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Regarding the entertainment value of the four major events that occurred during this year’s Super Bowl — the game itself; Beyonce “shitting” the house down, as Joe Theismann tweeted; the blackout; and the commercials — the ads came in at a far, far distant fourth place. Despite the fact that the majority of the more than 30 Super Bowl ads (which sold for around $4 million a pop) debuted online ahead of time, the Twitterverse seemed to engage with a flutter of hashtagged comments during every break in a way that suggested most, like myself, were seeing them for the first time. After all, what’s the point in spoiling the ads?
Some of the most well-received commercial spots were the ones no one was expecting (like Ram’s heartfelt ode to farmers and Oreo’s whispering firefighters), whereas some of the worst were those that released early. While some speculated that controversial ads (Coca-Cola’s desert fight and Volkswagen’s bizarre Jamaican ad) might be adjusted after poor early reception, they weren’t. If you aren’t using the early preview as a focus group, again, what’s the point?
This week we’ll find out how things shook out in the industry as far as clicks and hashtags went, but for now, here’s a rundown of the night’s best and worst offerings.
Best Heartstring-Puller: Dodge Ram, “Farmer”
Runner Up: Jeep, “Whole Again”
America, y’all. [wipes away genuine tear]. Good stuff from both Jeep and Dodge. Who would have thought a car commercial could make you cry? Now go educate yourself on Paul Harvey, the radio broadcaster whose voice narrated the Ram ad, in a speech he delivered in the 1970s. Still sends shivers down your spine.
Best Actually Funny Commercial: Best Buy, “Asking Amy”
Thank you Amy Poehler for making the word “dongle” go mainstream. I thought that was just a page-layout joke. The whole spot was funny, with Poehler acting the part of the super-invested buyer who wants to know every detail of her product (something that it is indeed useful to speak to a live, helpful human about). Too bad Best Buy probably doesn’t have much of a chance of surviving much longer, though, despite that edge over online retailers. For now, well played, guys!
Worst Meme Killer: Wonderful Pistachios, “Crackin’ Gangnam Style”
Runner Up: e*trade, “Save It”
Aaaaaaand they’re dead. Gangnam Style probably officially died out when your parents or boss made a joke about it, but bringing it out in an ad that relies on a meme that was popular so many months ago just shows how out of touch you are as a company. And the e*trade baby? He was funny. Let’s move on. Both are so two-thousand-and-late.
Biggest Accidental Blackout Winner: Oreo
Oreo had a great, cute commercial featuring absurd whispers that didn’t play up any typical Super Bowl ad stereotypes, but they really struck gold with a well-timed Tweet that tied their product to the bizarre blackout. With its simplistic design, the tweeted ad said, “You can still dunk in the dark.” Advantage, Oreo.
Biggest Accidental Blackout Loser: Mercedes
Mercedes’ Willem Dafoe-as-the-devil ad was clever and fun, mostly because of, well, Willem Dafoe. But having their giant logo displayed prominently at the top of the Superdome next to the blacked-out lights was definitely not a pleasant placement.
Most Confusing Ad: Beck’s Sapphire, “Serenade” and the black-ale trend
Runner Up: Toyota Rav-4, “I Wish”
What’s with the singing fish and sapphire beer with a black bottle, Beck’s? You realize that onyx is the black stone, right? And did Budweiser just debut a beer for goths with its ad for Black Crown?
Best Animal: Budweiser, “Brotherhood”
Runner Up: Cars.com, “No Drama”
Even though I got flashbacks to Black Beauty, I was able to overlook the tragedy of the horse being given away (because of extenuating circumstances? I need more information!) thanks to the reunion at the end. Until he gets sent back. Probably. Whatever, let me live in my dreams!
Most Misogynistic Ad: Go Daddy, “Sexy Meets Smart”
Runner Up: Audi, “Prom”
Go Daddy is terrible. They always pull out some kind of exploitative ad for the Super Bowl, but having a 13-year-old kid (“the smart one”) loudly and uncomfortably make out with model Bar Rafaeli (“the sexy one” — because you can’t be both!) was the lowest they’ve ever gone. That says something. Disgusting ad choice. And while lots of people enjoyed Audi’s ad about “bravery,” it was really just about being a lecherous jerky kid whose cool borrowed car apparently gives him license to plant one on any unassuming chick he likes. No thanks.
Most Racially Controversial: Volkswagen, “Get In, Get Happy”
Runner Up: Coca-Cola, “Mirage”
Yeah … no. The “Mirage” ad would have been OK minus leaving the camel guy out of the voting and out of the chase, but the Volkswagen ad was inexcusable. It’s not funny when the lame white guy in the office starts talking in a faux-Jamaican accent, and it’s not funny to make a commercial that revolves around it. Controversial, maybe, but also just wholly lame.
Best Topical Ad: Tide, “Miracle Stain”
Runner Up: Samsung, “The Next Big Thing”
Lots of people on Twitter seem to dislike Samsung’s spot, but I say anything that combines some decent banter between Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen and features both Bob Odenkirk and Lebron James is worth a mention. Still, Tide’s ad was one of the best of the night, and one of the few that actually had a good twist. But for 49er fans, it was probably a little too topical.
Honorable Mention: Hyundai
Two cute commercials that seemed to get lost in the shuffle as the night wore on, but deserve more credit. Their “Team” ad dealt with the concept of outsiders with a lot more class than Audi, and “Stuck,” featuring a couple who get stuck behind some unfortunate vehicles on the highway, actually gave me flashbacks to my own similarly dire experiences. While lots of companies ran more than one ad, few were successful with one, much less both. Kudos, Hyundai.
Special Mention: Church of Scientology
Is it advertising a college? Is it advertising a birth control pill? Is it … not playing in my market? Scientology’s ad didn’t play everywhere (such as, apparently, Atlanta), and confused many with its seemingly bait-and-switch message of “Choose your own path.” Jury is out on this one.
Not the best crop of ads. Most were boring and unworthy of mention, most will be forgotten by tomorrow (or tonight, depending on how quickly you flipped back to House of Cards). Still, a few were deserving of passing interest. Advertisers claim that releasing ads before the game garners more YouTube hits and interest than letting them just play out on the big night (and indeed, some of the most nauseating ads currently have millions of hits, while great ones, like Tide, have a few hundred). Personally, I think that until they get some better material, the release time isn’t going to make much of a difference. It’s telling when watching 34 minutes of players stretching during a blackout while the pundits can’t find anything to say is more interesting than the ad breaks. Although that can also be, in a rare moment of advertorial triumph (as Oreo found out), a great excuse to go viral — also known as “the great equalizer.”
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