Given the dearth of creative firepower on Sunday during the Super Bowl, it would not have been hard for travel companies to stand out in the crowded field of all the meh 30-second spots. That unfortunately didn't happen, with travel brands opting for the same formula of celebrity status quo that did little to inspire.
The Kansas City Chiefs weren’t the only ones celebrating on Sunday night. The companies that shelled out for spots during the big games, which more than 100 million people were expected to tune in to see, are watching closely as social impressions, commentary, and — in some cases — sales roll in.
Companies including Booking.com, Virgin Voyages, Vrbo, and Uber paid up to $7 million for a 30-second spot in this year’s game, not counting the production, talent, and mixed media campaigns accompanying them. Fox Sports sold all of its in-game Super Bowl 57 inventory just last week, AdWeek reported. The cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad has rapidly increased since its origin, nearly doubling in just the last decade.
Given the cost, it’s of little surprise that some brands opt for a pre-game spot to spread their dollars a bit further, which is just what Priceline did this year. The brand’s pre-game Go To Your Happy Price ad, featuring brand ambassador and actress Kaley Cuoco, kicked off a much larger campaign across digital, social, and streaming channels delivering $5 million in travel rewards. The creative itself is cheesy, in a lovable way, as expected from Cuoco, but the message around saving on travel with Priceline is direct enough to not get lost in the cringe.
Battle of the STRs
On the backend of the game came Vrbo’s ad, a direct punch at Airbnb, with visuals of a multi-generational family arriving at a vacation home, reserved just for them. “When you stay at a Vrbo, you always get the whole home,” the ad’s voiceover starts. “Not part of it, but the whole upstairs, the whole downstairs, the whole fridge, and the whole secret nap room. Because is it really a vacation home if you have to share the house with the host?” The serene imagery of a large family traveling together, plus the privacy and luxury providing by the rental, will hit home with many viewers who are largely traveling again to reunite with loved ones.
But Vrbo isn’t the only one taking a hit at Airbnb and competitive short-term rental platforms.
Booking.com made an appearance in the fourth quarter with Emmy Award-winner and Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy taking center stage as she sings about the many types of accommodations available on the booking platform.
“Oh, Booking.com. I’m going somewhere, anywhere, a beach house, a tree house, honestly, I don’t care. A fancy hotel with a sexy gardener. A tiny home with aggressive flair. Somewhere, anywhere, as long as they have child care,” she sings while embodying different vacation personas. The backdrops change from a cabin in the woods to an in-room spa treatment, a hot tub at a ski resort, and a beach. The final shot features background singers chiming in, “Mama deserves a vacation.”
The ad ends with the “Booking.yeah” slogan, which had been dormant from 2013 through 2022 when the brand brought it back with a Super Bowl ad last year.
Vrbo and Booking both hone in on alternative stays and family travel.
Drunk on Stardom
As one tweet so succinctly puts it, “Friendly reminder that your Super Bowl ad idea needs to be more than ‘insert celeb here.’”
While celebrities were definitely used to deflect from the lack of actual storytelling and plot this Super Bowl, if a brand is going to this route then they might as well go all the way. This is precisely what Uber did to promote its subscription program Uber One, and it works.
Uber One doled out the cash for a full one-minute ad featuring rapper and music producer Sean “Diddy” Combs as well as Montell Jordan, Kelis, Donna Lewis, Ylvis, and Haddaway. The ad portrays Uber executives coming to Diddy for a hit song for the subscriptions, for which he enlists the other stars in search of the right tune. Uber grew the number of Uber One subscribers to 12 million during 2022, 90 percent up on 2022, Skift reported last week. Uber CEO and director Dara Khosrowshahi said that program members spend four times more than non-members each month.
Combs got more thant just a check out of the deal – he used airtime to introduce his new company Combs Global and its logo in the background of his office.
Meanwhile the Virgin Voyages ad takes a different approach. Its ad is just a slice of the “Now We’re Voyaging” campaign released earlier this year. The ad itself stars real crew members and was inspired by real first-hand experiences on board and conceal its real star power behind the scenes: The ad is a reimagining of Culture Club’s iconic song, Karma Chameleon, and directed by acclaimed Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund.
Customized by Market
Travelers watching the big game in Denver or Colorado Springs got a customized ad from United Airlines, highlighting how United Airlines outperformed rival airlines in the market during winter storms this holiday season. The United ad starts with, “This isn’t a flashy Big Game commercial. No celebrities. No gags. This is just the story of a family from Denver who got to be together for the holidays,” and then shows a video family together followed by on-screen text that says: “United got more families in and out of Denver this holiday than any other airline. Despite the weather.” This is a savvy approach from United and doubles down on its competitive edge against Southwest.
Different Takes on Your EV Ride
Car brands are a staple of Super Bowl ads, and three of the four commercials–those created by GMC, RAM, and Jeep–focused on electric vehicles. Each took very different approaches to highlight how its specific EVs stood apart from the competition: RAM likened its powerful electric battery to sexual stamina, GMC cast Will Farrell as an EV owner driving through scenes of popular Netflix shows, and–our favorite–Jeep positioned its vehicles on a wild safari with the electric slide playing in the background. While the first two felt forced, at least the Jeep spot paired the ridiculous, dancing animals, with the outdoor rugged landscape that the brand is known for.
The one brand that did not, Kia, created a spot close to a travel ad. It featured a man checking into a ski resort, realizing that his baby’s favorite pacifier was left at home, and racing in his Kia to get and return it, only to learn that it’s the wrong color.
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Photo credit: Actress Melissa McCarthy (pictured) in a Booking.com ad debuting during the 2023 Super Bowl. Booking.com