I like good commercials. A really good commercial is like video flash fiction, with a story or a joke or something better than just “our product: let us show you it.” Each year’s Super Bowl is like a global mini film festival that happens between first downs. I have a friend who think this means I suffer from Consumer Stockholm Syndrome, but I don’t care. I love the good ones, and I love to complain about the bad ones.
Pre-Game Heart Attack Special: That Chevy “what if your TV went out?” ad
We don’t have cable: we watch broadcast TV with a digital antenna, and in fact our reception can be a little flaky. So they faked me out really well, while also probably freaking me out a lot less, because when our TV goes out, we just futz with the antenna, like everyone did back in 1982. Fortunately, the “what if your TV went out?” line came on before I grabbed the antenna and messed stuff up.
Best Heartstring-Tugging Ad (Animals): Budweiser’s Lost Puppy
The Internet loves cats, but TV loves dogs. Especially baby dogs. Especially baby dogs who are best friends with enormous horses. I’d actually already seen this ad on YouTube prior to the SuperBowl, so when it came on, I told my younger daughter to pay attention, because I knew she’d like it.
I really like ads that tell a story, and the Lost Puppy ad definitely qualified: the puppy follows his bff the horse, gets lost, tries to get home, almost makes it, is attacked by wolves and then, just when you think all is lost (except for the fact that it’s a Budweiser ad so obviously the puppy is not going to actually get eaten by wolves), he’s saved by his friends the Clydesdales and safely returned to his worried owner.
Budweiser did an excellent anti-drunk-driving ad last year that also featured a golden retriever.
(Spoiler: they make you expect the worst, but everything is okay in the end.)
I’ll note that I hate Budweiser beer. I’m totally one of those craft beer drinkers they made fun of in their other ad. Golden suds? If that’s all that’s on offer, I’ll drink a Coke or something.
Best Heartstring-Tugging Ad (Non-Animal): The Dove Daddy Ad
The run of adorable children calling, shrieking, or sobbing “Daddy!” was very appealing, although it would have been a better ad if they’d figured out a way to integrate the product they were selling in a way that didn’t feel completely tacked on.
Swing and a Miss and a WTF: Nissan’s “With Dad” commercial
This was a ninety-second commercial — one of the longest commercials that aired during the entire game. It tells a story about a racecar driver with a son. Despite the fact that the guy’s racecar was apparently made by Nissan, I had no idea what they were selling until the very end. More of a problem: the soundtrack, which was Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” If somehow you’ve managed to never hear this song, it tells the story about a neglectful, overly busy father who ignores his kid’s requests for games of catch, only to get ignored in turn when he’s old and lonely. The commercial shows a father who’s away a lot due to his job (NASCAR driver) but who’s clearly an involved and loving father when he’s at home, so the song was a weird choice. Add to that the fact that Harry Chapin died in a car wreck… (At least he wasn’t driving a Nissan? He was in a VW Rabbit.) Anyway, I suppose the song works if the story is about the father’s fears that his son will feel neglected, and actually being used a little ironically, since the son clearly idolizes his father and is excited to see him when he’s home. I don’t know. There were definitely people it worked for as a short film, though I don’t think it really worked for any of them as a Nissan ad.
Most Pointless Use of $9 million:
Lexus ran two completely boring boilerplate car ads that I only remember because I was taking notes on all the ads. Apparently 30 seconds of ad time cost $4.5 million dollars, so they spent $9 million to run these. If you’re spending $9 million on air time, why would you run a boring ad that no one will remember?
Best Use of Kim Kardashian (for anything, ever): the T-Mobile ad
Kim Kardashian helpfully introduced herself (for maximized impact of celebrities, never assume that viewers will recognize anyone, ever) in this spot that was both a parody of awareness-raising spots about serious issues and a parody of Kim Kardashian, who suggested unused data was particularly tragic because you could have used that data to find out more about her.
Biggest WTF Moment of the Night: Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen”
One minute you’re watching an amusing ad about a little boy who feels left out by his siblings and doesn’t want to get cooties, and the next minute you find out that he will never grow up BECAUSE HE’S DEAD.
You can run a serious ad during the Super Bowl, but this wasn’t merely a serious ad, it was a bait-and-switch. It started out funny and cute, then made a left turn into tragedy.
To compound the WTFery, Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” website offers up a wealth of tips on the safe use of bouncy houses, bathtubs, and big-screen TVs, and nothing whatsoever about gun safety anywhere on the site. Lots of kids get hurt in bouncy houses, but most of them suffer things like sprained ankles. If you want to make safe happen, gun safety is up there with car and swimming pool safety!…but not on the Nationwide web site, which does not mention the topic at all.
Honorable Mention for Regional WTFery: the Heroin PSA aired in St. Louis
I only heard about this one because a friend of mine in St. Louis posted about it to Facebook, but as drug PSAs go, it’s up there with that Gen X classic, “I LEARNED FROM WATCHING YOUUUUUUU.”
It features a dead-eyed heroin addict and a bouncy, catchy little song that rhymes “fine” with “dyin’.” Clearly it needs wider airplay so that Millennials can have their own drug PSA in-jokes like my generation did.
Promotion most likely to go awry: McDonald’s “Pay With Lovin'”
Apparently for the first two weeks of February, McDonalds will be allowing randomly selected customers to pay with hugs, dances, high-fives, and phone calls. The problem with suggesting to strangers that they should call their mothers is that you don’t have any way of knowing if their mother died last week. Or if they’re estranged from her due to years of abuse. Hopefully they’ll actually implement this by saying, “call up someone you love” or maybe just stick with dancing and high-fives?
Missing in Action: GoDaddy’s spoof of the lost puppy Budweiser ad.
GoDaddy has been notorious for years for offensive ads. In the past they’ve embraced sexist, misogynistic, and objectifying ads with the apparent attitude of “no such thing as bad publicity,” so I thought it was sort of bizarre that a puppy mill joke turned out to be a bridge too far.
I thought maybe they’d pulled the ad because that way, they got a whole bunch of news coverage without having to spend the $4.5 million. But they ran a different ad. A really boring ad.
Anyway. Adorable puppies are almost never the wrong answer, so GoDaddy deserves some sort of recognition for pulling off that trick.
Best Pop Culture Reference: Walter White for esurance.
Runner up: Liam Neeson for Clash of Clans.
The esurance ad was actually the character of Walter White; Liam Neeson was only sort of his character from Taken, but both ads were hilarious. Allstate Insurance ads have been clever for years but ads for phone games are overwhelmingly generic and boring; Angry Neeson made it stand out.
Personal all-around favorite: Avocado Draft
I love the ads that set up a completely absurd situation and fill it out with cute animals. The poor underappreciated polar bear, passed over for avocados! Delicious, delicious avocados.