Super Bowl ads tend to come in two flavors: inspirational and humorous. With so many eyeballs watching, the advertisers want to evoke an emotion, be it warm or chortle-worthy.
And with the #MeToo movement in its second year, advertisers are no longer using hot models as eye candy (with the exception of Wix.com). On the most part, the humor is decidedly more Seinfeldian with varied success.
And celebrities of every ilk will fill your screens in (hopefully) surprising combinations, be it Chance the Rapper mixing it up with the Backstreet Boys (Doritos) or Cardi B and Steve Carell trying to educate a waiter about Pepsi.
There were a lot of robots. Simplisafe’s robot just makes a quick cameo. Both Pringles and Michelob Ultra reveal that humans can enjoy sustenance in a way robots cannot. The Sprint robots are far happier while the Turbotax “robochild” hasn’t quite perfected proper emotions.
And both Bumble and Toyota grab onto the female empowerment theme by focusing on women athletes.
A couple of ads played with sound to break through the clutter: Michelob Ultra and Burger King. But the Burger King was the true talker because it was based on actual art-film footage of Andy Warhol eating a Whopper in 1981and was largely silent.
I am ranking most of the ads but to simplify my life, I’m semi-arbitrarily skipping the TV and movie trailers. Those are rarely commented about anyway though I did like the Hulu “Handmaid’s Tale” “Morning in America” take off and the Jordan Peele CBS All Access “Twilight Zone” fake-out which looked at first like the actual return to the game but wasn’t.
And wasn’t that Carnival ad before halftime with Shaq the same one they’ve been running for ages?
Hyundai Shoppers Assurance “The Elevator”
Jason Bateman plays an old-time elevator operator taking people to unpleasant situations like “root canal,” a middle seat on a plane and “the talk”about sex with your dad. At the bottom: car shopping at a dealershi. Once the customer points out they used Hyundai Shoppers Assurance, he shoots them to the top. This is one of the wittiest ads of the bunch. Grade: A
Pepsi “More than OK”
A woman asks for a Coke. The waiter says, “Is a Pepsi Okay?” Steve Carell shows up, indignant, saying it’s more than OK. This gives Lil Jon the excuse to say his trademark “Okaaaay” followed by Cardi B’s trilled version. It’s engaging and fun and tweaks the competition just right. Grade: A
Here’s the 60-second version:
Verizon "The Coach Who Wouldn't Be Here"
Verizon brought Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn to a firehouse to talk about his experience after a drunk driver hit his vehicle and almost killed him. He extolled the first responders who saved him, then finds out they are actually there and he tears up. You'd be hard-pressed not to tear up as well. Grade: A
Microsoft “We All Win”
Microsoft profiles several kids who have disabilities which limit their abilities to use a traditional video game controller. They unveil a special adaptive controller to help make it easier for them to play because, as one parent tearfully says, “he’s not different when he plays.” It’s a super effective ad that pulls on the heartstrings quietly. Grade: A
Planters “Crunch Time”
The Planters Nutmobile flies through the streets and passes Charlie Sheen, who says, "People think I'm nuts." Alex Rodriguez is about to eat kale chips and Mr. Peanut subs it out with nuts -just in time. Grade: A-minus
Skechers “Easy Life”
CBS analyst extraordinaire Tony Romo exudes easy-going charm in this ad for Skechers slip on shoes where he seeks an “easy life,” meaning his Roomba picks up his dropped popcorn, a cannon shoots tennis balls for his dog to retrieve, a huge golf hole to make putting easier and a “hover tray” for drinks. Nice visuals and Romo sells the shoes effectively. Grade: A-minus
Bubly “Can I have a Bublé?”
Crooner Michael Bublé makes fun of his name and its confluence to the sound of Pepsi Co.’s Bubly drink by insisting that it’s pronounced like his last name, not like “bubbly.” Simple and effective. Grade: A-minus
Michelob Ultra “Robots”
Robots are superior to humans when it comes to jogging, hitting golf balls, boxing and spin class. But they can't enjoy a Michelob Ultra. Take that, robots!Grade: A-minus
Mercedes “Say the Word”
Whatever a man says, it happens, be it a putt, a light change, money bursting out of an ATM machine, turning an opera singer into Ludacris or Wile E. Coyote riding on a rocket. At the end, he’s in his Mercedes, turning on his music, changing the console color and making it cooler. It serves its purpose with enough light humor to stick. Grade: B-plus
Bud Light “Corn Syrup”
It’s medieval times and Bud Light castle receives a massive barrel of corn syrup. It was meant for Miller Lite. Being nice, they deliver it to Miller Lite castle, then find out it’s actually Coors Light. I’m not sure if viewers care but it implies Bud Light is healthier. It’s very high budget, offers a whiff of Monty Python. The subsequent, briefer ones aren’t quite as good. Grade: B-plus
The 100-Year Game
The NFL celebrates 100 years at what looks like a dinner with many of the biggest living stars. When a football falls off a cake, those big names start playing. For any football fan, this ad is simply fun. Grade: B-plus
Sprint “Best of Both Worlds”
For people of a certain age, NFL/MLB player Bo Jackson solidified his reputation as the two-sport man with his classic “Bo Knows” Nike ads three decades ago. This ad, featuring the former Verizon “Can you hear me now?” dude and the Sprint robots, creates an analogy of how Sprint provides a faster network and lower costs than its rivals by using Bo, a key-tar, a mermaid and a bird horse. Grade: B-plus
Simplisafe Home Security
This Boston start up does an impressive debut job with an ad showing how much the world lives in fear, from invasive drones to “porch pirates” to robots taking your job. “Home should be the place you feel Simplisafe,’ the narrator said. Grade: B-plus
Who said choking on a cashew didn’t pay dividends? A man sees his grandpa, who rewards with him an Audi’s electric vehicle. But he’s just having a hallucination while he’s choking on a cashew, a twist that happens near the end of the ad. Low-key but effective. Grade: B-plus
Stella Artois “Change Up The Usual”
Another oddball combo but in this case, two actors bring back iconic roles with the trademark music: Sarah Jessica Parker is Carrie Bradshaw but instead of a Cosmo, she opts for a Stella Artois. And Jeff Bridges as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski skips the White Russian for a “Stella Ar-toes.” There is a lot of slapstick dropping of plates. It’s a cute attempt to show how broadly appealing this brand of beer can be.
Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer “The Pitch
Two mermaids sell the appeal of the seltzer to actual sharks in a “Shark Tank” take off. The payoff feels earned. Grade: B-plus
Bud Light (Game of Thrones) “Joust”
This ad confused me but probably by design. It starts as a fun Bud Light bit focused on jousting but then the Bud Light jouster loses and a huge dragon starts sending hellfire onto the field. Then “Game of Thrones: Final Season” pops up. That was a twist! Grade: B-plus
There are several of these. The first focuses on someone who texts way too long. “We’ll keep this brief: T-Mobile America’s Best Unlimited. Are you with us?” The second is a man asking what’s for dinner and the woman almost sending snarky responses but instead is nice about it to the song “She Drives Me Crazy.” Best one: an unknown texter sends Mike this: “Just letting you know I’m here.” Mike is gratified, noting “it’s been pretty rough lately.” But then he finds out it’s his Lyft driver. That song: “All By Myself.” Grade: B-plus
Washington Post “Democracy Dies in Darkness”
I give this bonus points because it’s about the need for quality journalism. What I’m doing now doesn’t necessarily qualify but... Grade: B-plus
Avocados from Mexico “Top Dog”
This ad embraces three common Super Bowl elements: celebrity (Kristin Chenoweth as a human canine show commentator), animals (dogs) and humor. In this case, the dogs judge the humans doing things like sit, shake and stay. Best moment: One contestant tries to approach the guacamole and has a “penalty cone” placed over her, preventing her from enjoying the guac. Grade: B-plus
Pringles “Sad Device”
Two dudes “stack” different Pringles flavors and the Alexa-type device informs them there are 318,000 stack combinations. But she can’t enjoy eating Pringles without hands, a mouth or “soul to feel with.” One guy interrupts her by asking her to play “Funkytown.” Notable for not involving a celebrity. Grade: B
Expensify “Expensify This”
Atlanta’s 2 Chainz raps about Expensify in what looks like a ridiculously-over-the-top music video where he drives an ice car. But he is interrupted by Adam Scott as a finance guy asking him to ensure he expenses everything. But Expensify makes it easy. Grade: B
Here is the 30-second version followed by the extended version:
Devour “Food Porn”
Devour Frozen Foods portrays a woman explaining how her husband has an addiction to their meals as if it were actual porn. A longer-version of the ad uses the word “porn” but CBS wasn’t thrilled with that so the one airing during the Super Bowl omits it. It’s not an ad that you’ll hunger to see over and over. Grade: B
Toyota Rav4 Hybrid “Toni”
Toyota highlights Antoinette “Toni” Harris, the first female football player to get a college scholarship who is not in a specialty position. The point is that people make assumptions about her that are wrong, as they may about the Rav4 Hybrid. It’s a smart tie-in. Grade: B
Kia “Give It Everything”
The car company highlights its Georgia West Point plant 81 miles from Mercedes-Benz stadium in poignant fashion, pointing out that these folks are not famous like this in most of the other ads, just working day people but ”make incredible things.” The narrator has a super Southern accent, too. Grade: B
Doritos “Now It’s Hot”
Chance the Rapper gives the Backstreet Boy’s classic song “I Want it That Way” a hip-hop twist that sounds nothing like the original song. But you get plenty of the original version so it sticks the nostalgia landing. Grade: B
The Toyota Supra drives around in a pinball machine. Visually sumptuous. Grade: B
This one goes on too long but it has an effective message. There are plenty of codes specifically recognizable by seven percent of the population and doesn’t say what until the end: veterans. And Google wants to help veterans get jobs. Grade: B
Burger King “Eat Like Andy”
I can't decide if I like this ad or hate it. It's basically an old video of Andy Warhol eating a Whopper. It was part of a 1981 art film. At least it breaks through the Super Bowl commercial noise. Grade: B
Bumble “The Ball is In Her Court”
Serena Williams talks about how women shouldn’t wait. “Make the first move, in work, in love and life. And don’t wait to be given power because here’s what they tell you. We already have it!” That sounds great but it’s all to sell a dating app where after the two people swipe for each other, only the woman (in a heterosexual match) can make the first move. That’s not explained, given the limitations of a 30-second ad. Grade: B-minus
[Yellow Tail] “Tastes Like [Happy]”
Pretty images about happy moments. This is a fan submission that gets points for simplicity. Grade: B-minus
Michelob Ultra Pure Gold “The Pure Experience”
This stands out because the pitch woman Zoe Kravitz is whispering the entire ad and particular sounds are deployed in a way that will either catch people’s attention or get swallowed up at a Super Bowl party. Examples: clinking a bottle with her fingernails or twisting the cap open.
Persil Stain Lab “The Deep Clean Level”
It’s a bit of a James Bond vibe in this 15-second quickie. It’s something about a “deep secret” to get rid of stains. An assistant to the Bond-like narrator says, “So what’s your deepest secret?”His response: “Keep it clean, Rhonda.” Mildly amusing. Grade: B-minus
Google “100 Billion Words”
A little ponderous and overly sentimental for what it’s worth. Grade: C-plus
The “Robochild” wants to be a TurboTax CPA on Demand when it grows up. But when told it needs more complex emotions to actually do that job, it says it’s sad and starts laughing. It doesn’t quite have emotions down. A little creepy and weird but only mildly entertaining. Grade: C-plus
M&M’s Chocolate Bar “Bad Passengers”
Christina Applegate is hearing what sounds like her kids arguing in the backseat and tells them she is going to “break them up” - or “eat all of you alive right now!” A twist: hey are actually M&Ms embedded in a chocolate bar. This is not exactly “Married... With Children.” Grade: C-plus
MintMobile “Chunky Style Milk”
It tries to connect the fact it has cheap wireless as something that’s right while “chunky style milk” isn’t. It’s a gross-out joke without any real payoff. Grade: C
Colgate “Close Talker”
Stealing a line from "Seinfeld," Colgate has Luke Wilson play a man who likes to talk really close to people but fortunately, he uses Colgate.Wilson does his best to sell this one-note idea, which rides solely on his charm. Grade: C
Olay “Killer Skin”
Sarah Michelle Gellar of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Buffy” fame is being chased by a Freddy Krueger-type character and tries to call for help but her phone won’t recognize her because her skin makes her look so different thanks to Olay. The Freddy Krueger dude agrees. There is no blood or any real payoff. Grade: C
Budweiser “Wind Never Felt Better”
This is a “message” ad to show that Bud is using wind power to power its plants and uses a Bob Dylan song, a cute dog and its stallions to prove the point. It’s the corporate equivalent of patting yourself on the back. Grade: C
Amazon Alexa “Not Everything Makes the Cut”
Forest Whitaker tries an Alexa-enabled electric toothbrush. There’s an Alexa-enabled dog collar for dogs that annoys Harrison Ford. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” get knocked out of an Alexa-enabled hot tub by a Bellagio-style fountain water show. Despite the star power, the ad falls flat simply because the jokes barely resonate. Grade: C-minus
A teaser for as six-minute promotional Ridley Scott film to celebrate 85 years of Turkish Airlines. It looks slick if anything. Grade: C-minus
This is basically an explanatory ad with no bells and whistles. If you care, you might watch but otherwise... Grade: D
The Property Brothers recite a standard pitch for ADT. Grade: D
What looks like a regular ad for WiFi but with a Beatles song (“Here Comes the Sun”) playing so it cost them some bucks. Grade: D
The forecast: grey skies ahead. This is a boring, conventional ad promoting WeatherTech’s new pet feeding system. The pets are cute but it fails to meet the high standards expected for the Super Bowl. Grade: D
Norwegian Cruise Lines “Good To Be Free”
This is a standard cruise ad we’ve seen 1,000 times. Grade: F
About the Author
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.