Super Bowl Psychology 2022: What Our Ads Say About Us

Following the Money to Understand the State of the Union.

Bryan J. / 2.15.22

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Rams, winners of the 2022 Super Bowl! What a fun game that was, featuring all the best football has to offer: compelling superstar storylines, back and forth scoring, dramatic comebacks, excellent coaching, and an evenly matched pair of teams. But let’s face it — the commercials continue to be the real star of the game, hence our annual Super Bowl Psychology series. The premise is this: the big ad agencies producing Super Bowl commercials have a better pulse on the American psyche than just about anyone. They get paid the big bucks to tell stories that are so compelling to us, they will supposedly inspire us to spend our money. So we can learn a lot about “the state of the union” through an anthropological and theological study of Super Bowl ads. So here are the trends that stood out from our 2022 batch of Super Bowl advertisements:

Money Money Money… Money (The Ojays, 1973)

Many of the big advertisers of the Big Game this year were out of my financial league. Frankly, they made me feel poor. If you have extra money to invest in cryptocurrency, or you want to refinance your loans through SoFi (the Stadium name rights holder), you were the target audience, not me. Larry David told me not to miss out on Cryptocurrency. DJ Khaled wants me to upgrade my business payroll software. My whole Super Bowl watch party was anxiously waiting to see if the Coinbase QR code screen saver would hit the corner of the TV screen.

But it went beyond financial products and speculative crypto investing. Sports betting continues to be a nationwide phenomenon, even though it isn’t yet legal in 20 of the 50 states. DraftKings wants us to remember “life is a gamble,” as The Goddess of Fortune clings to Evel Knievell while he speeds away on a motorcycle stunt jump. It’s gotten to the point that Greenlight is going to teach the kids how to learn about and save money (while also, ostensibly, investing it).

When all the commercials are inviting you to join them as partners in making money, we can reasonably guess, then, that money is in short supply. Or, more pointedly, these are advertisements for people anxious about money, not people who already have enough of it. Take the risk and don’t miss out on the next big thing! You’re selling sea shells by the seashore now when you could be a celebrity.

Millennials, Millennials, Millennials.

Top to bottom, this year’s advert landscape targeted that coveted Millennial demographic, or whatever we’re calling that generation that experienced an 80s or 90s childhood. You didn’t need the ads to tell you this — the halftime show was a tip of the hat to the changing consumer landscape as much as anything else. This was one of those years where I realized that the commercials weren’t for my parents — the ads are aimed squarely at me.

The celebrities were of a younger generation – the Seth Rogans and the Zach Braffs and Idris Elbas fit the demographic well. Even the senior celebrities in the adverts, like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, and William Shatner, transcend generational categories. Avocados from Mexico still ran their spot, despite the fact that the U.S. just announced a “suspension of imports” for the millennial fruit of choice. Austin Powers, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Hart, Jim Carrey, Steve Buschemi — the actors and characters that millennials love, whether that love is sincere or ironic, were on full display this year.

The fact that the coach of the Rams, Sean McVay, is only 36 and the youngest head coach to ever win a Super Bowl only underlines the fact that a torch is being passed. And I just can’t imagine my parents’ generation getting genuinely excited over a half-dozen new zero-calorie alcoholic beverages that let you get drunk without getting a middle aged paunch. That’s a Millennial thing, I am ashamed to say.

Perhaps the best example was Rocket Mortgage’s ad featuring Anna Kendrick, Barbie, and He-Man, one of the funnier commercials of the evening. The struggles of home buying and home ownership are real, God help us.

It’s Electric (Boogie Woogie Woogie)

GM, Kia, BMW, Chevy, and the new car company Polestar all proudly displayed their new EV’s for the world to see. Commercials for gas powered vehicles, like the Toyota Tundra, stood out in a bad way. Like it or not, most of us will own and drive an electric vehicle in our lifetime.

More than this, though, there was a border attempt to humanize the digital world. Kia’s ad featured a sad robot dog wishing to be loved like the real dogs it sees out the window every day. The robot dog then chases down the owner of an electric Kia, who dutifully charges the dog’s batteries and takes him home. Facebook/Meta also tried to humanize their Oculus/Metaquest VR hardware, giving an off-brand Chuck E. Cheese a second lease on life with his friends. See also the at-home COVID tester Cue Health, the at-home EV charging station called Wallbox, and a new strength-training Peloton-style workout apparatus called Tonal.

Many of these adverts rang hollow. A cute little robot dog just doesn’t cut it when you have an actual dog that loves you apart from being programmed to do so. Cue Health was a COVID reminder ad when the stadium was filled with tens of thousands of unmasked fans.

The Oculus/Metquest/Facebook/Meta advert was, by my count, the worst ad of the night. The commercial boiled down to the promise that VR could replace all that was taken, restore the past, and give you what your heart truly desires. Mix three parts ancient Gnosticism with two parts Matrix and a dash of A Brave New World, and you have a recipe for a sci-fi dystopia. I would love to see a rebrand of the VR headset to highlight how we can connect with people at a distance, or join virtual learning communities, or maybe even at-home job training. To paraphrase a recent NYT headline, “Nobody wants the Metaverse.”

What Was Missing

One big stand-out in the slot of 2022 Super Bowl commercials was not what was present, but what was absent. Gone are the cinematic set pieces proclaiming “it’s half-time in America” and “let’s meet in the middle.” This year’s advertisements weren’t particularly “woke” either, leaving the social statements behind. The closet advertisements in these categories were Mary J Blige getting her annual mammogram and Google Pixel letting people of color know that their camera is programmed to help capture non-white skin tones. Even with Eminem’s furtive Kaepernick kneel and Toyota’s inspirational ad about a blind Paralympian, it’s all a far cry from previous years of Super Bowl commercials that featured women in space and Bruce Springsteen stoking patriotism to sell cars.

Instead, this year’s batch of adverts kept lighthearted and fun, even if they weren’t exactly the most memorable batch of ads. If there was a serious advert in the bunch, it hasn’t stayed with me the day afterwards. You could say that advertisers were playing it safe, but it’s probably more true that you don’t spend millions of dollars on a national ad that will alienate half the audience. Civic unity might be in short supply, but at least we can still laugh together, right?

What We Learn

Put it all together, and here’s what we have: the baton is being passed to a new generation facing a brave new world. There’s a fortune to be made in the gold rush of crypto currencies, NFTs, and tech startups, but the promise of the gold rush lands on cash strapped ears. Do we have the extra finances to risk the market bottoming out? Or is this even the world we want to build, with VR headsets promising to have every deep desire fulfilled and robot dogs capturing our affections? It’s easier to cope with the stresses of managing society by returning to the past, revisiting our Barbie playsets to help understand deep systemic issues with affordable housing and turning up Dre and Snoop for a bit of nostalgic escape.

Will the future be a good place for us all? That is yet to be determined. Perhaps the only thing we can do in this out of control landscape is laugh at ourselves with a healthy dose of low anthropology. Joel McHale and Ken Joeng unintentionally tearing the fabric of American society apart by their disagreement on how to eat a can of mixed nuts was a favorite of the night. So was the thought experiment of Alexa reading minds, causing marital strife with power couple ScarJost.

More than any Super Bowl in recent memory, this year’s game and the surrounding hoopla were just plain ol’ fun, despite our attempts to cope with existential anxieties. Covid concerns weren’t as present as they were in past years. National political matters are at a low tide between Presidential and Midterm elections. America watched two deserving teams play a game that wasn’t decided until the final snap. We don’t know what the future will bring, but it helps to take a night off from our hard work and laugh at ourselves.


  • Commercials featuring themes of Rome, Caesar, and Pagan Gods — three. I wonder what that’s about?
  • Commercials featuring Peyton Manning — three. The man could run for president if wanted to.
  • The more promos I see for the gritty Fresh Prince reboot, the worse it looks.
  • The more promos I see for Amazon’s LotR series, the more excited I get.
  • Mary J Blige’s performance was the standout: is there anything more human that a person on her knees belting out “no more pain, no more pain” and falling backward exhausted?
  • The funniest part about the Uber Eats commercial was not the commercial itself, but the legal disclaimers at the bottom of the screen as actors stuffed down prop food items.
  • For your consideration: what makes a great half-time show? One NBC announcer proclaimed that this year’s show is expected “to be the best of all time,” and many on Twitter agreed with that sentiment afterwards. Still, how does one compare this show with Prince’s Purple Rain with a marching band in the middle of a 2007 Florida downpour, or U2’s spiritual blessings in the post-9/11 landscape of 2002? For that matter, how does all this compare to Michael Jackson’s stadium-wide extravaganza in 1993, complete with card stunts, moonwalks, and a rainbow clad gospel choir? Or even Bruno Mars’ 2014 ode to MJ and James Brown, with some of the fanciest dancing to ever be put on a Super Bowl stage? We’ll see, but I think this year’s lineup will be remembered more for its all-star lineup and nostalgia, and less for its energy.
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