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Top 3s and bottom 3s: what the industry thought of the Super Bowl ads

Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray in Jeep's 'Groundhog Day'

The Super Bowl featured both an exciting game and a hefty lineup of ads from the world’s top brands, most of which went for funny over feels.

Were the ads worth the $5.6m advertisers spent on the airtime? Time will tell, but stats show that some spots connected better than others (although, that depends on which analytics company you ask).

Jeep’s ad with Bill Murray trended number one on Google, USA Today's Ad Meter and iSpot.tv, while Unruly's research found Google's 'Loretta' to be the most effective. Data, measurement and analytics company Edo ranked the Genesis ad with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend highest, finding it 27 times more effective at driving online search for the brand than the median Super Bowl ad.

Social network Fishbowl enlisted tens of thousands of advertising professionals to participate in an industry-wide discussion about the Super Bowl ads on the network. The collective pick there was Jeep, with a narrow margin over Google’s touching ad.

System1 found that Microsoft's ad was the most emotionally effective, while the Super Clio, which is decided on by leading industry creatives, went to Snickers for the #SnickersFixTheWorld spot.

The Drum enlisted several industry folks to weigh in on their three favorite and three least favorite ads of the night, from professors to creative directors.

Alixandra Barasch, assistant professor of marketing, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business

Top 3

Coke Energy, ‘Show Up’

This commercial highlights something universally relatable on both ends: needing to be there for a friend but feeling too tired to go out, and depending on a friend to respond while anxiously monitoring the '...' in the text window.

Coke Energy brings these experiences together in a way that showcases its product and points of differentiation (ie, boosts energy and tastes better than Red Bull).

Budweiser, ‘Typical American’

Clever way to repurpose the criticisms often levied at Americans to celebrate their everyday heroism. They manage to turn "typical American" from an insult to a point of pride without resorting to pointing fingers back at anyone dishing out those insults.

Smart positioning from Budweiser, and a deft balancing of patriotism and inclusivity that few pull off well these days.

Audi, ‘Let it Go’

An unexpected pairing between Frozen and a car brand, with a lighthearted way to communicate about a sustainable, fully-electric Audi. Everyone can relate to that moment when you finally break free from a traffic jam, so the metaphor of breaking free from gas and emissions really resonates.

It even connects with the presence of Maisie Williams, who everyone has enjoyed watching blossom and come into her own.

Bottom 3

Michelob Ultra Pure Gold

The connection between buying a beer and donating to make farmland organic might be a bit of a stretch for most consumers. The cause is a bit abstract and not directly linked to how people experience the product.

As a result, not sure this will move beer drinkers enough to sway their behavior when they're in a grocery store aisle, or sat on a bar stool.

Genesis, ‘Young Luxury’

Targeting a different sort of luxury consumer is a smart play, but the execution felt a bit flat. The jabs at old luxury seemed a bit needless, and there is zero explanation as to how the Genesis is any different from what came before.

Also, old and young consumers aren't really in direct competition with one another: this ad makes more sense from Hyundai's perspective than the consumer's.

Hard Rock ‘Big Game Commercial’

OK, there's action and celebrity appearances. But no one knows why any of this is happening or what is even being advertised. They manage to create an exciting narrative about saving J-Lo's cup, but what does that have to do with the Hard Rock's brand?

Mark Taylor, chief creative officer, Mering

Top 3

Bud Light Seltzer, 'Posty Store'

Bud Light Seltzer might have been the dark horse winner in this year’s collection of Super Bowl commercials. It was a delightfully fun use of a celebrity that successfully integrated Post Malone into the story in a manner that didn’t seem gratuitous and disconnected. At its core was an introductory product demo that touted all of Bud Light Seltzer’s attributes, but in a fun, bizarre way.

By featuring little tattoo-covered people inside each part of Post Malone’s body, they blatantly captured the emotional, visceral and rational reactions to it unapologetically.

From the taste buds locking arms as a wave crashes over them (reminiscent of Navy Seals in training), to the rational control center in the brain, as well as characters in the stomach and spleen, they created an entertaining inner reaction that outrageously controlled Post’s movements in a bar and a convenience store, which by the way was a flawless performance.

Facebook Groups, 'Ready to Rock'

Facebook’s Super Bowl spot was a masterful portrayal of real people in dramatic fashion. In order to tout its group function, it made heroes out of the people who use it, and celebrated each unique interest in a fun, high-energy way.

Oftentimes when featuring real people, the trend is to showcase them as, well, real. But Facebook managed to turn the drama and production value up to a 10, while at the same time avoiding turning it into hyperbole.

The result is a flawlessly executed, high-octane spot from beginning to a perfect ending that somehow gets viewers fired up to use Facebook groups.

Jeep, 'Groundhog Day'

All too often it seems, Super Bowl commercials tend to feature celebrities, explosions and Hollywood-like productions in place of storytelling and a strong connection to the product or brand.

And while Jeep’s latest foray into this year’s big game did include an A-list celebrity, and a Hollywood storyline, they injected Jeep into the plot and made it the star of the show. The premise was simple; recreate the iconic Groundhog Day, but this time with the new Jeep Rubicon Bill Murry wakes up to, day after day. The result? Endless fun.

Overall Rating
5/5 Vote

Bottom 3

Pringles, 'Rick and Morty Commercial'

"We’re trapped in a Pringles commercial,” says Rick. And that was my feeling too. As consumers, we were all trapped for those 30 seconds of nonsensical storyline that had nothing to do with the flavorful chips.

Apparently the spot was created to introduce a new 'Pickle Rick' pickle-flavored chip. A pickle chip seems compelling. This spot certainly was not.

TurboTax, 'All People are Tax People'

While I do love the brand sentiment that we all do have a common bond and experience to pay taxes, I think TurboTax took a smart strategy and delivered it tactically in a silly and wasteful way. A whole minute of legs reminiscent of Plastic Man or Gumby was not a good use of this platform.

My hope is that it doesn’t set off a 'Turbo Tax Dance Challenge' on social media.

Walmart, 'Free Pickup'

This is a perfectly bad idea of a spot that was created for a brilliant product – order pick-up, which is stellar. But it was poorly executed in this obviously pricey production.

Order pick-up and frankly anything that makes things easier for the consumer is clearly going to be important to retail now and in the future. But surrounding this big idea with Disney characters that diluted the importance of what Walmart is delivering was a big mistake.

John Kovacevich, excutive creative director, Duncan Channon

Top 4

Hyundai, 'Smaht Park'

A good reminder that if you’re going to spend a bunch of money on celebs for your spot, give them something fun to do — and everybody here is having fun. Plus, saying your product’s benefit over and over and over again isn’t the worst advertising strategy in the world.

Fun, single minded, and effective.

Reese’s Take 5

It felt like a good, old-fashioned, funny Super Bowl spot. In a good way. A single idea that kept raising the stakes.

Google, 'Loretta'

A good ad evokes an emotional response. And while most of the big game ads go for the funny bone, Google went after the tear ducts.

A tender spot about using technology to remember a departed spouse that was, apparently, inspired by a true story. It earned the wet eyeballs.

Pringles, 'Rick and Morty'

The only animated spot on the whole game, right? Weird, looked different and stood out. Meta and self-referential, which felt right for the younger demo they’re going after.

Was it worth the $5.6 million slot? Who knows, but I remember it.

Bottom 2

Tide

That recurring Tide ad (so successful in previous incarnations) might have also been a Bud Light ad and a Wonder Woman teaser and felt more muddled than effective.

P&G

That P&G chaos spot with the projectile paper towels and Mr Clean and the Charmin butt-wipe bear…it all just blended together. Maybe that’s the point? But at that price tag I’ll take a clear, focused ad that leaves a clear impression in the mind of the viewer.

Jason Harris, chief executive officer, Mekanism

Top 3

Jeep

The end line: 'No day is the same in a Jeep’ comes perfectly through in this ad. It hit the perfect combination of leveraging cultural context (the Super Bowl landing on Groundhog Day) and familiarity (the iconic Bill Murray movie and its characters). Overall, a great memorable Super Bowl ad.

Cheetos

This was a spot crafted just for the Super Bowl - good humor, a simple idea, and a B-rate celeb showcasing all the things you can’t touch when you eat Cheetos Popcorn - or Cheetos in general. They’ve made the worst part of eating Cheetos into an advantage by getting you out of all the things in life you want to avoid. Clever move.

Overall Rating
5/5 Vote

T-Mobile

For an underdog network, this lighthearted and funny spot felt right on target. It shows how reliable and covered you can be with T-Mobile. Including Anthony Anderson and his real mom was relatable and the messaging came across. It makes you root for T-Mobile (and maybe even consider switching carriers).

Overall Rating
5/5 Vote

Bottom 3

Avocados From Mexico

The only great part of this ad is the familiar jingle at the end. I was waiting to hear it just to know this messy spot was over.

Toyota

Rescuing people from different situations in a Highlander seems like a smart idea, but this ad came across as trying too hard. Yes, it’s clear the car can fit a lot of people, but it felt like an overpriced Hollywood blockbuster that was all show and no substance.

MTN Dew Zero Sugar

This star-studded cast made no sense. What does classic horror film The Shining have to do with anything? Why leverage that classic movie to create this particular spot?

It was not fun or relevant, and seemed like a last-minute idea based on the concept of the new product being as good as the original. It made me miss the completely unique idea of Puppy Monkey Baby.

Katrina Michie, associate creative director, Duncan Channon

Top 3

Doritos, Lil' Nas X & Sam Elliott

The Lil Nas X spot was simple and visually funny. There's a joy to watching a dance-off and the little touches of having Sam Elliott's mustache dance and having it end on the horse dancing was a simple and funny build.

Both personalities cast are charming and compelling to watch for completely different reasons. I can imagine the broad appeal of that spot is also that most audiences will recognize at least one of the two main actors.

TurboTax

I love ads where you get to see lots of different types of people doing something that unites them - and hating taxes and enjoying silly dances are two of those things. The custom music was genuinely catchy and fun.

I can imagine singing it while doing my taxes this year. There is broad representation in this ad, yet it's broadly humorous.

Google

I love the simplicity and emotion in this line of Google Ads. The spots show the product benefit without even showing people acting, yet they have true emotional resonance.

These ads are an excellent use of emotional storytelling while still showing you a product demo. I can't help but love an ad that makes me cry.

Google: Loretta

Added 28 January 2020
Overall Rating
5/5 Vote

Bottom 3

Donald Trump

Trump has the gall to use language around reuniting families when children have been torn away from their parents at the border and are being neglected, abused and forcibly adopted away from their parents who are seeking their human right to asylum.

Sherrilyn Ifill said it better than I can: "If you asked the president today what was in the First Step Act he couldn’t tell you. Every person released under it is a victory against a system that eats lives, but it is a modest victory at best."

Secret

Secret tried to make some sort of statement about women’s empowerment, but seemed to miss the emotional payoff in execution. The idea that women can do what men can do doesn't feel very fresh unless there is some emotion and authenticity in the execution.

They missed a real opportunity to talk about a real woman athlete and her skills and childhood aspirations without making it a cheesy payoff.

Planters, 'Baby Nut'

It’s easy for brands and ad folks to get caught in the thrill of being the ‘first’ to do something. The first brand to kill it off their mascot, make a Super Bowl Ad about its funeral and then resurrect it, a la Groot? OK, I guess.

Maybe they're trying to jump on the Baby Yoda bandwagon but I don't think anyone cares about Mr. Peanut as much as Yoda.

Kyle O’Brien, creative works editor, The Drum

Top 3

Jeep

This one hit on all the right cylinders. It had a perfect blend of nostalgia, humor and star power. It recreated many scenes of the beloved movie Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray driving around with his groundhog sidekick in a Jeep Rubicon as he runs into many of the characters from the movie. Agency Highdive choreographed the action to perfection.

Huyndai

People will remember ‘Smaht Pahk’ long after they do the action on the field. The delivery by Boston-bred actors Chris Evans, John Krasinski and Rachel Dratch is both funny and balanced, repeating the car’s feature enough without being annoying.

Google

‘Loretta’ had even the toughest sports fan tearing up a bit as an older man uses Google Assistant to remember the love of his life through photos, stories and movies. Touching without being in the least bit sappy.

Bottom 3

Michelob Ultra Pure Gold

While the messaging on this campaign is to be respected – a portion of sales will be donated to help farmers transition to organic – its muted message was lost in the hype of the big night. This may prove better over the long haul.

Pepsi

With star power like Missy Elliott and rapidly rising star H.E.R., this was a missed opportunity. It didn’t have the intensity of its stars in its best interests, and even the song didn’t highlight the best of each artist.

Heinz

The brand challenged people to watch four ads at once, which meant people were distracted three times over. Watching the ads separately makes it better, but in-game it was muddled.

Gretchen Bye, creative director, Partners + Napier

Top 3

Hyundai, 'Smaht Pahk'

I know it won’t be cool to like this as much as I do and I will sound like that smahty pants Will Hunting for adoring it, but what’s nawt to like about a Bahstin accent owning something besides the Sawx? Not only is it just straight up funny, it gives awesome earworm about a “meh” feature.

It’s wicked fun brand retention from a challenger brand. How d’ya like them apples?

Amazon Alexa

To be fair, I adore Ellen and Portia and historical fiction. But what I thought was so smart about this spot was the deep dive into life without Alexa and simultaneously humanizing her.

They were able to soften the big brother product negative by showing that people have always been asking for and doing the things we ask Alexa to do, they just did it differently. They took the weird out of it by defusing the awkwardness of talking to a computer with a great comedic angle, fun historical art direction and editing.

Bud Light Seltzer, '#PostyStore'

I just freaking love Post Malone, he’s one of my guiltiest pleasures, but now maybe hard seltzer is. Yeah yeah, yeah...so it’s a big boy riff on Pixar’s Inside Out but I don’t care. This just made me smile and consider, for a hot second, a face tat.

Bottom 3

Snickers

Coke called. They are going to sue you for bastardizing their spot from 1971 then dry humping every cliché in the name of “funny.” This whole thing felt it was trying-too-hard. I hate the littering.

I hate the song. The shtick was heavy-handed and basic. But I guess I can give them a “slow clap” for the commitment.

Overall Rating
5/5 Vote

Olay

A kick-ass celebrity girl gang line up? Check. Said girl gang doing something that requires bravery, science and math? Yes. A diverse group of women doing something only white men have been celebrated for? Yup.

But Olay kinda broke my heart tonight. They started out empowering woman and then made them the butt of the joke. This was a really big missed opportunity. Big mistake, Olay.

TurboTax

I mean I get what they were trying to do, but they should have gotten the memo that you can’t force a social media moment. Leveraging a very TikTok vibe and perhaps trying to start some kind of TikTok moment is a tall order. Hell, if TurboTax can start something sharable with this spot then kudos, TurboTax. And I will admit I know nothing. Stop trying to make TurboTax a “thing.” Just do you, man.

See all of The Drum's Super Bowl coverage here.

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