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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Super Bowl 50 ads: winners and losers

Eric Richelsen | The Observer
Eric Richelsen | The Observer

This Super Bowl Sunday, we tuned in for the ads … well, at least the ones we hadn’t already seen on Facebook or teased on Twitter in 2016: the age of commercial trailers. Blame it on Vine or millennials or the multiplying digital platforms on which brands can reach audiences, but commercial trailers no longer connotes U-Hauls.

With the overwhelming amount of hype, the pressure was on for brands to deliver engaging and witty content. Here’s who did and didn’t follow through.

T-Mobile: T-Mobile hit the pop culture sweet spot. Drake dressed in a groutfit and Timbs while dancing in a well-lit box has proven great YouTube bait, so the carrier took advantage of the combination for a spot fittingly titled “Restricted Bling.” Drake, presented as supremely easy-going, optimistic and great at high-fives, is easily convinced by lawyers to incorporate clunky corporate clauses into his hit single. His agreeable attitude towards switching loosely but memorably aligns a switch to T-Mobile with accessibility. (They also ran a spot that featured Steve Harvey giving his second apology of the year, but this time for a mistake in Verizon’s marketing.)

Audi: The car company’s ad, “The Commander,” features a retired astronaut disenchanted with his forever-grounded life. His son gifts him keys to an Audi R8, and the man’s experience parallels the control and rituals he once had in his spaceship. The ad was elevated by song choice: David Bowie’s “Starman.” With Bowie’s recent death, the commercial proved a well-done, affecting tribute — whether planned or serendipitous.

Budweiser: Budweiser has mastered the art of making great commercials: give Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen freedom to write a commercial about running for president, and this is what you get. The ad is witty, fast-paced and leaves a lasting brand image: “America has seen the light … and there’s a Bud in front of it." Now that’s a big caucus.

Prius: You have to hand it to Toyota for attempting to change the stereotype of the Prius. However, a bank robbery Prius car chase was too laughable. Was Toyota trying to be serious in relation to its new line of hybrid vehicles, or just entirely self-deprecating?

Either way, the commercial was a full minute of laughable phrases relating to the Prius that tried to break away from its speed limit abiding drivers. Good luck Toyota — Prius drivers are their own brand of people, and targeting them as speed racers might not be the best position. I would know — my family owns three of them.

Super Bowl Babies: This is a weird concept that alludes to the arousing potential of sports. The humorous potential is there, but the content proves too self-important to deliver. The musical montage of Seal with babies in choir gowns has me wishing the NFL had just gone the animal route (as so many brands did) and shown some cute baby seals.

Trend Takeaways:

A lot of this year's Super Bowl commercials stood out for try-hard meme humor (Mountain Dew’s annoyingly confounding Puppy Monkey Baby) or just sheer weirdness (no Honda sheep-singing “Somebody to Love” pun intended). Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken were all used in a similar way by different brands: iconically ironic, awkward humor delivered by established celebrities.

An unfortunate misuse of the Super Bowl ad slot was turning it into a Super Bowel PSA: Xifaxan’s Muppet-esque large intestine mascot and an opioid-induced complex commercial that said the word “constipation” a few too many times. No one wants to hear about “opioid-induced diarrhea” while inhaling chili. (Note: While rewatching the OIC spot on YouTube, I was first forced to watch an ad for a Squaty Potty, “the stool for better stools.”)

Although the health-related PSAs largely ran amiss, Colgate delivered an effective ad founded in sustainability. The spot showed people grasping desperately for water from a sink where a man lazily brushed his teeth with the faucet running. With the current crisis in Flint, Michigan, the spot resonated.

Of the over 40 celebrity appearances in the game’s commercials (not counting the 20 faces of Ryan Reynolds in Hyundai’s spot), the Amazon Echo’s prime spot directly after halftime dropped Missy Elliott’s new, and fittingly sporty, single, “Pep Rally.” Combine that with Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer-channeling role in the ad, and the spot essentially extended my halftime revelry.