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Television

Even Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott can’t save a forgettable year of Super Bowl ads

Lil Nas X faced off against Sam Elliott in a Doritos dance-off — one of the few memorable spots in a year of otherwise drab Super Bowl advertising.
Lil Nas X faced off against Sam Elliott in a Doritos dance-off — one of the few memorable spots in a year of otherwise drab Super Bowl advertising.
(Fox )

Martin Scorsese. Chance the Rapper. Bill Murray, Chris Rock. Jason Momoa. Wesley Snipes.

So many celebrities, so many unremarkable ads during Super Bowl LIV.

Coke, Budweiser, Facebook and more paid upward of $5 million to run spots Sunday during the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. One hundred million viewers were expected to tune in for the Fox broadcast from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, with all expecting sponsors to bring their A-game ads to the bowl.

And the most memorable Super Bowl ad is... still Apple’s “1984.” But there were a few standouts that made the 2020 advertising event worth sitting through a football game.

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Lots of 2020 Super Bowl commercials are available to watch before the San Francisco 49ers face off against the Kansas City Chiefs. Check them out here.

Quicken’s Rocket Mortgage ad featured “Aquaman” Momoa on what it means to unwind at home and be himself — shedding his muscle-man facade and wig to reveal a skinny, bald guy who can’t lift a 5-pound weight. (Spouse Lisa Bonet helps out). General Motors’ spot for a forthcoming battery-powered Hummer pickup truck featured LeBron James.

Amazon shelled out for a 60-second spot starring Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, who wonder what life was like before Alexa was there to obey our every command. (Ordering a 19th century woman name Alexa to turn down the heat in the house doesn’t look quite the same when she’s a maid tending the hearth and lowering the thermostat requires throwing flaming firewood out the window.)

The best use of star power was in the 30-second commercial for Mountain Dew Zero Sugar.

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The parody of the 1980 horror film “The Shining” starred “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston as the murderous husband (originally played by Jack Nicholson) and Tracee Ellis Ross of “black-ish” as his terrified wife (the role was formerly Shelley Duvall’s). The “Here’s Johnny!” moment as he breaks through the bathroom door with an ax? “Here’s Mountain Dew Zero!” And just in time, because all that running for her life made her thirsty.

Such throwbacks were all the rage, bringing film and TV’s vogue for reboots and revivals to commercials too: “The Shining,” “Groundhog Day,” “Rocky,” “Fargo” and “Mars Attacks” were among the nostalgic titles used to shill new products.

Meanwhile, the biggest duds on Sunday were the commercials that reminded us of another competition, off the field, in Washington.

The campaign ads for two rich New Yorkers, both running for president, relied on the hardship stories of women of color to sell their bids for the White House. The links will not be included here.

Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg and President Trump each bought 60 seconds’ worth of advertising to convince voters they truly understand what Americans want and need, even if they live in another universe known as the One Percent.

Trump’s re-election effort was touted as “the first ever presidential campaign to buy time during the Super Bowl” — by the folks behind the ad. In a spot focused on his record of criminal justice reform and featuring Alice Johnson, whom Trump granted clemency in 2018 after a personal appeal by Kim Kardashian West, POTUS says, “And ladies and gentlemen, the best is yet to come.” Threat or promise? You decide.

Bloomberg’s ad doesn’t mention Trump, but it does focus on the issue of gun control. It features Calandrian Kemp, whose son was killed in an act of gun violence. The ad cites the former New York City mayor’s record on gun control and promises to continue the fight into the White House. Bloomberg brought the fight to Trump off-screen, though. A Google search for “donald trump super bowl ad” led to a Bloomberg campaign ad, “Trump’s Broken Promises | Enough Is Enough.” Clicking on the link redirected users to Bloomberg’s campaign website — and Super Bowl ad.

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Even the NFL waded into politics, with a compelling PSA in which retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin discusses the 2015 death of a cousin, Corey Jones, at the hands of a plainclothes police officer, and promotes the work of a social justice organization he cofounded, the Players Coalition. The spot was swiftly criticized on social media as hypocritical in light of the league’s handling of Colin Kaepernick’s bent-knee protests during the national anthem.

Supporting women’s achievements and encouraging new generations of girls were a more successful theme during TV advertising’s biggest night.

A Secret deodorant ad that aired before the game featured World Cup champions Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn posing as professional football players. 49ers assistant Katie Sowers, the first woman to coach in a Super Bowl, starred in an ad for Microsoft Surface.

Olay paid for “Operation Make Space for Women,” starring Katie Couric, Taraji P. Henson, Lilly Singh, Nicole Scott and Busy Philipps. In the astronaut narrative, they argue that there’s tons of space for women in the professional and career world. When viewers tweet #Make SpaceForWomen, Olay promises to donate $1 to an organization called Girls Who Code. It was one of a few charitable efforts advertised: Michelob Ultra Gold claimed that buying a six-pack would help convert 6 square feet into organic farmland, and a wealthy, grateful pet owner paid for an ad to support the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.

Many of the ads had already been online for days, “leaked” by advertisers to capitalize on the one time a year that folks are excited about commercials from sponsors.

So who won the big game?

The Cool Ranch Doritos dance-off between Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott showed the rapper and actor as a formidable pair — making a strong case for sharing their own ticket in November. (Word is the country’s ready for change.) And hopefully, the charitable efforts receive a boost.

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But it was viewers with DVRs who beat the odds: At least they were able to skip over the mostly bland marketing.


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