In the Ad Bowl accompanying Super Bowl LII, there are some surprises this year: No Clydesdales from Budweiser, for one, and a spate of spots touting companies’ philanthropic efforts. That’s a shift from the sharp political tone of some ads last year. But there are still celebrities aplenty – Chris Pratt, Cardi B, even Michael Jackson footage – and spots using physical comedy to try to grab viewers by the attention span.
Here are our rankings of the best, the worst and the so-so (we will be updating throughout the weekend):
Cell-service ads are almost always a pitch to switch. This one delivers that proposition with panache. In an artificial intelligence lab, a scientist dictates notes on his progress. A text message hits his phone, and suddenly his prime robot subject wakes up — and urges him to save money by dumping Verizon for Sprint. The other, well-imagined robots and robot heads join in the chorus of logic and mockery, including one that looks a lot like it was patterned after the “South Park” animation style.
Feel-good ads are a thing in 2018, and this Paralympics-themed spot is one of the feel-goodest. A girl is born with incomplete legs, and an onscreen ticker starts registering her long odds of winning a gold medal. As scenes from her life play out, the girl becomes eight-time Canadian gold-medal skier Lauren Woolstencroft, and the odds change to even.
Mountain Dew and Doritos this year offer a sort of rap battle between Morgan Freeman and Peter Dinklage, to limited effect. Much better is this beef beef initiated by the smiling-redhead hamburger chain. Wendy’s takes dead aim at rival McDonald’s for serving — gasp — “flash frozen” burgers. Skip the “Frozen Arches” for the fresh stuff at Wendy’s, says this simple and effective message.
Bud Light, B
A-B introduces a new character here, the Bud Knight, in a continuation of its medieval advertising theme. The joke is on the besieged warriors of the “Dilly Dilly” king, however, as Bud Knight is just passing through the battlefield to grab some brewskis for a buddy’s birthday party. It’s not devastatingly good, but it’s an engaging 60 seconds, and until “Game of Thrones” returns, it’ll have to do.
Amazon Alexa, B-
The leading cloud-based personal assistant losing her voice is a bright idea for an ad. And cranky celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay as one of the replacement voices sparkles: “You’re 32 years old, and you don’t know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich? Its name is the recipe!” But the substitute-voice bits featuring Cardi B, Rebel Wilson and Anthony Hopkins are less good. There is an early tough-boss appearance by Jeff Bezos, who owns a newspaper (subscribe to one today!) and, oh yeah, Amazon.
Apparently Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler is now guaranteed an annual role in Super Bowl advertising. Last year, it was for Skittles; here, he helps pitch the Korean automaker. On an empty track, the wizened rocker gets into a Kia Stinger. He starts driving backward, fast, and, as an instrumental version of “Dream On” plays, Tyler sheds the years. When he exits the vehicle, he looks (a little) like the Tyler who first came to fame. And somehow, the track infield is now filled with throngs of 1970s people. This would all make more sense if driving backward were actually an important car feature for anything but jokes about saving money on a vehicle rental. But the car, I’ll grant you, is pretty good-looking, and it all goes down a lot easier than last year’s rendition of Tyler in Skittles.
While Pepsi flops by going retro, rival Coke doesn’t do much better by opting for an original poem. The sugar water’s message of global inclusion — and drink quaffing — is delivered with visual elegance, but the backing poem sounds a little Dr. Suessian: “To act the same would be mundane/ What a boring thing to do …/ But there is a Coke for we and us/ And there is a Coke for you.” The best thing I can say for Coke, the product, is that its taste has a little bite to it. This ad, while thoroughly professional, is defanged.
Where the carmaker’s spot with Paralympian Lauren Woolstencroft is specific and stirring, this one, titled “Mobility Anthem,” delivers a more generic message: that providing mobility for all is a positive value. True enough, but how is Toyota proposing to achieve this? And what, exactly, is that vehicle the ad shows?
Michelob Ultra, C-
“I like beer” say the words to the 1970s country tune repurposed for this spot, which shows athletes and other celebs working out. But the disconnect between the lyrics they chant and the thin taste of this low-cal beer, touted for its sports friendliness, is so profound as to destroy the message. If you actually like beer, you ain’t drinking Mich Ultra.
“So let’s get Keanu Reeves and have him stand on a moving motorcycle speaking feel-good bromides.” “Yeah, great! Then what?” “Well, the budget kind of runs out after that. But people will be so intrigued they’ll go to the website.” Or maybe they won’t. And maybe the web services company will decide to stick to its forte, podcast advertising.
It’s tough to advertise soda these days. La Croix-swilling consumers are increasingly hip to the notion that a big glass of fizzy sugar water won’t do much for you. Pepsi’s solution? Pretend it’s the past by revisiting Pepsi ads of yore, offering glimpses of Britney Spears, Cindy Crawford, Michael Jackson and the “Back to the Future” DeLorean. A company dreams of simpler times.
Returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since it mocked charitable intentions in 2011, the Chicago discount company has the bright idea of using hypercharming “Girls Trip” star Tiffany Haddish, an avowed Groupon user. But instead of letting her make the pitch, Groupon forces in some dumb physical “comedy,” a football to the gut of a rich guy who hates local businesses. Just let Tiffany be Tiffany.
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