It is weird how the possibility of impending fascism and the ever-present messages of resistance make everything seem political. Like the Super Bowl, the Super Bowl halftime show, and the Super Bowl commercials.
Mind you, messages like “Americans: we are nice people who don’t endorse bullying” are not viewed as political any other year and yet it felt like a good half of the commercials were subtweeting Trump. Never mind that most were undoubtedly planned, scripted, and filmed before the election. In fact, one of the most pointed was Coke’s multilingual “America the Beautiful” ad, which aired before the game and was made in 2014.
And in fact, even if the ads were planned with the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be president at this point, they were certainly being discussed, scripted, and filmed by people who were well aware of the rising tide of racism and misogyny and were making choices based on who they thought the majority of their viewers and customers were. And with a three-month window to recut their ads, they stuck with the choices that said, “We think ‘immigrants bring good things’ is a message that will sell more cans of beer than ‘build a wall.'” So that’s good news, hopefully?
Best Recycling of a Two-Year-Old Ad: Coke’s “It’s Beautiful”
That Coke ad is awesome. It was awesome two years ago and it’s even more awesome now. You would think that even the haters would embrace the idea that “Coke is for everyone” — why do you hate capitalism, haters? (For those who are curious, the languages in the ad are English, Spanish, Keres, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French, and Hebrew.)
Best Trolling of Fox: 84 Lumber, “The Entire Journey.”
Apparently the original 84 Lumber ad contained “content deemed too controversial and banned from broadcast.” The thing I find sort of fascinating about this is that the full version is almost six minutes long, so it’s not as if they were ever going to air the “full” version. Ad time during the Super Bowl costs about $10 million for one minute. Anyway, as it worked out, they aired “The Journey Begins, which is about 90 seconds long:
That ad encouraged to go find “Complete the Journey” online:
So many people went to watch it that the 84 Lumber website crashed from the traffic.
Anyway. This ad has a cute kid, a scenic journey, a touching hand-made-by-the-kid American flag, and an enormous wall at the border. But! Just when you think all hope is lost, it turns out that the American construction workers were not building the wall but a door. Because “the will to succeed is always welcome here.”
Special Award for Showing Us What Fox Doesn’t Find Offensive Although Immigrant Kids and Border Walls Are Apparently Over the Line: T-Mobile, “Punished” and “NSFWireless.”
Oh yeah, T-Mobile, everyone really wanted to explain BDSM to their nine-year-olds.
Best Use of a Pride Flag: Google Home
Google Home’s commercial was apparently not new (it first aired last fall) and it made a bunch of people’s own Google Home devices go a bit nuts. But I had to rewatch this ad with liberal use of the pause button to catch everything (and I’m still not sure I did). There’s a big Pride flag; a mezuzah; a mixed-race family with a kid; a family of South Asian immigrants (who I’m pretty sure are not going to substitute anything for cardamom, I’m not sure who Google thinks it’s kidding); and a grandma who’s meeting someone’s Hispanic girlfriend or boyfriend and wants to say “nice to meet you” in Spanish. Also, the soundtrack is “Country Roads” by John Denver. Nothing here really ought to be remotely controversial, but welcome to Trump’s America, where this felt like a big middle finger extended at Trump.
Best Ad Put Together in a Week to Antagonize Trump: AirBnB, “We Accept.”
In this thirty-second spot that was apparently a last-minute addition to the Super Bowl lineup, faces of various ethnicities go by along with the words, “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept. #weaccept.” Weirdly, when it aired, it didn’t include the name of the company, just the logo. (The YouTube version of the ad has both.)
AirBnB hit controversy this year when it turned out a lot of their hosts were openly discriminating against black people who wanted to find a place to stay, so I’d say that trading that controversy for a bunch of irate conservatives is a good move.
Most Ineffective Bid for Attention: The Snickers Live Ad.
Snickers made a big deal about how it was going to be live. They announced at the beginning of the ad that it was live. They included the score in the ad to make sure everyone knew it was live.
My husband turned to me when the ad was over and said, “How do you think they did that?”
I said, “I think it was actually live.”
He said, “Nooooooooo it couldn’t have been.”
Apparently they actually did a live ad, and apparently hardly anyone believes they actually did a live ad. Also, the joke got cut off during the Super Bowl airing.
Ad Most Likely to Either Annoy or be Seriously Misinterpreted by InfoWars: Avocados From Mexico “Secret Society.”
A secret society with robes, masks, creepy music (provided by a CD player) and conspiracies is leaking like a sieve and can’t agree on whether Bigfoot is real. There’s no way that this was an intentional dig at Trump’s ludicrously leaky Oval Office, although if you’re conspiracy-minded, maybe you’ll figure this just shows it’s all part of the master plan. What did any of this have to do with avocados? I guess avocado’s nutritional benefits were one of the secrets? I’m not sure why they were keeping that a secret, other than maybe to avoid having to share the guacamole. Fun ad, though.
Best Use of Small Print Disclaimers: Sprint, “Car.”
A Dad fakes his own death by shoving his car over a cliff while his children watch. This is all to get out of his Verizon contract, apparently. “Isn’t that illegal?” one of his children asks, puzzled. “What are you, a cop?” the Dad asks indignantly as the tiny print at the bottom of the screen says, “Yes. Very illegal.”
Most Humiliating Setup: Tide’s Commercial with Terry Bradshaw
“Hey, Terry, this is your agent. I’ve landed you a terrific Super Bowl commercial gig but you’re also going to have to appear on national TV with an enormous visible stain on your shirt for the first half hour of the Super Bowl coverage. Once the ad’s aired you need to go change. It’ll be great! You’ll be trending!”
Weirdest Take on Immigration: TurboTax, “Humpty Hospital.”
Humpty Dumpty is in the hospital, with the King’s Men apologizing for their general ineptitude. They’re all speaking in British accents but Humpty is worried enough about his 1040 to call TurboTax on his phone. In any other year I’d probably just view this as a weird American-centric flub but this year I’m choosing to read this as underscoring the fact that immigrants pay taxes, because this is an American tax product and those were very, very British accents, so clearly Humpty and the King’s Men are all immigrants. I’m not going to think too hard about the fact that Humpty was also this year’s most nightmarish vision.
Best Trolling of the MRA Brigade: Audi, “Daughter.”
In a reasonable world, “women should be paid the same amount for the same work” would not be a controversial statement, but of course it is. This ad actually felt to me like one that was planned and commissioned by people who were expecting it to run early in a Hillary Clinton presidency.
An important question this ad does not address in any way: how did they get the girl’s cart to the course in that tiny little car? My older daughter built a cart at a summer camp once and it was a challenge wedging it into our minivan to get it home.
Creepiest ad with a side of misogyny: Mr. Clean, “Cleaner of your Dreams.”
There’s actually a meme that circulates heavily among mothers of young children that there is nothing sexier than a man doing the dishes. (See the products offered by the Cambridge Women’s Pornography Cooperative for examples: lots of pictures of hunky men vacuuming floors.) So I guess good on Mr. Clean for picking up on this, but I do not even know what to say about this ad and Mr. Clean’s almost-human-but-not-quite butt. Mr. Clean is a little too creepy to be sexy, and the “you’ll get paid with sex for cleaning” message to men is a little too overt.
Best Carefully-Planned Not-Actually-a-Subtweet Subtweet of Trump’s Immigration Policy: Anheuser-Busch, “Born the Hard Way.”
Anheuser-Busch released this ad early, giving the conservatives plenty of time to work themselves up into a golden sudsy froth over the implication that immigrants bring worthwhile things to America, like hard work, ambition, and Budweiser.
Since basically all white people in the U.S. are descended from immigrants, I kind of thought the party line was supposed to be “it was fine when MY ancestors did it because it was a hundred years ago, they were white, and none of them were Muslim,” which would have made this a completely uncontroversial ad, since it’s about a Germany guy immigrating in the mid-1800s (since this is an entirely fictional version of the founding of Anheuser-Busch, it’s hard to be sure exactly when it’s taking place). But apparently there is no reference to immigration that Trumpists can’t take permanently and “#boycottbudwiser” (sic) trended on Twitter. I’m curious what the neofascist brew of choice is, because if we found out, and told the brewery, they’d donate a bunch of money to the ACLU in an attempt to shake off the taint.
The Laughing-With-Us-Not-At-Us award: Kia Niro, “Hero’s Journey.”
So if you want to make an ad that pokes fun at eco-warriors while also targeting people who want to be eco-warriors enough that they’ll pay the extra cost of a hybrid car even when gas is $2.30/gallon, hiring Melissa McCarthy to star in it is definitely a good start.
This is also a hilarious ad. The “oh god what now” aspect to the ringing phone felt weirdly…familiar?
Best Insult to Trump’s Hair: It’s a 10 Hair Care.
“America: we’re in for at least four years of awful hair,” they said, straight up insulting Trump’s hair.
Best Attempt at Finding the One Thing That Can Unify Red State and Blue State America: Febreze, “Halftime Bathroom Break.”
“The one thing that brings us together is the need to poop. And the fact that our poop stinks.” Thank you, Febreze.
The NFL did an “Inside These Lines” ad that was clearly supposed to be all unite-y, but let’s face it, this year “we all poop” is the most appropriate unity statement any of us could ask for.