The Super Bowl is a collective television event like no other. Not only do the night’s ratings inevitably top the year, but everyone is actually gathering together at the same time to watch live. With so many eyeballs glued to a TV screen in real time, it’s no wonder the marketing gurus bring out their best stuff for Super Bowl Sunday — or at least they try.
Below is a running list of the best and worst Super Bowl spots, with a brief review and grade for each. Let us know what you think in the comments, and vote in the poll for the best ad when the game ends.
Audi – #DriveProgress
Hell yes, Audi! In a surprisingly issue-focused ad for a luxury car company, Audi put an innocent face to an age-old American problem: pay equality. How could anyone tell that spirited little driver that she was worth less than the men she left in the dust, let alone that her parents weren’t of equal value to their employers? This one made you nod your head in agreement, if not stand up and swear affirmation. That’s brand loyalty they’re building, and they’ve got ours.
Budweiser – Immigrant’s Journey
While not conceived to be as politically charged as it comes across today, the dark, labored tale of Adolphus Busch’s journey to America speaks directly to a segment of the population that might support Donald Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban. Hard-working, European immigrants from centuries old American families still came from somewhere, and one of them even made your favorite beer. The spot powerfully addresses how we’re a nation of immigrants without shoving an agenda down our throats.
84 Lumber – The Journey Begins
Never a fan of commercials that ask you to go online for the ending — perhaps we were burned by those sexist GoDaddy.com ads of old — this sweet story is doubly frustrating because it takes 90 expensive seconds to only give us the first two-thirds of its narrative. Also, we have no idea what 84 Lumber is, and no, we’re not going to look it up online. Sell the product in the time given, or get out of here.
Honda – Yearbook with Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Viola Davis
A sweet sentiment with the right hint of nostalgia makes this one a low-key winner. Seeing all those famous faces as less stunningly handsome and beautiful youths is a nice bonus, even if we’re not clamoring to see it again.
Intel – Tom Brady
There’s a bit of a disconnect as to how I, your lowly individual consumer, am supposed to show my support for a product not available for individual sales, but Intel still made its point here: The video looks cool. Thanks for not making us watch Tom Brady go to the bathroom, too.
KFC – Rob Riggle and…Billy Zane?
Gold…mustard? That’s what KFC decided to sell with a 15-second spot featuring dueling Colonel Sanders? There’s simply too much information to absorb in the time allotted, between a gold-plated Billy Zane (who’s wholly unrecognizable aside from his voice), Rob Riggle rushing around the frame, two Colonels, a gold room, the word Georgia (is that where gold comes from?), and food that looks very much like the same KFC snacks we’ve been consuming for decades. Confusing equals forgettable on Super Bowl Sunday, and this one won’t hold up.
Kia – Melissa McCarthy
I don’t know if complaining about how hard it is to protect the environment is the best strategy for winning over eco-friendly consumers. The ad’s message is something akin to, “Hey, don’t worry about putting in the effort of protecting our planet. It’s hard. Just drive a Kia — you’ll feel good anyway.” And what good does that do the whales? That being said, McCarthy is a hoot, as always, even if the pratfalls she can do so well are largely CGI. Call it a wash.
Nintendo is betting big on its new Switch gaming system, and the nearly two-minute Super Bowl spot showed their commitment in a lot of dollars and cents. What it didn’t show was a lot of must-have games — or a price-tag — instead focusing on the party-in-a-box flexibility of the portable entertainment system. While a few games looked fun, not many were instantly appealing; not as much as, say, the sports games showcased on the first Wii consoles. And the people watching this were sports fans…
T-Mobile – Justin Bieber, Rob Gronkowski, and Terrell Owens
A bespectacled and buzzed Justin Bieber makes an adequate host for the evolution of an endzone dance, and his NFL assistants do a fine job…so why do we only want to see more of the cute little girl cutting a rug? Perhaps because the ad itself was all about promising more to come without delivering anything too great in the moment. The hashtag might trend thanks to Bieber, but the ad itself wasn’t all that it could have been.
Wix.com – Jason Statham and Gal Gadot
As much fun as it is to see Gal Gadot kicking a little ass pre-“Wonder Woman,” the choreography of the fight and the arc of the chef’s story leave a lot to be desired. This one’s not that memorable, other than as an ad for more of these two BAMFs.
TurboTax – “Humpty Fall”
Ridiculous, over-the-top and a little bit macabre, this spot by Czech director Ivan Zacharias is a delightful surprise in how well he creates a colorful world where reality and fairy tale collide seamlessly. Each player — from the all the king’s men to the blue-haired beauty shop patron — have strong, vibrant voices, but none more so than the beleaguered Humpty Dumpty, who turns out to be rather cranky post-fall. The absolute highlight is when he pukes up some oh his own yolk in one of the most Tim Burton-esque scenes ever. Egg-cellent!
Tiffany & Co. Teaser – Introducing Lady Gaga for Tiffany HardWear
Like the luxury jewelry retailer itself, this spot employs purity and classical images in design. The signature Tiffany Blue is used as contrasting bumpers to the B&W footage of Lady Gaga — dressed simply in black with hair pulled back a la Audrey Hepburn — talking about challenging the status quo and playing the harmonica briefly. Her sterling silver jewelry that features multiple baubles strung together is similarly gorgeous. Aesthetically pleasing yes, but this ad left us somewhat cold.
Squarespace – “Calling John Malkovich”
Brilliant in its utter simplicity and execution, the ad puts John Malkovich front and center on a phone call to berate another John Malkovich for taking the URL John Malkovich.com since the star John Malkovich needs the site to launch his menswear line. The repetition of the name, how his tone transforms in such a short period, seeing his face convey annoyance all combines into one hilarious punch. Plus, it’s clear this is part of an ongoing saga, and we can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Buick – “Pee Wee”
Geared towards promoting the brand’s new cars and crossovers looking less dowdy, the ad features quarterback Cam Newton popping into existence after one dad utters, “If that’s a Buick, then my kid is Cam Newton.” Poof! Let the sacking of little kids begin because hurting kids apparently gets laughs? Ugh. Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr similarly poofs into existence later. Sadly, this conceit of regular folks being magically replaced by celebs in ads seems to have lost its spark. Yawn.
Mercedes – “Easy Driver”
The Coen Brothers bring their signature humor to this ode to aging in badass style as creaky, past-their-prime bikers in a bar listen to “Born to Be Wild” on the jukebox. On cue, the easy rider himself Peter Fonda shows up and wows them with his sweet Mercedes AMG-Roadster GT convertible. It’s a lighthearted and brisk ad, and we’re happy with the homage to Fonda, but we were hoping for something maybe a tad quirkier and memorable.
Fabreze – “Bathroom Break”
“The Battle of Evony”
From the first strains of the cello, you can tell that this is grand misdirection, some sort of product sneakily marketed with what looks like epic movie tropes, and we’re okay with that. With familiar faces playing historic leaders — Jeffrey Dean Morgan as King Arthur, Aaron Eckhart as George Washington and Fan BingBing as Empress Wu — it’s a cinematically stirring ride (the millions spent is apparent in the lushness). While it’s a fun way to pique interest in the mobile game “Evony: The King’s Return,” we can’t help being disappointed that this bizarre mashup won’t be coming to a screen near us.
Ford – “Go Further”
For the first half of this 90-second commercial (set to air after the Super Bowl LI coin toss), Ford doesn’t even showcase an automobile — but rather a quirky sequence of people getting stuck in frustrating situations. Amusing, perhaps. But the real meat of this ad isn’t until the *very* end, when Ford touts its ambitions in spreading the gospels of ride sharing, electric vehicles, bike sharing… and self-driving vehicles. And then comes the money shot: Two women riding a self-driving car on the highway. It was a quick shot, but reminiscent of AT&T’s famed 1990s commercial series “You Will.” More of that, please.
Go Daddy – “The Internet Wants You”
After sitting out the Super Bowl last year, Go Daddy is back, and is still, thankfully, out of the crass sexist exploits that once identified its brand. This year’s spot introduces a new character, “The Internet,” and has fun with countless memes, from the Rickrolling and the ice bucket challenge to the blue dress controversy and pandas. It may be the one Super Bowl ad you need to pause and study.
Bud Light – “Ghost Spuds”
Spuds MacKenzie is back! Well, sort of. Spuds is resurrected as a… creepy ghost dog? With a booming baritone voice? (Did Spuds ever talk in the 1980s?) In a… take on “A Christmas Carol”? Points for the tossaway fedora gag, but perhaps this was an idea that was better left as a joke in the ad agency writers’ room, not actually brought to fruition.
Tide – “Gronk’s Cleaners”
Let’s face it, there’s something to this comedic pairing of Rob Gronkowski and Jeffrey Tambor. After “Transparent” ends, can we request this as Tambor’s next sitcom? (I mean, it would only last 6 episodes, but that’s fine.)
H&R Block – Jon Hamm & Watson
Jon Hamm typically sticks to voice work in his many, many advertisements, but he made a rare, in-person appearance here. It wasn’t necessarily a requisite, though. People are probably as or more familiar with Watson, the IBM supercomputer, as they are Don Draper. So the news the former is now ready to work on your taxes is more important than trusting the best Mad Man to sell it. Still, nice to see you Jon!
Bai 2017: Christopher Walken and Justin Timberlake
It’s a shame that this ad features no dancing whatsoever, but we can still appreciate the deadpan beauty of Walken reciting N’Sync lyrics. It doesn’t really sell the actual beverage in question, but we’ll take all the Walken we can get.
Airbnb – #WeAccept
Airbnb’s pointed ad focuses on the basic humanity that we all share regardless of the different eye colors, religions or sexual/gender identity. If its message weren’t already apparent, the #WeAccept hashtag leaves no room for doubt that this is a political stance on multicultural, all-welcoming, global policies. It’s not surprising since Airbnb makes it easier for people to travel by allowing ordinary citizens to open up their homes to the world. Well and gorgeously played.
Snickers – Live Adam Driver Spot
What was that? Snicker’s live commercial was a reminder that if you’re going to hype something as new, original and groundbreaking, you’ve got to back that up. And Snickers’ live commercial, featuring Adam Driver, didn’t. Other than Driver mentioning the halftime score, what was the point? A hacky take on the idea that viewers want to see a trainwreck when they watch a live telecast – so they created one, with missed cues, forgotten lines and a set collapse. Well, they got their trainwreck.