If Seattle fans didn’t have enough reasons to suffer, the commercials gave them plenty. Between dead children, lame jokes and an egregious amount of useless celebrity cameos, this year’s crop of commercials were the darkest and most cynical in recent memory. Fortunately, there were some gems in the muck, as well as some heinous creative decisions to make Seahawks Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell feel a little less self-conscious.
Best: Budweiser – “Bond of Clydesdale and Pup”
There were a lot of commercials this year that attempted to pull on the heartstrings, but the recent gold standard for this type of ad has been Budweiser and its team of animals. This year’s ad focused on a puppy’s journey home after getting lost, with a Clydesdale saving it from a wolf on the way. It brought out emotions in the right way since it focused on a cute puppy and its friendship with the horse. It was simple, but effective.
Worst: Nationwide – “The Boy Who Couldn’t Grow Up”
It’s one thing to make a statement about a real issue in American society like accidental child death. It’s another to do it in a Super Bowl ad that comes off as manipulative. This ad missed the mark in almost every way. Instead of coming off as a conversation prompter, it was unnecessarily depressing and dour. Even worse, Nationwide actually did a solid job with its Mindy Kaling ad earlier in the game. Maybe if the company had followed Coke’s model, which raised awareness of cyberbullying in its “#MakeItHappy” campaign, Nationwide could have made a better spot.
Best: Always – “Like A Girl”
The Super Bowl might not be the best time for a public forum about gender inequality, but you have to give Always and the team behind the #LikeAGirl campaign props for giving it a try. Even if certain aspects of the ad felt staged, the young women in front of the camera expressed a commendable honesty lacking in most big-name commercials. “Like A Girl” didn’t pretend its company sat on a pedestal of higher morals, nor did it become too trite or preachy. Instead, the commercial hijacked the airwaves for a couple of seconds to talk about something actually interesting to listen to, even if it wasn’t the most effective advertisement for the product.
Worst: Weight Watchers – “All You Can Eat”
Wow, what an ugly piece of garbage. This year had a plethora of horrendously executed attempts to be progressive, diverse and bold. Most of them, however, came off as pretentious and mean-spirited. Despite what Weight Watchers wants you to think, eating a cheeseburger is a far cry from selling your life savings to buy heroin. Health is indeed an issue — as is body image — but to artlessly formulate a PSA-like message to America saying, “join Weight Watchers, you fat, stupid drug-addicts” only did more harm than good. It’s even more tragic that it was a well-made montage with a solid voice-over from Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”). Had it been for a documentary, that would be one thing, but Weight Watchers is a multi-million dollar corporation, not an independent docudrama from Morgan Spurlock.
Best: Bud Light – “Pacman Up for Whatever”
In what could be described as a year with several dour ads, commercials that hit the mark with comedy stuck out above the rest. While the conceit of a real life game of Pacman is silly, it worked in the context of a Super Bowl ad. It was a fun minute-long spot that made us laugh much more than others did.
Worst: McDonalds – “Lovin’ It”
Opposite Weight Watchers’ pretentiousness is McDonald’s pandering sappiness. Yes, running a company with a reviled reputation to rival British Petroleum doesn’t leave a lot of room for friendly face-time with American viewers, but this attempt at communalism just felt like the company was giving up. Instead of dispelling any legitimate concerns about its food, McDonald’s went for the lowest common denominator, and in doing so, only made the fast-food empire seem even more out of touch.
Best: Discover – “Surprise”
There were plenty of mediocre Super Bowl commercials that followed the easy formula of saying the absurd (like a flying pig), then showing that in the next frame like a lame granduncle elbowing you in the rib, begging you to laugh. That kind of joke-telling is lazy and tired. If a commercial wants to actually surprise, then surprise. The Discover “Surprise” commercial was like a parody of this tired cliche. It was everything a good Super Bowl commercial should be: creative, witty, light and above all, surprising. The fact that it lacked dead children was also a plus.
Worst: Jublia – “Tackle It”
There were several first-time advertisers in the game, attempting to bring their products into the national spotlight. None stuck out more than the ad for Jublia, a drug that removes toenail fungus. The ad effectively communicated what the product is and what it does, but it felt more gross than entertaining. This writer is not sure if spending $4.5 million to show hors d'oeuvres-munching Americans what toenail fungus looks like was a good idea.