So, the Super Bowl happened. Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens, who I wasn't rooting for, but are cool for being named after the Poe poem. Now onto the more important wrap-up: the commercials. This wasn't the strongest year for Super Bowl commercials, but there were a few gems, some uncomfortable mergings of corporate and patriot and a heavy dose of fail. Shall we?
Funny Super Bowl commercials
These are the ads that pulled off funny without anything too cringe-worthy:
Kia: "Space Babies"
This is basically what you want from a Super Bowl ad: good graphics, good actors, clever punchline, doesn't insult my intelligence, has some good observational humor and some sneaky double entendres (then the rocket penetrates the atmosphere). We don't learn much about Kia's cars, but you didn't think ads were to educate you about a product, did you?
Geico: Dikembe Mutombo
I'll say this for Geico: they make really good ads. Car insurance companies have no natural personality, but Geico keeps coming up with ways to make themselves weirdly lovable and self-effacing. Their latest: Dikembe Mutombo blocking things that people casually toss. This one could go in the ads made worse by being an ad category (below) because the only boring part is the end when the name Geico gets attached to what you just watched, but I still enjoyed it enough to keep it up here.
Go Daddy: Big Idea
We'll have more to say about Go Daddy, but this one is a good, clean ad. The fast cuts of men around the world explaining to their wives why there is no rush to buy a good domain name for their big money-making idea are well done, with lots of intra-sentence cuts to show just how mind-melded these guys are. Go Daddy loses points for doing the traditional sitcom gender roles across the board. It's also a clever sell: lots of people have ideas that they think would make them rich that they might get to on some ill-defined day in the future. The entire globe is on the internet now, so if you don't snatch it up, who knows who will? (The idea that this all comes down to the right URL is silly, but it's still a clever ad.)
Another ad whose actual message makes little sense (that Hyundai's are good at passing trucks) but does a funny riff on a universal phenomenon: being stuck behind someone you don't want to be stuck behind. Hyundai will set you free. I'm not bothering to rate ads on whether the sell makes any actual sense, because they never do (you're not a rational consumer, so ads don't make rational sells), but it's an enjoyable thirty seconds.
Super Bowl Commercials: Insane Escalations
Wow, that escalated quickly! I mean that really got out of hand. Old formula, still gets me when it's done right.
Oreo: "Cream vs. Cookie"
This ad starts out fine--typical ad fluff--then escalates into hilarity. My favorite part is how the cops don't settle the debate (like I was expecting) but just say "we're the cops." Well played, Oreo well played.
Milk: Morning Run
Confession: I have a soft spot for Duane "The Rock" Johnson. I think he's hilarious in a semi-ironic way. He's a good spokesperson for milk too, because milk's whole shtick is that it makes you strong, and the Rock's career is, after all these years, fairly dependent on being ripped.
Old Spice: Wolfthorn
The winner! It barely fits under the "escalation" category because it reaches full insanity in about four seconds. I love how the femme fatale can't quite define what makes this dashing gentleman different.
Super Bowl Commercials: Good Ads With Bad Payoffs
These ads, like so many, would be great thirty second movies if they didn't slap a brand name onto the last five seconds.
This is actually one of my favorite Super Bowl commercials of 2013. Visually impressive, well acted, and walks the line between funny and heavy very well. I just wish I didn't have to hear "now buy Allstate" at the end.
Pizza Hut: "Hut"
Alright, didn't love this one, but I was charmed enough. Weak payoff though. The "hut" montage was fine, but the words "Pizza Hut" never made anything better, and that goes double for this ad.
Great little ad. Weak punchline. Blackberry goes after the central message of basically every complicated technological product: this thing is magic from the future. Good blend of easy music and nonchalant guy so that despite the chaos, the viewer has the sense that everything is under control. My iPhone does have an app for turning me into a cloud of rainbow powder, but they'll have to scramble to match Blackberry's turn-a-truck-into-rubber-ducks app. Pause it just before the punchline and move on.
Super Bowl Commercials: Controversial Ads
Go Daddy: Kiss
Alright, so no one claims to like this ad. I can't decide how I feel. It is intentionally gross and direct nerd wish fulfillment. Those are negatives. Yet, it's also sort of brilliant in the same way that Axe commercials are, because they do what every other ad does--turns their product, whatever it is, into a sexual object--in really blatant fashion. I won't call it noble, but I'll go as far as "meta" and "interesting."
Volkswagen: "Get Happy"
I'll admit, I chuckle at the white guy with the heavy Jamaican accent. This feels like a harmless racial stereotype, but, well, it's a racial stereotype, and those are never harmless. They could have made it work by putting in an actual Jamaican at some point to challenge the stereotype, but nope, VW isn't going the nuanced route.
Ram Trucks: "God Made a Farmer"
Jeep: "America Will Be Whole Again"
I'll deal with these two together. Even though they are very different ads, they are both commercials that play on our patriotism to sell big cars. It's that last part I find troubling. Both are well maid, and the Jeep one makes me seriously emotional. Still, let's not forget what the ultimate goal here is: to sell cars. This is branding. Branding is inherently manipulative, but these hid their manipulation within patriotism. They are good ads, and I share the sentiment of both of them, but I wish that's where they ended.
Super Bowl Commercials: Feel Good About the World Ads
Most ads try to be sexy or make you laugh. A few go for a different strategy: to make you feel good about the world.
Coke took some famous youtube footage, and a few hidden gems to make a really good ad. The message: your hidden acts of kindness, joy and lunacy can be meaningful, even when you aren't famous. It's an for the generation who is seeing Andy Warhol's "fifteen minutes of fame" quote come true.
Oh man, this one is really sweet. Budweiser is a crappy beer, but this is a tear-jerking masterpiece. Can they just become a company that makes ads instead of beer? They are really good at one and really bad at the other.
Super Bowl Commercials: Fails
Yes, some companies spent millions of dollars to show America a really weak thirty seconds. None more so than:
Wonderful Pistachios "PSY Get Crackin'"
So, having the most watched YouTube video in history gets you...a pistachio ad? I hope they paid him a lot. My guess: Psy is a pistachio farmer, and the whole K-Pop thing was a side project before Gangam Style randomly blew up.
Kia wins the prize for largest discrepancy between their two ads. I was completely charmed by the first one. This was an insult to women, men and robots.
Tracy Morgan is funny. This ad is not funny. Also, America is into black guys talking about change right? We don't need to nuance that at all, do we? Fail.