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Super Bowl Ads: Celeb Overload? When’s the Limit?

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If you’re looking for evidence of how deeply celebrities have permeated Super Bowl ads, let’s make a random comparison.

In 1992, Pepsi aired what’s still considered one of the big game’s best spots: Supermodel Cindy Crawford (scarcely contained by a white tank top) drives into gas station and sips a Pepsi from the vending machine while two boys look on in in preadolescent stupefaction.

Now let’s choose another beverage ad—Michelob Ultra from 2022. This one’s set in a bowling alley and Crawford’s not in it. But here’s who is: Serena Williams, Tony Romo, Alex Morgan, Canelo Alvarez, Nneka Ogwumike, Jimmy Butler, Brian Cox, Peyton Manning, Brooks Koepka and Steve Buscemi.

Notice a difference in the celebrity count? Of course you have. In recent years, it’s become impossible not to. Not only are there more celebrities in Super Bowl spots overall, there are more of them packed into each of those spots.

Consider Sabra’s 2020 ad “How We ‘Muss,’” which featured no fewer than 19 famous faces (including Doug the Pug) demonstrating their technique for getting hummus onto a cracker.

This year, the spot for Paramount+ will feature a stable of Hollywood regulars (Patrick Stewart, Drew Barrymore), one ’90s rock band (Creed) and bigwigs who aren’t even real (sorry, Peppa Pig.) Total celeb count: 11.

Veteran creative Steve Merino, CCO at ad shop Aloysius Butler & Clark (AB&C), sums the trend up this way: “In the ’80s, if you saw a celebrity in an ad, it was ‘Oh my gosh!’ Now? It’s table stakes.”

Where’d all these people come from?

How’d we reach the point where a Super Bowl ad’s somehow no good unless it has a ballroom’s worth of stars? It’s taken the convergence of multiple economic and cultural forces to get us here.

Start with a basic truth: If a TV spot is an engine, a celebrity is a supercharger. “The pros of using talent are obvious—an automatic increase in brand awareness,” said Courtney Worthman, svp of brand and agency partnerships at celebrity matchmaking firm Burns Entertainment. “Ads with talent have much better recall.”

And better engagement, too. “For the past three years, our data has shown consumers are 25% more likely to engage with a brand online during the Super Bowl when there’s a featured celebrity,” said Kevin Krim, president and CEO of impact measurement platform EDO.

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