It’s not just you. Empirical data shows that Super Bowl ads are less funny than they used to be. Not only are they less funny, but there are fewer of them. What gives?
Sorry to say, it’s not the ad creative, it’s us. Society has become hyper-critical and brands are walking on eggshells, often playing it safe with risk-averse (and humor-averse) messages that can be bland and, well, forgettable.
When Super Bowl ads are analyzed for humor—using natural language processing and machine learning analysis of thousands of viewer verbatim comments—we find that, while more than 80 percent of Super Bowl ads contained humor in 2013, the number dropped to fewer than 60 percent in 2019. Moreover, the average “funny score” dropped significantly from 8 points (out of 10) to 6.
Across the same time period, commercials aiming to be socially inspiring—based on a synthesis of the qualities in commercials that viewers see as empowering or exploitative—have been on the rise. In years prior to 2015, fewer than 5 percent of Super Bowl ads had a strong positive cultural impact message. Now it’s greater than 15 percent.