Super Bowl LIII: Advertising winners, losers and what?

The lamest, lowest scoring game in Super Bowl history, combined with a crappy half-time show put even more pressure on the ads to score points, which many did.

What ads really won, lost or confused during Super Bowl LIII

As a classically trained PR guy and brand strategist, I have a slightly different take on what makes for a good Super Bowl ad. I’m looking for humor and resonance and am really tired of brands trying to lean into social or political issues they have no permission to comment on.

This year, less than a handful of the ads were serious, thankfully. And some were hybrid serious, like Toyota’s ad for its Rav4 Hybrid with Toni Harris. I loved that Toyota wanted to highlight Toni (and all that she stands for) but after googling her, I cringed reading a quote in Black Enterprise from Lewis Williams, Burrell’s chief creative officer, who said, “What an incredible story she has. From a pretty tough childhood in Detroit, to…[the] boys [who] wouldn’t let her play. Coaches wouldn’t let her play – not believing in her. The crossover sports utility vehicle is also underestimated by many: I thought it would be a great idea to parallel those two stories.”

Good for you, Toni. Thank you, Toyota, for sharing Toni’s story with the world and shame on you for creating a false equivalence between her life and a piece of machinery.

As an industry colleague of mine says, “brand is as brand does.” In that vein, I thought Google translate's ad was very well done and struck just the right tone. It was compelling, real and hopeful. Aside from this, I am happy to see activism advertising begin to fade this year.

The ads this year were funnier (Audi) and maybe even a little gross (Mint Mobile’s chunky milk). And there were maybe too many robots and some pandering towards women (Stella Artois).

This year saw newcomers Bumble, The Washington Post and Mint Mobile and a shit-ton of movie trailers and promos. I don’t care about movie trailers but admittedly do now want to see Fast &The Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw and I may have to record The World’s Best and binge-watch, Hanna.

Before I get into more snark, a big shout out goes to Travis Scott and the NFL for their donations to Big Brothers Big Sisters and to Van Jones charity, Dream Corps before the game. And I thought that honoring MLK Jr. and having his daughter preside over the coin toss was a solid make good following that atrocious RAM ad last year that drew the ire of many. Some people think it was a calculated move to quell the Colin Kaepernick controversy. Maybe. Regardless, I liked it.

Here's my list of winners, the ones I felt “meh” about and the losers. Oh, and I added a What? category for fun.

Winners

Microsoft Everybody Plays, We All Win: Humanity with a direct connection to their product.

Washington Post’s Democracy Dies in Darkness: Tom Hanks delivers a powerful sermon on “knowing.”

Google: Gives real meaning behind its Translate app without being preachy.

Audi E-Tron: Hilarious. I expect the cashew growers to exact revenge.

Doritos: A great combination of something old (Back Street Boys), something new, (Chance the Rapper) and something new again (Back Street Boys).

Hyundai: I laughed out loud. Very funny and resonant. I also liked that SUV.

Bumble: Serena Williams can sell anything and I love the message. It would have been better had she actually met Alexis Ohanian on Bumble (they met in Rome, FYI).

Bud Light Corn Syrup: Super clever but do beer drinkers really care about ingredients?

Expensify: Millennials need a new expense management system and 2 Chainz can help deliver that.

Planters: The Charlie Sheen money shot made my day and I loved the “don’t drive like a nut” disclaimer. I would have cut the A-Rod cameo.

T-Mobile: Creative, progressive and timely. Texting humor never gets old, does it?

Game of Thrones/Bud Light: A well played albeit unexpected and welcome collaboration.

NFL’s 100 Year Game: This makes the winners list for its production alone. I hope the team behind this spot share a “how it was made” video with us.

Meh

WeatherTech PetComfort. A straight forward, classic ad that could have been shot in the 90’s. The dog was super cute but needed a haircut.

SimpliSafe – Nice use of AI and voice. Not special but not terrible.

Pringles. Funny and nice Alexa collab.

Mercedes. I actually did not like this but I liked Luda.

Persil: Boring

NCL: Maybe try cutting a special ad for the Super Bowl instead of using your standard spot?

Colgate Total: I liked the hate on close talkers.

Losers

Turkish airlines: Um, who is going to watch your “movie.” And BTW, the ad film tactic is so early 2000’s, no? Lame.

Olay “Killer Skin”: Oh please.

Anheuser-Busch InBev's Bon & Viv: Beyond dumb unless you are marketing to kids. Hmmm.

Pepsi with Cardi B: Love Steve Carrell. He should stick to acting. Cardi B? No words.

Coke: Early on in the game, it was a somewhat subtle attempt at a social message. Didn’t you learn from Pepsi? Soda has nothing to do with social justice or equality. Just sell soda.

Mint Mobile Chunky Milk: I may have baby barfed watching this one. It was vile, but memorable so maybe it worked?

Stella Artois: Clearly targeting women. Too on the nose for my taste.

And, What?

These ads just baffled me. They were creepy, weird, terrible, tasteless or all of the above.

Scientology. A cult that should not be allowed to air anything.

Devour Frozen Foods

Cure Auto Insurance

Turbo Tax. Winner of the creepiest award.

Burger King #eatlikeandy

Michelob Ultra with Zoe Kravitz.

On a more personal note, I hope my wife buys me a Skullshaver for Valentines Day.

Aaron Kwittken is the global chairman and chief executive of KWT Global

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