WARC Awards for Effectiveness judge Tim Polder explores the 2022 Super Bowl ads using the Creative Effectiveness Ladder to better understand their impact.

The deadline for the 2022 WARC Awards for Effectiveness is 2nd March. All entries will be judged using the Creative Effectiveness Ladder, and shortlisted papers will receive feedback on their perfomance against it. To get started, download the Entry Pack.

How can one not love the Super Bowl? It is an event so uniquely American. So laden with energy, joy and an athletic feat or two, that you have to be utterly bereft of feelings not to be delighted by – at least tiny bits of – it.

It is the annual celebration of a season of (American) Football, the human ability to ‘inhale’ 6000 calories, and formerly a great opportunity to make fun of a rubbish half-time show.

But thankfully both Pepsi and the NFL did not forget about Dre.

As an added bonus, it allows a small plucky (and lucky) group of creative people to flex their brains and come up with something big and bold in order to get a brand in front of 100m+ people. A.k.a. the biggest live audience one can buy in these United States. Well done to all who got an ad in, and well done to the brand shepherds who understand that investing in mass reach matters.

We know that putting one's distinctive brand assets out there for people to see – even if it’s just on a jersey or on the side of the field – works.1 Creativity makes these efforts work a lot harder at a fraction of the media investment. Making creativity a solid and effective investment for any company.

That is, if done with an insightful idea, creative pizzaz, a side of comms planning, and without throwing 29 celebrities2 at the problem or buying too little server space.

The world always could use ONE MORE list ranking ‘ads’. But to steal a page out of Yusuf Chuku’s book I used the WARC/LIONS Creative Effectiveness Ladder.

Sadly, not all things that matter can be measured overnight, and one of those things is effectiveness. Here are six national Super Bowl marketing initiatives framed through the Ladder to offer an indication of their potential effectiveness. Judged additionally on leveraging their own distinctive brand assets (versus borrowing expensive equity), creative commitment, and instant (positive) fame.

Amazon – Read your mind?

Smart speakers are getting smarter and are always listening. Which is equal parts handy and Hal-9000 levels of terrifying. Alexa has been learning (a lot of) skills and now plays well with over 100,000 compatible devices. Instead of fencing with numbers and reason, Amazon once again comes ready to not take itself too seriously, giving us the most ‘helpful’ version of Alexa. That delivery is helped by power couple Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost, whose smart and genuine delivery super charges the idea versus the ‘idea’ hinging on them. Smart casting, smart idea and a smart conceptual platform that can become a Brand Builder.

Booking.YEAH & Expedia – It’s a travel-off

In the one corner we have Expedia’s “experiences are more important than stuff” which is an ‘insight’ so often used that at certain agencies you get shot into the sun if you dare write it down.3 Yet in the post(-ish)-pandemic context, backed up by a social give-away poking fun at the consumerism and ‘stuffocation’ of the Super Bowl, all delivered by Jedi master Ewan McGregor, it feels timely. Therefore, we’ll allow it. Hopefully it will lead to a resurgence in brand-building activities at Expedia versus its overreliance on display marketing – because now they proved they can do holistic, interesting campaigns. Definitely an Influential Idea, with a potential to be a Behaviour Breakthrough.

Which brings us to the challenger: The Return of The Booking.YEAH campaign – another timely reintroduction of a travel brand, expertly brought to us by Idris Elba. Who might be the smoothest man on the planet, but somehow nails the awkward brand persona without overtaking the spot. Leveraging Booking’s legendary creative platform that deftly hammers home the name “Booking” again and again. All giving Booking’s brand health a much-needed shot in the arm, making it a Brand Builder.

Let the creative travel wars ensue, with the edge this round going to Booking by leveraging existing (and great) equity.4

Coinbase & FTX – Crypto cynicism & Don’t be like Larry

The Super Bowl push of crypto makes the attempt of crypto to cross into the mainstream more than official. Whether this is good for society? Time will tell. FTX leans into the wariness of innovation adoption and found the perfect anti-spokesman in Larry David, epically directed by Jeff Schaffer. Distracting from the potential impending doom that crypto could bring by comparing it to some of humanity’s greatest achievements. Smart chasm strategy. Bonus – a social bitcoin giveaway.

Then there was the other financial service provider that needs to build its brand, deliver on the promises of crypto and its own one of safety and security.

Coinbase’s bouncy QR code was different, it stood out between the celebrity onslaught. But maybe that said more about the quality of the ads this year. Was this an idea? Or did Coinbase leave this to really late and decided to do a Hail Mary by taking some inspiration out of Reddit’s 2021 success? But without the brand of cheek and committed community Reddit enjoys.

At the very least, if you make a QR code bounce on screen for 60 seconds worth approximately $14m, to give away $15 per download to promote that you can safeguard people’s money, it is worth making sure that your website works. It might have propelled the app to the #2 spot in the Appstore, but let’s see what the cost per acquisition is versus the annual value of these Super Bowl acquisitions.

The short-term celebration of a campaign about a product that seems like a good idea in the near term, yet could be disastrous in the long-run, makes this a great time to resurface the rule that paying money to advertise that you are giving away even more money is not a viable long-term strategy. Nor does it build healthy brands. Potential Influential Idea by FTX – especially if they demonstrate the practical potential of crypto to human life with Larry.

Pepsi – Halftime show

The media deal that Pepsi made owning this half-time slot was a flash of genius. Deciding to actually make it amazing was long overdue. Giving actual cultural icons and the parts of America they represent a stage they have long deserved. Pepsi’s consistent presence at the Super Bowl was always good for the brand, now it raised the bar for what it can do with that presence and for culture.

The trailer alone out-performed Pepsi’s past efforts by a stretch. The celebrity buzz from Lady Gaga to James Harden to King James is PR money can’t buy.

And when you compare it in Google Trends to other iconic brand properties that showed up at the Super Bowl? There is only one brand that ruled them all. Congratulations on your Enduring Icon play Pepsi.


1) TikTok becomes official UEFA Euro 2020 sponsor.

2) Previous WARC research and System1 research from 2020 and 2021 has demonstrated that more celebrity = lower effectiveness.

3) ‘People are busy and therefore want convenience’ is another trite observation that will land you in planner jail.

4) Kayak has already started brand activities long before these two, so this should be an interesting year for travel brands and creativity.