There’s the game. And then there’s the commercials. And, as a card-carrying ad guy, I’m obligated to be more interested in the commercials than the game, right? Neither the game nor the ads were really that thrilling; what follows is my take on what aired this year.
(Here’s the drill, if you haven’t read one of these in the previous years I’ve done it: I give my impressions of every national commercial, from kickoff to final whistle, as they happen, in just a sentence or two. I don’t watch the ads ahead of time, so I can evaluate them just like any other consumer. And I post my comments as soon after the game ends as possible.) So here goes . . .
BON & VIV: 2 mermaids underwater. And bunch of sharks from Finding Nemo. I’m not sure I understood.
M&Ms. The stereotypical mom-driving-while-the-kids-in-the-backseat-create-havoc ad, this time with Christina Applegate as the mom. There’s a few clever phrases, including “Kids I will eat all of you alive right now!” before the cut to the backseat revealing that it’s not kids, but M&Ms. Cute, but not particularly clever.
Hulu. “It’s morning again in America” says the voiceover, with a Hal Riney soundalike mimicking the famous Ronald Reagan campaign ad from 1984. But the twist comes, subtly at first, as the imagery becomes ominous, revealing that it’s an ad for The Handmaid’s Tale. Effective, and a bit depressing.
Bumble. A (becoming overdone) inspiring “women can do anything” motivational message, but it’s not immediately evident from the ad what Bumble is, or why Serena Williams is promoting it.
Hyundai. A very clever setup where we watch people taking an elevator to some of life’s unpleasant experiences, including “The Talk”, “The Middle Seat,” and “Jury Duty” (my favorites “Vegan Dinner Party — is that even a thing?” and “not so fast, Captain Colon – back it up”) “Car Shopping” is the destination of our stars, but they have already started shopping with the Hyundai app — so they get a much better experience. Effective, but a REALLY long lead-up to the punchline.
Turkish Airlines. Is it an ad? Is it a movie? What will happen to the (beautiful, of course) heroine? An interesting tease to a longer Ridley Scott film (“The Journey”), which, one supposes, will help promote all you can experience if you choose Turkish Airlines. The question — will viewers make the effort to go find the film?
Olay. Rainy night. Hockey mask. Terrorized home residents. A phone with face ID that won’t work. And a conversation between the actors about the benefit of — face cream? I get it, but I’m not going to rush out and buy any Olay as a result.
Doritos. Chance the Rapper. A purple plane. A yellow AMC Gremlin. Lots of colored powder. And the Backstreet Boys. “The original — now it’s hot”? I’m not sure I get it, but it was a colorful visual treat.
Weathertech. A golden retriever wanders through the (American) factory, past floor mats and other car accessories, into a lab with lots of other dogs to advertise the new Pet Comfort feeding system. The connection isn’t really clear, nor is the benefit of Pet Comfort.
Captain Marvel movie. Had trouble understanding the dialog. And the franchise references. I’m guessing “Higher. Further Faster.” may mean something to regular fans; it didn’t help me at all.
Bud Light. A large barrel of corn syrup arrives at the Bud Light castle; predictably, “we don’t brew Bud Light with corn syrup” is the response. So, the “charitable” Bud Light castle residents decide to deliver the barrel (up a hill, back down again, through Mordor, a lightning storm, a sea battle with a Kraken) to a couple of competing brewers. Lots of fun, and it clearly gets the point across that Bud Light doesn’t use corn syrup.
Fast & Furious/Hobbs & Shaw. A bad guy who announces himself. Lots of crashes. People in all black. Sliding cars and trucks. “I’m trying to save the world. Because I’m really good at it.” says the Rock (truer words were never spoken). Looks entertaining.
Expensify. A rapper (2 Chainz) in an ice castle (including a frozen 80s supercar) is interrupted by an accountant from the record label who wants receipts for the video shoot. Of course, the rapper doesn’t NEED to turn in receipts, because he uses Expensify. If you didn’t know what Expensify was, it’s a helpful ad. Otherwise, not so much.
Pepsi. The waiter asks the patron who has ordered a Coke “Is Pepsi ok?”. And Steve Carell shows up to narrate a demonstration of why Pepsi is MORE than ok, including a few celebs and a blinged-out can. If I was on the fence about Coke vs. Pepsi, this ad would actually make me NOT want a Pepsi, frankly.
SimpliSafe: Our hero endures all sorts of “the world is out to get you” scenarios throughout the day (including a news feature about “What you don’t know about your garage doors will kill you.”). And, of course, he comes home to a house protected by SimpliSafe. It’s over the top and makes the brand seem like it’s trying too hard.
T-Mobile. We’re watching a phone screen, waiting for a text, only to realize that the text that comes through is a super-long self-reflective “this all started with my childhood” type text. A bit of yawn, although the use of
Electric Light Orchestra’s Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” — which happens to match up to the T-Mobile jingle perfectly — was a fun touch.
Audi. A grandfather in a house on a rolling hill in the wilderness invites his adult grandson in, pulls the tarp off an electric Audi, and as our protagonist gets ready to drive away . . . the scene cuts to an office worker performing the Heimlich maneuver on him? And, of course, he’s disappointed he’s not . . . dead? Not sure equating death with your brand, even in a light-hearted manner, is the best choice.
HBO/Game of Thrones. It looks like a Bud Light ad, and the king is at a joust reciting his blessings, including “I don’t have the plague anymore.” But our jousting hero is defeated and the scene is torched by a giant winged dragon, revealing that it’s an ad for . . . the return of Game of Thrones? Was it a co-promotion?
Avocados from Mexico. It looks like a dog show, but it’s the HUMANS who are the performers, coached by their pets. Interesting use of the typical dog show trope, but it’s not immediately clear the connection to avocados — expect for the one human in the cone of shame that can’t eat her guac.
Pringles. Two guys stack their Pringles varieties to create new flavors, and a home automation assistant starts into a depressing narration about how “she” will never experience flavor. It’s got a really negative feel, unfortunately, which doesn’t help the brand.
Google. A touching ad showing the ability to use the Google smartphone app to translate on the fly, both aurally and visually. And, according to the ad, the most translated words in the world are “how are you?” “thank you” and “I love you.” Effective, especially if you weren’t aware of the app’s capabilities.
Showtime. Five (maybe?) VERY brief scenes from the network’s own content in slow-mo. And it was over, in about 10 seconds. Was that all they could afford?
Mercedes. The guy at the bar realizes he can change the world by simply speaking: Make the putt. Change color. Find the cat. And, of course, the opera becomes a rap performance. The point is that you can speak to the A-Class Mercedes, and it will respond to you, similar to Alexa. If that’s why you would buy a car, the ad is moderately persuasive.
Persil. Our presenter talks about cleaning “deep stains, in the deep clean layer,” whatever that means. Once he gets there, his mildly suggestive assistant is instructed to “keep it clean.” Ugh.
T-Mobile. Another text ad with an argument about what to have for dinner. The ad reveals that, with T-Mobile, you can get free tacos (?!?) on Tuesday from Taco Bell. So, presumably, you’ll have one fewer argument every week?
Toyota. Jim Nantz narrates another “she’s an inspiration” story, this time about Toni Harris, one of the first women to get a football college scholarship. And she drives a Toyota RAV4. The connection is tenuous, if it exists at all.
Mr. Peanut. The “peanut mobile” goes flying through a town, although it’s unclear why. Charlie Sheen is commentating from a porch. And Alex Rodriguez nearly takes a bite of kale, just as Mr. Peanut arrives? Yikes. I don’t get it.
Mint Mobile. Chunky style milk? Ew. I need to know WAY more about a mobile provider I’ve never heard of. And showing people drinking chunky milk is not helpful. At. All.
Norwegian Cruise Line. Typical cruise ad scenes, including only 2-4 people in every shot (which, if you’ve ever cruised, you would recognize as HIGHLY UNLIKELY). Not original, and entirely forgettable.
TurboTax. A scene with a creepy “robochild” in a garage, who wants to grow up to be a tax assistant. TurboTax needs to read up on the Uncanny Valley before spending $3.2 million on a Super Bowl commercial with a creepy robot. Did I mention it was creepy?
Stella Artois. Sarah Jessica Parker, in a typical New York City restaurant, declines a Manhattan cocktail and instead orders a Stella Artois. The mayhem that ensues is entertaining, as is the appearance of Jeff Bridges (who also requests a “Stella ‘Ar-toes'”) and “The Most Interesting Man in the World” actor. Interesting way to suggest ordering a Stella Artois might be a wise, if different, choice.
Sprint. The by now-ubiquitous spokesperson-and-robots combo is joined by a bizarre collection of other characters, including 80s 2-sport athlete Bo Jackson, who declares “This is the best robot analogy I’ve ever been in.” I was so bewildered I missed the point.
NFL. (Yes, I know, this was during the halftime show, and I normally don’t count network promos or local commercials.) But the fact that they got ALL those NFL greats into a single room was impressive, and the sheer destruction of several dozen cakes and tables full of fine crystal was a joy to watch.
Toyota. A roaring car, racing through what appears to be a life-size pinball machine. Mildly enjoyable, but it definitely feels like it’s been done before.
ADT. The guys from the home improvement show Property Brothers narrate a predictable overview of what a security system can do for you, and they, also predictably, show up outside of a fancy home at the end. Nothing new here, folks. Keep moving.
Kia. A beautifully shot, edited and underscored piece of film, with a child narrating some elegant lines such as “There are no stars in the sidewalk for us” and “We are not famous. But we are incredible.” But the ad is for a Kia Telluride SUV, manufactured in West Point, Georgia? An SUV doesn’t seem nearly as important as the lead-up would suggest. It’s a gorgeous ad, but I’m let down by what it’s for.
Bubly. Associating the sparkling drink Bubly with Michael Bublé is great casting. And I love the closing with the singer using a marker to change all cans in the cooler from a “y” to an “é”. Nicely done.
T-Mobile. The song “All by Myself” accompanies a texter who confuses the Lyft driver with someone else, all to demonstrate that you can get a free Lyft ride from T-Mobile.
Wix. Watch me design a website. Watch me set up SEO. You can do this too. Not terribly clever or original, but the ad is effective nonetheless. Sometimes basic is better.
Netflix. Gorgeous nature photography that you would expect from National Geographic teases an upcoming Netflix original film. Just another way Netflix is trying to demonstrate it’s a content force to be reckoned with.
Michelob Ultra. Runners, golfers, and cyclists are all shown up by a robot. But when they go to a bar, the robot stares longingly at what it can’t have. “It’s only worth it if you can enjoy it.” is the punchline. True, perhaps, but not terribly compelling.
Verizon. LA Chargers coach Anthony Lynn speaks to first responders that helped save his life. And a quiet plug for Verizon at the end.
Devour. A man addicted to frozen dinners get an intervention by his wife, and all the cues treat it as though it were a porn addiction. It’s clever, and riddled with more double entendres than I could count. Devour has played up the publicity angle on this as well with a “not safe for TV” version — it’s a risky approach, but the strategy seems as though it may work.
Google. The ad starts by showing a collection of numbers, filling the screen: 19D, 2A6X1, 21E. As the ad progresses, the shots pull back to show these are numbers associated with U.S military classifications, and that Google can now help veterans search for jobs by their military code. Nicely edited and narrated, and a great demonstration of a little-known feature of Google.
Colgate Total. A “close talker” circulates among the office, doing, you guessed it, close talking, all up in people’s faces, to demonstrate that Colgate Total is perfect for close talkers like him. Ok, I guess.
Amazon Prime. An ad for the upcoming series Hanna, apparently about an unassuming girl who is a trained killer. “Be the girl no one saw coming,” says the narrator. It looks interesting, but nothing to write home about.
Skechers. Tony Romo likes to make life easy for himself, such as by playing golf with a hole the size of a small pond. That’s why he wears Skechers. Um, ok.
Bud Light. We’re treated to some medieval barbers talking about corn syrup. I think they must have run out of money producing the first “corn syrup” ad, as this one is underwhelming.
Microsoft. Owen, who has Escobar’s Syndrome, loves video games. Microsoft’s adaptive controller let’s him play with his friends. Touching without being overdone.
Weathertech. An entire ad about a phone mount that fits in your cupholder. You know, the kind of thing you can find at Best Buy or in the checkout aisle at TJ Maxx for $7.99. Wow.
Bud Light. The medieval folks are back again — this time, it’s Trojan horse occupants whispering beer ingredients. I’m no expert on medieval warfare, but I can’t help but wonder if this was just a bit anachronistic?
Verizon. A collection of players saved by first responders, titled “The team that wouldn’t be here.” Another gentle plug for Verizon, cloaked in a tribute to emergency personnel.
Burger King. For 30 seconds we watch a man, presumably Andy Warhol, eating a Whopper. And the ad closes with the hashtag #eatlikeandy. Am I missing something?
Budweiser. The typical Dalmatian sitting atop of the wagon; the difference is that this time the wagon winds its way through a field of wheat and — wait for it — windmills. Because Budweiser is now brewed with wind power, of course. An effective way of sharing that message, but it’s unclear if that message is one that needs sharing.
Amazon Alexa. Alexa is in a microwave, but we’re told there were lots of fails, like a podcast-playing toothbrush, a dog collar that orders dog food (to the annoyance of a delightfully grumpy Harrison Ford), and a malfunctioning space station Alexa that shuts off the world’s electrical grid. A great and playful demo of what Alexa can do — perhaps my favorite of the night so far.
Scary Stories movie. A girl, in a pink dress, with a large, um, blemish, running through the halls of a deserted school. No new ground here.
Michelob Ultra. Zoë Kravitz sits in an absolutely gorgeous valley in Hawaii (at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu, to be precise) to tell us (by whispering) there is now an organic version of Michelob Ultra. If that’s important to you, the ad does a good job of letting us know.
T-Mobile. A dad thinks texting is the same as “Googling” while he searches for an eggplant parmigiana recipe. The other T-Mobile ads were better.
Washington Post. Tom Hanks narrates an ad about why we need a free press, with images such as the Selma march, the moon landing, and the Oklahoma City bombing — followed by images of several journalists killed during, or because of, their coverage. The closing line: knowing keeps us free. Very effective.
So the game was a bit boring until the last 4 minutes or so. The ads? Pretty much a disappointment throughout the night. The high spots were the Hyundai elevator ad, the first (long) Bud Light corn syrup ad, and the Amazon Alexa ad. And the Amazon Alexa ad gets my nod as the best ad — good branding, clear message, and entertaining throughout.
If you missed any of the ads, you can check out most of the Super Bowl commercials here.