Super Bowl Commercials 2017: Grading the Best and Worst Ads of SB 51

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2017

Super Bowl Commercials 2017: Grading the Best and Worst Ads of SB 51

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    A year after playing in the Super Bowl, Cam Newton settled for a Buick ad appearance in Super Bowl LI.
    A year after playing in the Super Bowl, Cam Newton settled for a Buick ad appearance in Super Bowl LI.Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

    In between Super Bowl LI’s marquee matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, advertisers fought for marketing supremacy off the gridiron.

    On any other day, many TV viewers would change the channel or tune out commercials. During the Super Bowl, however, evaluating sales pitches has become as commonplace as asking if the game’s winning quarterback is now elite. Some viewers even care more about the ads interrupting the scheduled programming.

    Despite decreased ratings during the season, nobody expected audiences to sit out the Super Bowl. With so many eyeballs glued to the Fox broadcast, companies paid a premium to reach millions of households.

    According to Adweek’s Jason Lynch, the cost for a 30-second spot increased to nearly $5 million. Some businesses validated the massive expense by formulating a creative and memorable commercial. Others, not so much.

    As the game rolls along, let’s take a look at some of the best and worst Super Bowl LI spots.

Bud Light, "Ghost Spuds"

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    Grade: B

    Full disclosure: This millennial watched the return of 1980s mascot Spuds MacKenzie and thought, “Oh, he’s just like Slurms MacKenzie from Futurama.

    The party animal’s ghost returns to save a man from a quiet night at home. As a guardian angel, he shows the couch potato the err of his ways. Good call ditching the fedora.

Wix.com, "Big Game First Spot with Jason Statham and Gal Gadot"

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    Grade: B-

    Don’t think there’s anything exciting about building a loyal customer base with help from an easy-to-use website template? Wix.com spiced up their template by recruiting action stars Gal Gadot and Jason Statham, who kicked butt—should we assume the victims were villains who had it coming?—as the restaurant’s oblivious owner updated his home page.

    Upon observing the carnage, that guy sure seemed upbeat for someone who realized his restaurant was ruined by a massive, seemingly unnecessary brawl. The video surpassed 4 million YouTube views by Sunday evening, so people must love movie stars punching people.

KFC, "Colonel vs. Colonel"

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    Grade: C+

    KFC is undergoing more turnover in its Colonel Sanders role than the Cleveland Browns at quarterback.

    Comedians Darrell Hammond, Norm Macdonald and Jim Gaffigan all played the fried-chicken peddler before Fox NFL Sunday contributor Rob Riggle took the mantle. In their brief Super Bowl ad, Billy Zane stole the spot.

    The actor’s smooth voice adds a layer of prestige to the fast-food chain’s Georgia Gold BBQ line. Maybe this is the year KFC finally drafts a long-term replacement.

Stranger Things, "Super Bowl 2017 Ad"

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    Grade: A

    Stranger Things, the beloved '80s-styled Netflix series, excited fans with a tease of its highly anticipated second season. As Eleven would have wanted, it started as an old-school Eggo advertisement before taking an unsettling turn away from waffles.

    Sorry, still no Barb.

It's a 10 Hair, "Super Bowl Commercial"

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    Grade: B

    This not-quite-subtle ad warns viewers of enduring at least four years of awful hair.

    It’s a 10 Hair Care implores everyone watching to do their part to keep America stylish. Yes, it features a dog and small child with unfortunate hairdos.

    Lesser-known companies such as this one rarely pay for a national Big Game spot, so it was imperative to make something everyone would remember. Mission accomplished.

NFL, "Super Bowl Baby Legends"

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    Grade: C-

    No, not another “Super Bowl babies” commercial. Anything but another creepy Super Bowl babies commercial.

    Following up on last year’s awkward premise, a bunch of small children dressed as NFL stars to give everyone nightmares. If a toddler dressed as Bill Belichick doesn’t curb the act behind this concept…

Kia, "Hero's Journey"

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    Grade: B

    Saving the planet will take a sustained effort from everyone. So Melissa McCarthy struggled to single-handedly save it in a minute.

    The actress used her Kia to travel the world whenever called upon for help. By the end, she'd rather ride her eco-friendly car in peace after getting rammed by a rhino.

    This almost felt like a continuation of Al Gore’s 30 Rock cameo, which abruptly ended because "a whale is in trouble."

Audi, "Daughter"

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    Grade: A-

    Rather than flashing its luxury vehicle in glamour shots, Audi used its platform to promote gender pay equality.

    “What do I tell my daughter?” the narrating father asks. “Do I tell her that her grandpa’s worth more than her grandma? That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets? Or maybe, I’ll be able to tell her something different.”

    Based on the overwhelming YouTube dislikes and negative comments, consumers perceived it as a disingenuous political statement not on course with objectifying women to sell products.

Snickers, "Live Super Bowl Commercial"

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    Grade: C

    In a bold move, Snickers aired a live commercial. Just think of the pressure to get everything right once with millions of dollars spent and millions of people watching.

    The candy company addressed that risk by purposely having the set—a western starring Adam Driver—go haywire. For all the hype of a live Super Bowl commercial, it left the audience hungry for more.

    They easily could have executed a similar concept without the live gimmick. Once Snickers decided to go big, it should have gone bigger.

    (Note: The above video is a teaser posted earlier in the week.)

Budweiser, "Born the Hard Way"

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    Grade: A

    Budweiser’s visually and emotionally gripping commercial tells the tale of Adolphus Busch, a German immigrant who lived the American dream by co-founding the St. Louis-based brewery.

    Ricardo Marques, Anheuser-Busch InBev's VP for Budweiser, discussed the modern relevance of Busch's plight in a press release, per Advertising Age's E.J. Schultz.

    "This commercial shows the start of Budweiser's journey, and while it is set in the 1800s, it's a story we believe will resonate with today's entrepreneurial generation—those who continue strive for their dreams," he said in a press release.

    This work is worthy of the extravagant cost.

84 Lumber, "The Entire Jouney"

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    Grade: A-

    According to Adweek’s Patrick Coffee, Fox rejected part of 84 Lumber’s commercial, causing the construction company to post its stirring conclusion online.

    Super Bowl viewers saw the opening of a Mexican mother and daughter embarking on a journey. The full story confirms the United States as their destination. The screen reads “The will to succeed is always welcome here,” as they open the door to what appears to be a wall on the border.

    The opening installment must have piqued everyone’s interest, as the site crashed once it aired.

Mr. Clean, "Cleaner of Your Dreams"

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    Grade: C+

    An advertising staple made his Super Bowl debut when Procter & Gamble repackaged the iconic Mr. Clean as a sex symbol in "Cleaner of Your Dreams."

    A bored woman imagines the bald character seductively scrubbing around her house. She snaps out of her fantasy to see an Average Joe pick up the appliance and ask if she's cleaning. As she passionately kisses him, the tagline of "You gotta love a man who cleans" bursts onto the screen.

    But the actual man she smooched wasn't cleaning.

Squarespace, "Who Is JohnMalkovich.com?"

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    Grade: B+

    It's not on par with Charlie Kaufman's mind-bending masterpiece, but Squarespace's "Who is JohnMalkovich.com?" plays on the same themes of someone absconding with the actor's identity.

    Did John Cusack infiltrate John Malkovich's mind again, or is there simply a fishing enthusiast who shares the same name? Or maybe it's just a silly way to display the importance of buying a domain name.

    A follow-up aired later in the game where Malkovich tracked down this impostor and demanded he'd get out of his mind.

Coca-Cola, "It's Beautiful"

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    Grade: A

    Coca-Cola started the evening by uniting millions of Super Bowl viewers from diverse backgrounds across the globe.

    The frequent Big Game advertiser showcased a commercial from August featuring a rendition of "America the Beautiful" in multiple different languages. This spot followed members of the Hamilton cast (the Schuyler sisters) adding "sisterhood" to their live performance of the song in Houston.

    It's not a new spot, but it's a timely, helpful reminder from a soda company.

Avocados from Mexico, “AvoSecrets”

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    Grade: B+

    Avocados from Mexico's ad doesn’t fit in tonally with most Super Bowl ads, and that’s meant as a compliment.

    Aiming to reach a broad viewership with little time to convey their message, companies lean on shortcuts—celebrities, sight gags, action sequences, talking animals. "AvoSecrets" instead delivers dry jokes in the setting of a Stonecutters-like secret society. The extended cut above plays better than the condensed spot aired early in the opening quarter.

    It all leads to its thesis of everyone learning the secret of avocados containing healthy fats. OK, so Jon Lovitz also momentarily pops up for a joke about subliminal advertising, but does he still count as a celebrity?

Skittles, "Romance"

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    Grade: B

    Wait, is the love-struck teenage boy using Skittles in lieu of rocks? Or does he hope to win Katie's affection with candy?

    Also, his accuracy throwing those tiny treats is remarkable. An NFL career may await.

    It seems to have worked regardless, as "Romance" accrued more than $7.7 million YouTube views by the time it aired.

Go Daddy, "The Internet Wants You"

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    Grade: B-

    Long removed from its early days of airing risque Super Bowls ads, Go Daddy instead reimagined the internet as a cat-loving man with a personalized license plate who listens to Rick Astley.

    For someone who spends way too much time on the internet, it’s unsettling to see the humanized version as a guy with whom you wouldn’t want to hang around.

Busch, "BUSCHHHHH"

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    Grade: B

    A beer can makes a sound when opened. Busch paid for its first Super Bowl commercial to tell the world.

    It’s silly, but at least self-aware with the ultimate outdoorsman grabbing a six-pack from a pristine lake before the "Buschhhhh" sound takes over his picturesque pitch.

Intel, "Brady Everyday"

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    Grade: B-

    Before Tom Brady earned an actual Super Bowl spot, Intel paid him for an advertisement where the Golden Boy performs mundane tasks in super-slow motion.

    It's a quintessential Big Game commercial in that it features a famous endorser and leaves viewers wondering what's being sold. Luckily for the Patriots, he has delivered less generic production on the gridiron.

Yellow Tail, "Big Game Commercial"

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    Grade: B-

    Beer companies hog the Super Bowl marketing territory, but plenty of viewers enjoy their football with other alcohol. Could one of them inject the football shindig with some class?

    Maybe not. Yellow Tail, an Australian wine company, followed the beer-ad blueprint of big crowds, lively music, a scantily clad model (Ellie Gonsalves) and double entendres. It’s not great. It’s not bad. It’s just a typical Super pitch to buy alcohol so you can have fun like those good-looking people partying on a beach.

Buick, "Big Game Commercial with Cam Newton and Miranda Kerr"

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    Grade: C+

    The title probably says it all. It’s a Super Bowl commercial featuring NFL quarterback Cam Newton and model Miranda Kerr.

    The Buick spot is essentially a Snickers commercial with a "when pigs fly" concept replacing someone in a bad mood. Those kids are also probably how Newton envisioned his teammates during last year’s Super Bowl.

T-Mobile, "#UnlimitedMoves"

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    Grade: C

    A caveman Rob Gronkowski learning how to spike a football can’t overcome Justin Bieber + techno + a title with a hashtag.

    It’s too late to say sorry for this ad. Is this why Terrell Owens didn't receive his deserved induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Honda, "Yearbooks"

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    Grade: A+

    Most celebrity endorsements feel like pandering. Honda, however, found a way to mix big star power with a sweetly sincere premise.

    Instead of lathering famous people in makeup and fancy clothing, Honda shared unflattering high school yearbook pictures from an A-list group featuring Magic Johnson, Tina Fey, Stan Lee and Missy Elliott. While reflecting back on their nerdier teenage years, they also touted the importance of chasing dreams, no matter how unlikely or outlandish.

    It’s different. It’s positive without feeling too preachy. It also has little to do with cars, but that’s OK. It still has a mustachioed Steve Carell yelling at the person pictured next to him.

Wonderful Pistachios, "Ernie Gets Physical"

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    Grade: B

    Come on, these are Super Bowl ads. An animal eventually needed to talk.

    Marketers usually flock to smaller, cuddly pets, but Wonderful Pistachios selected a health-conscious elephant looking to get in shape with help from its high-protein snack.

    Ironically enough, Ernie the Elephant is voiced by one of our most sculpted humans: John Cena. After breaking a gym’s treadmill, he must hope management still can’t see him.

Sprint, "Car"

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    Grade: B-

    A football game isn’t the place to go overly dark. Before switching to jingles sung by Peyton Manning, Nationwide learned that lesson the hard way two years ago.

    Sprint’s "Car" isn’t nearly as bleak, but it veers into dangerous territory by having a father fake his death to erase a stifling phone contract. The spot jumps up to "B-" when the fine print answers the boy’s inquiry about the tactic’s legality with "Yes. Extremely Illegal."

Tide, "Super Bowl Commercial 2017 with Terry Bradshaw"

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    Grade: B+

    An injured Rob Gronkowski couldn't compete in Sunday’s game, but New England’s star tight end kept busy as an endorser. In addition to the T-Mobile spot, he teamed up with Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw and Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor for Tide. 

    There's no way social media would be fickle enough to focus on a stained shirt during the Super Bowl. Actually, never mind. What are the chances somebody had to tell Bradshaw what it means to be trending?

Bai, "#BaiBaiBai"

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    Grade: A-

    It doesn't always have to be hard. Just put Christopher Walken on a couch and tell him to say words. If those words happen to be lyrics to NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye," all the better.

    And while you're at it, might as well pay Justin Timberlake to sit on said couch without saying a word. Hey, it worked for Bai, and that ain't no lie.