Advertising Sports Marketing Super Bowl

Super Bowl ads: a roundup of the ads from the big game


By Kyle O'Brien, Creative Works Editor

February 4, 2019 | 23 min read

Advertising and sport's biggest event of the year, the Super Bowl, ended up being a bit of a snoozer on the field, but there were some winners on the ad front. Those who spent $5m for a 30-second spot on CBS during the game banked on having millions of eyes on their respective prizes, but only a few were truly buzzworthy.

The Mountain

The Mountain from Game of Thrones invades Bud Light's medieval world

The Drum's editorial staff liked the efforts from the Washington Post, the NFL 100, T-Mobile, Bud Light-meets-Game of Thrones, Doritos and Microsoft.

Others in the industry lauded the Post, Bud Light, Pepsi and T-Mobile, but many thought the ads didn't take enough risk.

"Overall, brands played it safe this year and the 2019 commercials could possibly be remembered as being better than the actual game, but that will be more so due to the fact that the actual Super Bowl was a relative dud and not because the commercials were fantastic," said K.B. Reidenbach, managing partner, Levelwing.

According to market research company Ipsos, Google edged out Amazon's Alexa ad for highest emotional response in real time, while Talkwalker found that the biggest trending brands were Pepsi (for its halftime show and its ad), Doritos and Bud Light. System1, which uses behavioral science in its analysis, rated Microsoft's ad highest, with the NFL's two-minute spot a close second.

On YouTube, the top two most viewed ads through game day were Verizon's 'The Team That Wouldn't Be Here' and Amazon's 'Not Everything Makes the Cut.' Viewership of Super Bowl ads on YouTube during the game rose 58% from last year, and on mobile it rose 78% from last year.

See our list below and follow The Drum’s Super Bowl coverage here and judge for yourself which were best.

Who’s In?

Anheuser-Busch InBev – The brewing giant is a Super Bowl mainstay, and this year it plans to support five brands during the big game with five-and-a-half minutes of airtime. The usuals, Budweiser and Bud Light, will get time, while Michelob Ultra and Stella Artois will also be represented. In addition, a flavored malt beverage, Bon & Viv SpikedSeltzer, will be promoted in-game.

Bud Light may have won the night with its mashup ad with Game of Thrones. In it, The Mountain defeats the Bud Knight and Daenerys Targaryen’s dragon burns the ‘Dilly Dilly’ kingdom to ash, while the Dilly Dilly King watches in horror.

The brand also used its medieval lens to call out Miller Lite and Coors Light for using corn syrup in their beers.

Budweiser says it is committed to advertising on football’s biggest stage, but the brand is making a conscious shift from “pure entertainment to more purposeful messaging,” according to a company marketing executive, Ricardo Marques.

Bon & Viv – Two mermaids will make a splash at the Super Bowl when Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer invites consumers to dive into its new take on the original hard seltzer. The spot will air in the first quarter.

Michelob Ultra – The brand continues its fitness-focused spots by showing robots alongside humans. The super-human bots run faster, work out harder and even golf better than their human counterparts. But at the end of the day, as everyone is enjoying their Michelob Ultras at the bar, a forelorn, mouth-less robot outside looks sad that it can't have one. The tag states: "It's only worth it if you can enjoy it."

Michelob Ultra Pure Gold – Zoe Kravitz delivers the Pure Gold ASMR message with sounds to induce tingling sensations as it encourages drinkers to reconnect with nature through the enjoyment of beer in its organic form. Kravitz sits at a desk in a beautiful natural Hawaiian setting, with two microphones. She whispers into each one separately, taps on the beer bottle, rolls it around and pours it tenderly into the glass so the bubbles release their effervescence. The tag is “Beer in its organic form.”

The ad did not score well with viewers and critics alike. "The Michelob Ultra Organic ad featuring Zoe Kravitz. I mean, what was that? Who cares? Why? From an insider's pov, it felt like an expensive boondoggle for the ad agency and Zoe," said Kerry Krasts, creative director, MeringCarson.

PepsiCo – The snack and soda company has committed to three 30-second spots. The Pepsi brand will get airtime, along with Doritos and its sparkling water brand, Bubly.

Pepsi – The soft drink brand is back, but instead of showing generations of Pepsi drinkers, as it did with Cindy Crawford and son last year, it uses rapper Lil John and his signature line, Cardi B tapping her nails on a bejeweled can and Steve Carrell all in the same diner.

Ashley Richardson-George, content strategy director, Circus Maximus, thought Pepsi was true to brand.

"Pepsi leaning in to a common conversation shows they get it. The best spots often come from the most real moments. Clearly, they do their best work when they don’t take themselves too seriously."

Doritos – The chip brand is working with the Backstreet Boys and Chance the Rapper on a Flamin’ Hot Nacho ad. A teaser shows the Backstreet Boys current lineup with Chance squeezing into the lineup as the song ‘I Want it That Way’ plays over the mostly silent moment. The 60-second spot features a new rap by Chance, who dances with the Backstreets. There are muscle cars and a brightly colored plane as well.

Bubly – Fittingly, Michael Bublé is starring in an ad where he disputes the spelling of the beverage.

Verizon – Verizon is honoring those on the front lines saving lives in a campaign that leads up to its Super Bowl spot.

The communications company is rolling out a campaign called ‘The Team that Wouldn’t Be Here,’ a two-week initiative that kicks off with a 60-second TV spot during the AFC and NFC Championship games. The campaign highlights the real stories of 12 NFL stars. They include coach Anthony Lynn of the LA Chargers and 11 NFL players, all of whom experienced a life-changing situation – car accidents, childhood house fires, and devastating natural disasters – and the first responders who saved them.

Microsoft – During the Super Bowl Microsoft will air a 60-second ad titled ‘We All Win’, the latest installation in the company’s journey of empowerment and inclusion — showcasing how the Xbox Adaptive Controller is designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility.

Amazon – Amazon teased its ad with sci-fi-tinged shorts. It finally revealed its spot, with Harrison Ford, Forest Whitaker, Broad City stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson and Nasa twins Mark and Scott Kelly all doing (fake) beta tests of Alexa-powered products, like toothbrushes, hot tubs and dog collars.

Burger King – The burger brand is back in the Super Bowl after 13 years away, and it used its time to show Andy Warhol eating a burger to promote the Whopper.

Intuit TurboTax – This tax prep brand has decided that the game is an optimal place to be seen due to its proximity to the end of the financial year. Inuit will return to the Super Bowl for its sixth consecutive year with two new campaigns for 2019, which it will debut as part of its first-ever presenting sponsor of both the AFC and NFC Championship games.

A teaser for the Super Bowl spot shows 'RoboChild' making its debut, a precocious piece of artificial intelligence that thinks its hungry for a kale salad, even though its maker/parent tells it that it doesn't eat.

Sprint – Sprint has unveiled its second consecutive Super Bowl commercial, starring Sprint guy Paul the customer and super-intelligent robots Evelyn, Atlas, and Sassbot.

In the ad, Paul asks the robots how to tell people they get “the best of both worlds” from Sprint. Sassbot suggests getting Jackson to demonstrate that both is always better. The 30-second commercial, titled ‘Best of Both Worlds,’ intensifies as Paul and the Sprint robots visualize other “best of both worlds” examples: a mermaid (fish and human), a keytar (both keyboard and guitar), and a Pegasus (both bird and horse). There’s even a “Bo knows” reference.

Olay – For what is perceived as a very male-focused event, the skincare brand says it wants to speak directly to the 45% of women who tune in to watch the Big Game. The brand has said the ad will be part of a multifaceted campaign that will run during the first quarter of NFL match.

Olay has put forth an "unexpected and humorous" spot, which will bring its 28-day skincare challenge and AI-powered Olay Skin Advisor platform to life on small screen. A slasher spoof spot stars Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Bumble – Tennis and marketing champion Serena Williams is set to appear in a year-long marketing campaign for social networking app Bumble. The campaign, with a message of women’s empowerment, debuted during the Super Bowl.

"Personally, I loved the Bumble spot. I thought she was a strong spokesperson to carry the message that women should make that first move. And the message itself couldn’t be more timely. When she said 'And don’t wait to be given power. Because here’s what they won’t tell you – we already have it.', I got chills," said Sandi Harari, executive vice-president, creative director at Barker.

Google – The very international ad from the search giant made a connection between AI and real people through its '100 Billion Words' translation spot.

Natural Light – The bargain light beer brand will use its Super Bowl time to promote its College Debt Relief Program. The company will also be airing a local Super Bowl ad in five of the top 10 cities hit hardest by student loan debt. The spot contains testimonials and video submissions from the contest’s 2018 winners.

Washington Post – Arguably one of the top spots of the night, the media outlet showed powerful images, backed by a voice over from Tom Hanks, that showed that people reporting the facts is vitally important, otherwise 'Democracy dies in darkness.'

Devour (Kraft) – Devour is a relatively new Kraft brand and will make its Super Bowl debut this year.

The brand’s 30-second spot will appear in the third quarter. The campaign, which was developed by David Miami, builds on the brand’s history of taking an unapologetic stand for “craveable frozen foods”.

The 'uncensored' version plays off the theme of 'frozen food porn' and parallels a porn addiction relationship issue.

Pringles – The chip maker is back, focusing again on the ‘Flavor Stacking’ approach. In ‘Sad Device,’ two guys sit in their apartment, surrounded by multiple cans of Pringles. One stacks three chips into a ‘spicy nacho stack’ while the other asks how many stack combinations there could possibly be. The voice assistant on the table comes up with “318,000” before stating that it will never taste any of those combinations because it has no hands, no mouth and no soul. Before it gets sadder, one guy interrupts and says, “cool, play Funkytown” as the device quickly switches to the Lipps, Inc. disco hit.

Hyundai – The car company is putting its media money behind its Shopper Assurance program, tapping actor Jason Bateman to star in a 60-second first-quarter spot in the Super Bowl. Bateman plays an elevator operator showing that the brand's Shopper Assurance is the tops for car buyers.

Pizza Hut – Pizza and football are a perfect combo, and this one continues with the Abe Lincoln-themed spots, highlighting its '$5 Lineup,' the brand has in play. Another teaser shows Rams players Jared Goff and Todd Gurley looking at clouds, which Gurley interprets as pizza.

Stella Artois - After teasing us with a hint of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, and a Jeff Bridges tweet that showed him as The Big Lebowski’s Dude, the two iconic characters are coming together for the Stella Artois Super Bowl spot.

YellowTail – The Australian wine brand Yellow Tail looked to its fans for the most creative user-generated content to star in its Super Bowl ‘Tastes Like Happy’ campaign.

Yellow Tail features two entirely fan-produced videos in its brand new ‘Tastes Like Happy’ Super Bowl TV commercial.

Colgate – Colgate’s flagship toothpaste brand, Colgate Total, will advertise during the third quarter of the Super Bowl. The 30-second spot features actor Luke Wilson as a close talker. The campaign tagline is ‘Do More For Your Mouth.’

Mercedes – The automaker, in its fifth Super Bowl ad, is teaming with actor/rapper Ludacris. In the 60-second spot, a man seems to have the power to change things just by using his voice, from willing a parking ticket to be ripped up to an opera singer changing into Ludacris mid-performance. The voice over at the end says, "If only everything in life listened to you like your new A-Class."

Audi – Audi has released its Super Bowl LIII commercial, and it finds a man slipping into a dream state where he is reunited with a loving grandfather and a new Audi e-tron, but not everything is what it seems. Turns out, he's choking on a cashew.

Expensify – The expense management platform will air its first Super Bowl ad, and its first TV ad, during the second quarter. It stars rapper 2 Chainz and actor Adam Scott. The campaign features a full 60-second Super Bowl commercial and a 30-second cut that will air nationally during the second quarter of the big game.

Planters – The nut brand will advertise in the second quarter, its first time in the Super Bowl in a decade.

For the first time, Mr. Peanut will star the Super Bowl ad. With the help of former MLB star, Alex Rodriguez, the anthropomorphic legume will be showing fans just how far he's willing to go to deliver crunchy, salty snacks. A teaser shows the animated character throwing peanuts into Rodriguez's mouth. The full spot has a cameo by Charlie Sheen.

Persil – The detergent brand returned for its fourth Super Bowl spot in a row. The character, ‘The Professional’ played by Peter Hermann was back.

Toyota – Toyota is looking to redefine hybrid cars. Toni Harris, a female football player, wants to break the mold, too. Toyota has centered its Super Bowl commercial around Harris and her journey to redefine expectations, as the car company aims to reshape how consumers view its 2019 Rav4 Hybrid vehicle.

Toyota will air a second ad, for the all-new 2020 Toyota GR Supra, immediately after the halftime entertainment.

Kia – The motor brand has opted to shake things up for its 10th consecutive Super Bowl appearance - and 11th spot - by evoking its ‘challenger spirit’ with ‘The Great Unknowns Scholarship’.

A 30-second trailer aired during an NFC Championship match offers a sneak peek at how this will be achieved in practice, by highlighting the social good Kia can effect. The game day spot ran during the third quarter.

M&M's – Emmy award-winning actress Christina Applegate stars in the candy brand's upcoming Super Bowl commercial, featuring M&M's candy bars being pests in the back seat of Applegate's van. See the spot here.

Avocados from Mexico – The fruit purveyor is back again, this time featuring the talents of Kristin Chenoweth. A teaser shows Chenoweth trying to teach dogs how to sing the brand's tagline. The full spot finds dogs and people switching roles at a dog show, with the grand prize being Avocados and guacamole.

WeatherTech – The car accessories brand returns for a sixth Super Bowl. A teaser shows a golden retriever named Scout walking through the WeatherTech factory, suggesting the brand will promote its PetComfort feeding system.

T-Mobile – The cell carrier pulled off a smart series of ads over four quarters that resonated with younger generations, even with its retro music, with text-filled spots, including a tie-in with Taco Bell.

Turkish AirlinesAnomaly worked with award-winning Director Ridley Scott on 'The Journey,' a cinematic short film for Turkish Airlines. It will premiere with a 30-second clip during the Super Bowl.

Anomaly partnered with Scott to direct the Istanbul-centric film, based around the plot of a cat-and-mouse chase across the city's iconic landmarks, and paying homage to the its unparalleled splendor with its new airport, poised to be the biggest in the world.

The full short film is a six-minute effort.

Skechers – When he’s not in the broadcast booth covering the biggest game of the year, football star and commentater Tony Romo unlocks #RomoMode to make his busy life as easy as possible, whether its a huge golf hole for easy putts or a floating drink tray. It also includes Skechers Sport Slip-on footwear.

NFL – The league followed up last year's Dirty Dancing-themed spot with another bit of hilarity, this one involving NFL current and former players at a banquet who break out a game in the midst of the formal affair in an epic and hilarious short film.

"The NFL as an organization, and honestly as a sport, has been mired in controversy for the last few years. In fact, many have come to refer to the NFL as the "No Fun League". From a brand play position, this spot was smart, modern, action packed and had something for everyone. Whether your connective tissue with the NFL started at Odel Beckham Jr.'s one-handed grab or Joe Montana, there was something in here for everyone. Plus, it remarkably put Roger Goodell at the center of it, playing along with the culture of the organization he oversees," said Scott Conway, creative director, MeringCarson.

SimpliSafeIn a teaser, the security brand pokes fun at a well-known neighborhood type: the social media fear-monger. An ordinary man tries to go about his day, but a Greek chorus of nosy neighbors won't let him mow his lawn in peace. Tied to their smartphones, they subject him to a barrage of panic-inducing updates that will be familiar to anyone who has spent a little too much time swiping around their friendly local app. See the full ad below.

Regional coverage

Children's Health – The eighth-largest pediatric health care provider in the nation, is launching a new campaign that kicks off with a 60-second anthem spot airing during the Super Bowl in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market. Called Kids Rule, the campaign is all about celebrating the resiliency of kids and just how great they are today — no matter what stage of recovery they’re in.

Inspira Health, a New Jersey-based network of healthcare providers, aired a 30-second to show off the technology and capabilities it uses every day to help patients.

Busch - The bargain beer's Busch Guy hosted 'The Refreshment Challenge' to showcase that nothing triggers refreshment in the mind and body like the sound of cracking open a can of crisp, cold Busch, airing in the Midwest.

Who’s on the sidelines?

Celebrities such as Rihanna and Amy Schumer have already announced commercial boycotts for February’s Super Bowl, citing “deep inequality and endless racism” in the National Football League.

MTN Dew, which went big last year with its Doritos v MTN Dew Ice chose to concentrate its efforts on the NBA with a new campaign featuring music and appearances by Migos, plus NBA star Joel Embiid, UFC champ Holly Holm, pro skateboarders and artists.

Coca-Cola won't be in-game this year, but will instead air a 60-second ad prior to kickoff, intended to bring people together under a theme of diversity and inclusion.

Lexus – The high-end auto maker won't be in the game, but it's advertising around it, with a football-themed safety system for quarterbacks, called the QB Cocoon. The Lexus Quarterback Safety System also has a four-minute explanation video, plus a 30-second cut-down with former NFL quarterback, Matt Leinart.

Wendy's – Wendy’s Super Bowl strategy moves to a different screen – your phone. On game day, Wendy’s is teaming up with the popular mobile app HQ Trivia to put on a live halftime show of its own with the prize being free burgers for life.

During the special game, HQ’s host, Scott Rogowsky will grill the audience with a series of 12 bacon-themed questions, ranging from as easy as ordering a Baconator to as hard as a McDonald’s frozen patty. The audience will have 10 seconds to tap their responses and those who answer all 12 questions correctly will split $25,000.

Airbnb, Jaguar, Land Rover and 84 Lumber will not return this year.

Trying something different

Skittles – The candy brand is known for its quirky approach to advertising, especially during the Super Bowl. But this year, instead of running a 30-second ad during the big game, it is creating the first-ever commercial performed as a live Broadway musical.

Skittles The Musical

‘Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical’ is written by playwright and Pulitzer finalist Will Eno in partnership with DDB Worldwide. The 17-member cast, which will be led by actor Michael C. Hall (Dexter), performed the show one time only, in front of a live audience at The Town Hall in New York City on Sunday, February 3 at 1pm EST. The show also featured original songs backed by a live band.

Follow The Drum's Super Bowl coverage here.

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