Super Bowl Commercials 2015: Grading the Best and Worst Ads
The Super Bowl is usually the most watched television event in the U.S. each year, with over 100 million people tuning into the broadcast annually.
Some people are in it for the football, while others are just along for the ride. Which is what the massively hyped-up halftime show and the ridiculously expensive and elaborate commercials are all about—assuring there’s something for everyone.
Anytime you have 200 million eyeballs glued to the television, advertisers are obviously going to take notice. This year, companies are tripping over themselves for the privilege of dropping $4.5 million on a single 30-second spot, per Variety's Brian Steinberg.
Of course, some do better than others making the most of their money.
Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the why’d-they-even-bother Super Bowl spots of 2015. Check back throughout the game for updates on commercials as they air.
Dodge, ‘Next 100 Years’
When a centenarian speaks, you listen because that person knows more than anyone else, except older centenarians (who are, in fact, in this commercial). Granted, when the ad descends into a more frenetic, somewhat scary collection of more mischievous ‘words of wisdom’, it seems to become unnecessarily dark.
But, we’ve learned that in 2015, car commercials are about almost anything but cars, and this one is mostly good.
Jeep (FCA US), ‘This Land Is Your Land’
One thing that is never missing from a Super Bowl? Car commercials. And, there were a lot of them; car commercials about adversity, Viagra metaphors, et al. Jeeps finally brings it all together, using the Woody Guthrie classic “This land is your land” to articulate Jeep’s brand.
Loctite Glue, ‘Positive Feelings’
Loctite is one of a handful of companies buying a Super Bowl ad for the first time; and Loctite dropped $4.5 million, more than the 52-year-old Ohio-based company invested in 2014, for this spot. The glue-maker seems to have gotten the Don Draper treatment—convinced that betting the house on a globally-seen spot now will pay dividends later.
Even if it doesn’t work out, Locktite will be remembered for the glorious, fanny pack’d dancing by a bunch of ‘nerds’. LOL—Locktite…what a great fanny pack manufacturer.
T-Mobile redeems itself after giving Kim Kardashian yet another affirmation of her bewildering marketability, when it aired this encore of its two-part “One-Upped” Super Bowl buy.
I mean, we all assumed comedians Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler are obsessed with WiFi call-clarity and this commercial does a great job of capturing their imagined, insane rich-person competition to prove how awesome T-Mobile’s WiFi-calling service is.
Of course it’s silly, but the idea that the two are locked in an arbitrary battle to demonstrate WiFi call-clarity is perfect—and we’re given the gift of Chelsea Handler calling a possum a “rabbit.”
Coca-Cola, 'Make It Happy'
Here we go. Coca-Cola shares its vision for the future—a world where the soda pop colossus has apparently evolved into an omnipotent, omnipresent force that uses magic to send positive messages to your smartphone. Or, it’s a future where Coca-Cola has somehow data-mined your life into a numb, unconcerned haze.
Coca-Cola wants to make you happy.
Weight Watchers, 'All You Can Eat'
Weight Watchers advertised their purpose—helping people lose weight—in a way that wasn’t condescending or overwrought. In their business, that’s a tough feat to pull off.
The music was a perfect choice, and in a commercial that is about self-control, the onslaught of footage depicting the countless avenues leading to a loss of self-control was effective.
Nissan, 'With Dad'
Nissan’s Super Bowl spot for their signature model is a convoluted, sappy hot mess, but it had one thing that never fails and another that rarely does—Harry Chapin’s “Cat's in the Cradle” and really fast cars.
So, you can close your eyes and hum along, even if it means nothing to you. Nissan’s commercial strikes at a lucrative demographic and makes you want to hold up a lighter.
Clash of Clans, ‘Revenge’
The commercial from Clash of Clans gaming was as understated as Liam Neeson’s character in those Taken movies, which is to say that it wasn’t very understated at all! Not that overstated is always a bad thing—certainly not in this case.
Super Bowl Sunday was loaded with celebrity stunt casting in commercials, but Neeson’s intense performance in such a ridiculous setting really stood out amongst them. Even when he shows his less serious side, it’s still as serious as a heart attack.
Fiat, 'Blue Pill'
Grade: C -
Maybe I’m being too harsh here, but in a culture where motor vehicles are often referred to as a means by which men compensate for a particular shortcoming, running with something inextricably linked to that idea—the “Blue Pill,” or Viagra—as a metaphor for your driving experience is a bad idea.
Get it? This car is like a “Blue Pill” for your existence—this tiny car from Fiat, the maker of tiny cars.
Esurance, 'Say My Name'
Unlike the spot starring Lindsay Lohan that Esurance ran earlier in the game, "Say My Name" isn’t likely to be polarizing. People who watched Breaking Bad will love it, while people who didn’t watch Breaking Bad will probably like it a lot—or at least a little!
Bryan Cranston reprises his role as Walter White, but he’s gone semi-legit as a pharmacist. Well, a sorta pharmacist. He’s not donning the traditional white coat and blank stare behind the counter, but he has plenty of experience with pharmaceuticals.
TurboTax, 'Boston Tea Party'
When it comes to advertising, there’s no historically significant figure or event that’s off-limits. It’s why President’s Day is a circus of beloved U.S. Presidents hocking products in a variety of undignified ways.
In the case of TurboTax, at least their take on the Boston Tea Party is slick, funny, and absent any Founding Fathers doing the ‘Running Man’, even if the historic timeline doesn’t make any sense. (It made the Boston Tea Party and Revolutionary War simultaneous events.)
Pizza Hut, 'Crust Flavor Challenge'
This commercial feels old—like it’s been done before. Stunt-casting a coach to menace a bunch of "squares" in the corporate white-collar world with football non-sequitur? Check. One-line cameo by a star NFL quarterback? Check. Pizza Hut unveiling new specialty crusts capable of short-circuiting the nerves in your taste buds. Yep.
Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan can be an entertaining guy to watch, but the whole thing feels forced—between his unnecessarily psychotic demeanor to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s "why is he there?" appearance. Despite being unoriginal, the challenge flag to the crotch is solid.
It’s not a bad commercial, but isn’t good either.
Doritos, 'Perfect Middle Seat Companion'
Doritos has been farming out their Super Bowl spots to fans for several years now via their “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, which lets the public cast their vote on fan-submitted commercials. The very lucky winner of the annual competition receives $1 million for their efforts.
This year, the winning spot was “Perfect Middle Seat Companion,” which features a scheming guy on an airplane doing everything he can to deter another passenger from taking the middle seat in his aisle. Eventually, he spots a gorgeous girl who he wouldn’t mind sitting next to, but it turns out she has a gorgeous baby strapped to her chest.
Pepsi, 'Halftime Touches Down'
Unlike the commercials of Pepsi halftime past, there was not much to this spot beyond hyping the halftime show, which, we all know, Pepsi sponsored.
The halftime show itself was solid enough, but it certainly didn’t deliver on what this ad seemed to promise.
You know a commercial is big-budget when the setting is the apocalypse. You know a commercial is effective when you spend the whole time thinking "WTH is this and what are they selling?"
Mophie’s Super Bowl ad is certain to annoy a few people, but it’s funny, nerve-wracking and looks great. And the payoff at the end of the End Times being the result of God unintentionally letting his smartphone of…creation(?)…die is unexpected and hilarious.
Geico, 'The Ickster: Wha'’s Cooking with Ickey?'
I don’t want love these Geico commercials featuring retired NFL fullback Ickey Woods (of “Ickey Shuffle” fame) but they’re irresistible. Woods is just inherently funny—he could read the assembly instructions for a desk from IKEA and make us laugh.
The only reason this commercial doesn’t get an "A" is because I’m officially worried for Woods’ health. Apparently his diet consists of nothing but "cold cuts," which is terrifying.
Game of War, 'Who I Am'
The latest in what seems to be a never-ending series of commercials featuring the ample (in a good way!) Kate Upton, the online gaming app Game of War debuted “Who I Am” early in the first quarter of the Super Bowl.
These are starting to feel a bit monotonous, but congrats on figuring out a reason to put Kate Upton in a bath on national TV.
How much you like the spot probably depends largely on how much you like the lovely Ms. Upton. Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, for example, is probably quite fond of it. She’s becoming a Super Bowl advertising staple.
Discover, 'Surprise Scream'
There’s a chance that the average American isn’t nearly as amused by screaming goats as I tend to assume—everyone in my social circle thinks they are one of the funniest things on the planet. So my official apologies if I’m misreading the temperature of the room.
Doritos was the original screaming goat pioneer with their Super Bowl commercial two years ago, and Sprint followed it up in 2014. This year, Discover delivered the best in their familiar and friendly customer service series, which was all about avoiding surprises.
Surprises like…screaming goats!
Carnival, 'Come Back to the Sea'
The use of the late, great John F. Kennedy’s voice to shill for Carnival Cruise Lines didn’t sit particularly well with Twitter—at least from what I read. Nor did it sit very well with me.
The spot felt cheap and exploitive, particularly with the seemingly never-ending onslaught of negative publicity the cruise industry has been the subject of in recent years.
Old Spice, 'Nightmare Face'
Old Spice commercials are usually hit with the football watching audience, and this year’s offering, “Nightmare Face,” is no exception. It’s also some well-received comic relief among this year’s slate of ads, which are more feel-good than laugh-out-loud funny or sexy.
Hilarious actor Terry Crews is back and better than ever. Better than ever in that there’s two of him—well, actually three—one of which is, of course, shirtless, and another of which Tyler Perry should seriously consider to replace Madea in some future films.
Toyota, 'How Great I Am'
Paralympian Amy Purdy’s story is inspiring, and the juxtaposition of footage from her today with photos over the course of her life—set to heart-tugging music—makes you want to know more about her. Yet, how do you connect the dots between her struggle and the Toyota Camry?
Purdy’s story is about “bold choices,” but not even Atticus Finch could make a compelling case that her life and the Toyota Camry are somehow related. Amy Purdy and her father get an "A," but the commercial, not so much.
Nationwide, 'Invisible Mindy Kaling'
The teaser put out by Nationwide for “Invisible Mindy Kaling” was funny and full of promise—in other words, rife for serious disappointment. Thankfully, the big show definitely lived up to the previews. That’s almost never the case!
In the spot, the always lovable Kaling (of The Office fame) has felt like the invisible girl all her life, and eventually begins to operate as such, assuming nobody can see her. That works out just fine until she has a hilariously awkward encounter with none other than Matt Damon.
Avocados from Mexico, 'First Draft Ever'
Anyone who saw the 79-hour (give or take) pregame show on NBC knows that Avocados from Mexico went all in with their Super Bowl spot—their logo was front and center on Bob Costas' desk all afternoon. That was hours before their ad even aired.
“First Draft Ever” is a pretty solid and well-executed idea, with Jerry Rice and Doug Flutie offering commentary on, well, the first draft ever, which consisted of various continents selecting native animals. Naturally, a few early picks were busts.
WeatherTech, 'America at Work'
This spot by WeatherTech isn’t memorable and isn’t "Super Bowl" big—as in, filled with celebrities and the assorted accoutrements of a spectacle. But big doesn’t work for every company, and WeatherTech kept it simple and succinct: checking all the right boxes, including the fact their products are manufactured in America.
Plus, the last shot includes a golden retriever hopping into a crossover-type vehicle lined with their products. Dogs…jobs…U-S-A, U-S-A!
Bud Light, 'Real Life PacMan'
Whoa. Bud Light’s #UpForWhatever campaign has been a mildly cool and entertaining update of their tried-and-true formula of depicting Bud Light as a kind of inter-dimensional gateway to bikini-clad shenanigans, but this is freaking awesome.
Why is real-life Pac-Man not a thing? Why isn’t there a giant quarter and proportionately sized coin-slot waiting for me just up the street?
The trippy, arcade-come-to-life visuals, throbbing electronic music and design of the game are brilliant and the reason Bud Light’s commercial gets a perfect score. I was tempted to give it an "F" because it’s simply not fair that the dude in this commercial gets to stomp on the cherries with Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde hot on his trail...and not me.
"Slow and steady wins the race" is not only one of the most recognizable idioms, but one of the most applicable to modern life—a diligent, focused effort produces better results than a careless and hurried approach.
Aesop’s timeless fable "The Tortoise and the Hare" is the inspiration for this Mercedes-Benz commercial and offers a slightly more…cynical…spin on slow and steady. The message: Fast wins races, so if you want to beat that arrogant hare in your life, buy a Mercedes AM-GTS.
Though Mercedes is essentially saying, "slow and steady is for idiots," when your commercial features CGI animated animals being sassy jerks, you’re playing with house money. (The hare totally deserved it.)
Newcastle Brown Ale, 'Band of Brands'
After enjoying viral success in 2014 on a non-ad featuring actress Anna Kendrick that didn’t technically exist, let alone air, Newcastle decided to get into the game for real this year. And it brought a few friends along for the ride—36, to be exact.
In the “Band Of Brands” spot, which will air regionally in selected markets, a frantic couple race around their house on a mad dash to plug 37 companies in just 60 seconds. Most only get a quick mention, but since they all split the cost, at least the price was right.
The ad itself isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it obviously didn’t blow the budget on production value, but for the second straight year, Newcastle has cleverly managed to make a viral marketing splash during the Super Bowl—and on a shoestring budget, no less!
Skittles, 'Settle It The Usual Way'
What is it about chewy fruity candy that makes it the object of absolutely insane commercials? Skittles and Starburst have some of the weirdest advertising in the world—and generally, it works for both of them.
‘Settle It The Usual Way’ was predictably and impressively wacky in its own way, but not having Marshawn Lynch involved really feels like a missed opportunity.
Microsoft, 'Braylon O'Neill'
With a message of empowerment being a common theme in Microsoft's recent advertising, this 60-second spot tells the story of a brave little boy named Braylon O’Neill, who was fitted for his first set of prosthetic legs at just 11 months old.
The role Microsoft technology plays in designing and perfecting the prosthesis is highlighted, with Braylon being the link between the abstract and reality that the consumer doesn’t often get a chance to see.
Microsoft, 'Estella's Brilliant Bus'
Another Microsoft empowerment spot, “Estella’s Brilliant Bus” isn’t your average school bus. Born from her desire to give back and work with children, Estella Pyfrom’s bus is a one-of-a-kind digital mobile learning hub that provides computer access to kids in communities which might not otherwise have it.
It doesn’t tug on the heartstrings quite as much as the other Microsoft ad, but it’s obviously still a feel-good story that fits the tone of most of this year’s spots.
Budweiser, 'Lost Dog'
In a vacuum, “Lost Dog” is an adorably perfect 60-second spot that tugs on the heartstrings without being excessively manipulative about it. The problem with Budweiser’s newest canine-themed offering is it fails to reach the very high bar set by last year’s “Puppy Love.”
The third in a series, that swoon-worthy horse trainer is back again, looking more rugged than ever! As are his stable of sentimental Clydesdales and that precious yellow Lab puppy, which hasn’t aged a day since last year. This time around, the puppy has to find his way home after wandering off on a trip.
Against all odds, and with absolutely no human intervention, the worldly little guy somehow manages to make it back to the farm. The pup is a little dirty but really no worse for the wear! Everyone is thrilled to see him, but there’s no chance the Clydesdales are going to believe his story about surviving a stare down by a vicious wolf!
Go Daddy, 'Journey Home'
A Super Bowl advertising staple, in 2015, GoDaddy, the purveyor of online domains, decided to spoof Budweiser’s “Puppy Love,” arguably the most popular spot of 2014, and their 2015 follow-up, "Lost Dog." It’s the story of an adorable lost puppy who, against all odds, manages to find his way home to a grateful owner—grateful because she’s eager to ship him off, having sold him on the website she built on GoDaddy. So it was basically the exact opposite of the popular Budweiser ad.
As is so often the case with GoDaddy ads, this thing landed with a thud, even more so than usual. People took to social media in droves to lambaste the commercial, many of which felt puppies were being unfairly targeted and maligned. A change.org petition requesting the spot be removed from the Super Bowl broadcast quickly garnered over 40,000 signatures, and it probably would’ve received a lot more had GoDaddy not voluntarily pulled the ad.
Dove, 'Real Strength'
You definitely wouldn’t know it by looking at the YouTube comments, which are a terrible measure of anything, but Dove Care for Men’s “Real Strength” ad is an adorable tribute to dads and their children.
The hashtag bit feels a little gimmicky, but Super Bowl commercials are supposed to be a little gimmicky.
BMW, 'Newfangled Idea'
Stunt-casting celebrities in commercials often produces lazy, if not effective, advertising—like how Amazon relies on the mad musings of certified crazy person Gary Busey to be its voice. That’s not the case in “Newfangled Idea,” in which BMW brilliantly utilizes former Today co-hosts Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel to introduce the i3, their zero-emissions, fully electric sedan.
The spot opens with a befuddled Couric and Gumbel on the set of Today in 1994, trying their best to understand some newfangled thing called the Internet. Cut to 21 years later and they’re both struggling to understand a car without an internal combustion engine under the hood the same way they couldn't make sense of the "@" symbol and a web address back in the day.
The ad isn’t just funny, it’s also really clever and makes you think. It’s hard to believe there’s an entire generation, not to mention all future generations, who have never existed in a world without Internet. Eventually that generation will be old, and it will be hard for them to believe the youngins have never existed in a world in which crude was king.
Victoria's Secret, 'I'm in the Mood for Love'
For the first time in seven years, lingerie peddler Victoria’s Secret got back into the Super Bowl ad game in 2015. With two weeks in between the big game and Valentine’s Day, the timing definitely works for the company.
Although there is nothing especially creative or deep about the spot, there’s a distinct dearth of scantily clad supermodels this year, making the Angels a welcome respite in-between insurance and car commercials.
Carvana, 'Super Bowl Commercial'
Playing on the reputation Millennials have for being, well, lazy consumers of all things digital, Carvana, which claims to be the very first entirely online car dealership, puts the generation gap on full display with a couch-potato son lecturing his khaki-clad father on the virtues of the digital world.
Or at least we think that’s his father? Either way, the son doesn’t think he’s being lazy by buying his car online, his groceries delivered, his electronics controlled by a clapper, and a roving robot cleaning his floor—to him, it’s just good sense. First timers in the Super Bowl ad game, Carvana’s spot will air regionally in North Carolina and Georgia.
Always, 'Like a Girl'
Asking both viewers at home and the participants within the commercial what it means to do something “like a girl,” Always looks to redefine a term that has too often been used as a disparaging remark to both girls and boys.
The phrase is so commonplace that the older kids participating don’t even seem to make the connection between what’s being asked of them and how it relates either to themselves or someone they love. Even though no malice is intended, it’s just not nice.
The little girls definitely have a different viewpoint, which we can only hope won’t be chided out of them in the future.
Snickers, 'The Brady Bunch'
For their 2015 Super Bowl spot, Snickers stuck with the “You’re not you when you’re hungry” formula that has worked well for them in other relatively recent commercials starring Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel and everyone’s favorite Golden Girl, Betty White—the former being far more recent than the latter.
In “The Brady Bunch,” Snickers used a scene from the classic family sitcom, with a hungry Marsha being transformed into a very un-Brady-like Danny Trejo demanding an eye-for-an-eye retribution for the Brady sibling responsible for the football that mangled her nose. You really feel his anger when he slams his hatchet into the coffee table!
Overall, the ad is pretty funny, but the whole premise is starting to feel a little tired after so many years.
Sprint, 'Cut Your Bill in Half'
Having already expressed my personal love for screaming goats, obviously Sprint’s "Cut Your Bill In Half" resonated with me. The reason it doesn’t stack up quite as well as the Discover commercial that aired earlier in the game is that the Discover commercial aired earlier in the game!
Sprint beat Discover into the screaming goat game, having aired their original ad months ago. But that’s a problem for a Super Bowl ad—this was basically just a re-run of something they had already done. A spot during the game costs upwards of $5 million, which is a bit too expensive for a rehash.
T-Mobile, 'Kim's Data Stash'
Noted famous person Kim Kardashian makes the case for the public being excited about T-Mobile’s data stash plan, which allows users to keep unused data for a calendar year by reviewing the various types of stupid selfies soulless people who care about that sort of thing could potentially miss out on, should they run out of monthly data.
It’s very difficult for those of us not susceptible to whatever Kardashian witchcraft they use to constantly generate headlines, and convince people their very existence on this planet is newsworthy, to understand the appeal of this spot. I’m not speaking for anyone but myself when I say this, but I’d give up my smartphone forever if it meant never having to see a Kardashian again.
Kia, 'The Perfect Getaway'
Kia usually brings its A-game to the Super Bowl, and “The Perfect Getaway” is no exception. The 60-second spot features an always charming Pierce Brosnan, channeling his James Bond past in a pitch meeting with a corporate-looking suit type. (Maybe his agent? Studio exec? Kia marketing president? OK, that really doesn’t matter, sorry.)
The suit wastes no time laying out his vision for the project, which turns out to be just a smidgen different than what Brosnan had in mind—it is neither action nor adventure. There are no high-speed car chases, snipers, missile launcher obstacles, explosions or dangerous missions of any kind. It’s just a man…on a mountain…meeting up with his lady. Perfection.
Lexus, 'Make Some Noise'
Super Bowl viewers will see far fewer car commercials than they’re used to, as Lexus is one of just a handful of automakers that got into the game this year. “Make Some Noise” is their second-ever Big Game spot, and they were the first company to release theirs, a full two weeks prior to the game.
Maybe Lexus was hoping an early release would help create a buzz around their impressively boring ad, but if that’s the case, they were decidedly unsuccessful. There’s really nothing buzzworthy about the spot, which is standard fare, with cars speeding around in a dimly lit closed course set to…noise.
Esurance, 'Sorta Your Mom'
Grade: A/F (You decide)
Always the controversial character, Lindsay Lohan’s appearance in the Esurance spot “Sorta Your Mom” is, no doubt, going to be polarizing for the audience. Love her or hate her, you have to give her props for being game—even if she just needs the money!
The commercial begins with two kids waiting to be picked up from school, when one comments to the other what a bad driver his mother is. The other replies rather casually that it is not actually his mother, and then Lohan chimes in that she’s basically his mother, eventually speeding off in a huff, as she is known to do.
Ecuador Tourism, 'All You Need Is Ecuador'
The spot bought by Ecuador Tourism, set to the legendary Beatles tune “All You Need Is Love,” is the first time a foreign country has purchased Super Bowl advertising space to promote tourism. It’s a pretty interesting marketing strategy, so they might not be the last.
Like many ads this year,“All You Need is Ecuador” will not air nationally, but is set to run in a number of major markets, including New York, Miami and San Francisco. Overall, the ad does its job, leaving viewers with a pretty pleasing impression of the South American country.
Carl’s Jr., 'All Natural'
Grade: DD (See what I did there?)
Sticking to their tried and true formula, this year the offering from hamburger purveyor Carl’s Jr. just feels a little lazy. First of all, the ad isn’t even national—it will only air regionally in selected sexy hamburger markets. How those are determined is anybody’s guess!
Then there’s the busty star of the spot, 21-year-old Instagram celebrity/model Charlotte McKinney. Usually Carl’s Jr. goes with an established name like Kate Upton, Paris Hilton or even Katherine Webb. This year, they booked McKinney without so much as an audition.
Yet another great commercial that will only air regionally in selected markets, online food ordering site/app Eat24 probably blew much of its budget on landing Snoop Dogg to star in the spot. And, to a lesser degree, Gilbert Gottfried, who has been largely (and blessedly) absent from the public consciousness since losing his gig as that Aflac duck in 2011.
“Hangry” is a combination of hungry and angry, which is demonstrated brilliantly by Gottfried and narrated even more brilliantly by Snoop, as the pair run through the many classic signs of hangriness. Snoop is the perfect pitchman for the Eat24 app, which beats down hunger and tells it to “shut up.” If it can get Gottfried to shut up, it can get anyone to shut up.