the two main characters, who were just spot-on in character, but they brought back Tuco, who was the most terrifying.”

Workday | Rock Star

Last-century music sensations Paul Stanley, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Gary Clark Jr. and Joan Jett implore “corporate types” to stop calling each other “rock stars” in the workplace just for using software like Workday for finance and human resources. Seriously, has Liz from HR even trashed a hotel room?

Frels: “It was really cracking me up. I think it’s gotta be targeted at people within 10 years of me, because we would know who all these rock stars were. … For something like Workday, I mean, who cares about background HR software? But that ad really did stand out.”

The Farmer’s Dog | Forever

In one of the evening’s rare heartstrings-pullers, viewers watch a girl and her chocolate Lab grow up together, from childhood to leaving for college to getting married to having a baby. “Nothing matters more than more years together,” the ad reads as it closes, encouraging feeding your pet healthy, real food.

Boyd: “We both have dogs, and when you love a dog, you love a dog. The dog lovers out there were just in tears.”

Frels: “My husband said, ‘Oh my God, are they going to let the dog die?!’ I was like, ‘No, no, no.’”


Michelob Ultra | New Members Day

Athletes from Serena Williams to Tony Romo take Bushwood Country Club in this “Caddyshack” homage, with Romo cracking open a Michelob bottle to provide just enough oomph for Williams to sink her shot.

Boyd: “It was kind of weird. The movie was so much better, so why draw from something like that if the execution wasn’t there?”

Frels: “And the movie is so old. People that know ‘Caddyshack’ probably don’t know who half these athletes are.”

Williams is back, this time giving the famous speech in the locker room from the 1999 movie “Any Given Sunday” to promote the cognac brand.

Boyd: “It was like, whoa, where did that come from?”

Frels: “I mean, I love her, but I did not think that really did much.”

After the company put its popular spokescandies on pause after changes—like the Green M&M swapping her high heels for sneakers—sparked right-wing criticism, Maya Rudolph rebrands the classic candy-coated chocolates as clam-filled “Ma&Ya’s.” But the familiar anthropomorphized sweets eventually return to let audiences know they’re here to stay.

Frels: “What a letdown. I guess they had a good buildup, but then when Maya Rudolph wants them to be sold as clams, I thought, ‘Okay, now everybody knows for sure this is a setup.’”

Boyd: “I didn’t get the whole thing Mars was trying to pull off with that. Maya Rudolph is very talented. They could have come up with something else.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.