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The most effective US ads of March, from Wendy’s to Capital One

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By The Drum | Editorial

April 4, 2023 | 8 min read

March’s top five US ads boast a constellation of stars – Danny DeVito, Willie Nelson and Reggie Miller – per System1’s research. The firm’s chief customer officer, Jon Evans, elucidates below.

willie nelson with a guitar

Willie Nelson serenades audiences in Capital One's March Madness ad / Credit: Capital One

While advertising in other markets gears up for Easter, the US has a different festival on its mind this month: the NCAA March Madness tournament.

It’s part of a sports season that gives brands a golden opportunity to reach a wider than usual audience, so it’s not surprising that big campaigns from Wendy’s and Tide choose this moment to launch.

There’s no let-up on the celebrity count, either. System1‘s database shows that, for the Super Bowl at least, using a celebrity is no guarantee of improved effectiveness, but ads that use them will continue to dominate the monthly rankings.

5. Wendy’s: ‘Reggie Miller Shows the Gang How to Celebrate’

Star rating: 4.2

Hoops legend Reggie Miller stars in Wendy’s entertaining new ad, leading a team of Wendy’s workers in celebrating the chain’s burgers as if they were on the bench celebrating great shots.

It’s a fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek spot and features yet another variant on the chain’s classic ‘Where’s the beef?‘ tagline, which is rumored to be brought back soon (though not for the first time). Solid use of its guest star and lots of strong, fluent brand assets help this one into the four-star territory.

4. Jersey Mike’s: ‘Arm of the Slicer’

Star rating: 4.5

Jersey Mike’s and agency Highdive have taken Eye of the Tiger and done a cheeky rewrite on the lyrics, turning the song into Arm of the Slicer. What was once a tune about a boxer’s formidable will to win has become a song about Jersey Mike’s deli slicers and their equally formidable abilities at freshly slicing cold meats to go in the chain’s sandwiches.

Brand ambassador Danny DeVito shows up, too, to introduce the ad and give the slicers an excuse to burst into song. It’s easy to see why this tactic works. Cultural references are a killer ingredient for effective ads, and so are big, catchy, well-known songs. It’s no wonder mixing them makes a four-star ad.

3. Lay’s: ‘Farms Across America’

Star rating: 4.6

Self-aware humor is a big creative trend right now. Since the Super Bowl winning ‘It’s a Tide Ad‘ in 2018, we’ve seen brand after brand break the fourth wall and have fun with adverts that gently mock their cliches.

This delightfully surreal Lay‘s spot is the newest example – what starts as a standard ‘map commercial’ showing where Lay‘s operates its farms turns into something odder when the flags being placed transform into real-world giant flags descending from the skies. It’s a quirky idea, but the execution is spot-on, and the ad lets Lay‘s turn a boring provenance claim into something a lot more fun.

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2. Tide: ‘We’re Gonna Need More Tide’

Star rating: 4.6

Speaking of Tide ... the brand is still making great ads. ‘We’re Gonna Need More Tide‘ revives a classic 2010s ad format, the compilation of user-generated video, and uses rapid-fire editing and comedian Kumail Nanjiani to give it a modern, TikTok-era shine.

‘It’s a mess out there‘ runs the tagline, capturing both the chaos of modern life circa 2023 and the very literal spills, stains and dirt that Tide must go up against. Video effects cleverly insert Nanjiani into the real footage, helping him drive home the ad’s commercial message about Tide Power Pods’ increased capacity.

1. Capital One: ‘On the Road Again’

Star rating: 4.8

Several of this month’s ads debuted during the NCAA March Madness tournament and the top spot goes to sponsor Capital One, who unleashes a formidable celebrity lineup to promote the tournament and the brand’s long association with it.

A-listers Samuel L Jackson and Jennifer Garner, country music icon Willie Nelson and basketball legends Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson all show up in an ad that largely dispenses with a story in favor of good vibes and star power. And it works, with the octogenarian singer leading the whole gang in a rendition of his classic On the Road Again. Willie’s music is the glue that the ad needs to shift from a parade of famous faces to a proper celebration.

Methodology

System1 tests ads on measures that predict long-term brand growth (star rating) and short-term sales growth (spike rating) – each between one and five stars. These measures are validated using the independent IPA database and also against real sales data at a category level. The star rating captures the emotional response to an ad. Only 1% of ads on the system score five stars. A one-star ad will have zero effect on brand growth, while a five-star ad will have an exceptional impact (up to three points of market share gain, depending on investment). Often the work that receives the highest ratings comes as a surprise to everyone.

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