It’s been said that opinions about Super Bowl ads are like assholes: Everybody’s got one, and they think your contrary opinion about their favorite ad makes you sound like an asshole. No, it wasn’t a great year. But, in the interest of staying positive, I won’t say what I didn’t particularly like (which was a LOT), but I’ll present my first-blush list of a few of the things that I thought worked.
Best Advertising Fantasy Camp Spot: NFL 100TH anniversary, “The 100-Year Game.” Dear GOD. This Peter Berg-directed spot is a football fan’s visual feast and a creative’s wettest dream. It will be a ton of fun to re-watch multiple times to see how many legendary players (and legendary plays) I can pick out. It’s a feat of production coordination and had more exciting football action than the actual game. And just when it started to feel a little long/repetitive, they threw in a nice little twist. Tons of fun and a joy to watch. Probably my favorite spot of the game. It’s the kind of ad that makes you simultaneously thrilled to work in this business and depressed that most of us will probably never get a chance to do anything like it.
Best Use of an Unnecessary Celebrity: Hyundai, “The Elevator.” I like Super Bowl ads that manage to have big talk-value fun and still sell a product hard. We’ve seen the “car buying is terrible!” idea done many times, but this was a fun and clever take on it. And while this Super Bowl was full of ads that had celebrities in them that could’ve been swapped with just about any other celebrity (or were jammed in with a Cardi B-shaped shoehorn), this spot felt like it gained a whole lot from Jason Bateman’s lovably smug sarcasm. Really good writing, too. I would love to see some of the hellish scenarios that didn’t make the cut.
Best Installments in a Campaign I’ve Had Mixed Feelings About: I gotta say, Bud Light pleasantly surprised me this year. Just when I thought this campaign was going to just pound the “Dilly dilly!” joke into the ground (WHAZZZZAAAAAAP?!), they started taking it in different directions a few months ago. These spots are best when they’re competitive: making fun of microbrew snobs (although I’m always amazed that “Brewed for the many, not the few” is motivating to anyone. Guess I’m one of those snobs) or, in this case, pointing out that other mass brewers use corn syrup. Finally, a big beer brand may have found a difference that might actually make a difference to some beer drinkers (unlike, say, that the can changes color when it’s cold). The big-budget execution made the story better instead of just more expensive, and made me smile a couple of times. And I have to admit being very surprised by the HBO “Game of Thrones” tie-in spot. It was the only real surprise twist in the whole game. And I for one am not sad to see the demise of the Bud Light Knight. It was fun to see a brand (and a creative team) have so much fun killing off one of its own characters. The second half was far less successful for Bud Light, but those two spots worked.
Best Reasons I’m Not Crying, YOU’RE Crying: Google, “One Hundred Billion Words” and Microsoft, “We All Win.” I like positive feel-good messages that tug at the heartstrings, but we’ve been inundated with them of late and some have been pretty ham-handed and maudlin. But I liked these two a lot. I always think emotional ads work better when they’re intrinsically connected to the brand or product being advertised and not just emotional for emotionality’s sake. This Google spot presented a fact from their Google Translate function in a heartwarming way. Very nice, positive message that was fact based and didn’t feel like pandering. And the Microsoft ad showed real kids benefiting from a real innovation, touting a product’s capabilities and creating a nice halo for the brand. If you could watch that without getting a lump in your throat, you’re made of stone.
Best “Technology Gone Awry” Execution: Spots featuring robots or AI devices turning against us have become their own subgenre (much of which is just plain weird), but I got a kick out of the Pringles “Sad Smart Device” spot. What was basically a contrived scenario about two goofs stacking different Pringles flavors took a funny twist with the Alexa-like device having an existential crisis, until it is ordered to play “Funkytown.” It ain’t great art, but it’s fun advertising.