Super Bowl Quick Takes

by Lesley Goldberg, 05 Feb 2019

High production values, celebrity cameos, surprise punch lines — Super Bowl ads have been their own attraction for decades, and each year has its crop of winners and losers. Which spots knocked it out of the park this year? Here are a few of our faves (and not-so-faves).

BEST 3:

Pringles — “Sad Device”    

In a field packed with celebrity cameos and major stunts, it’s always impressive when an ad stands out simply by using good writing and a good punchline. For that, Pringles wins the night with this spot showing its protagonists asking an Echo-like device about Pringles flavor combinations and, in return, receiving a sad monologue about her cold, robotic life. This scenario sets up a punchline that got one of the few belly laughs of the night at my house.

Google — “Job Search for Veterans”    

When it comes to TV ads, Google excels at showing its product in use, and this spot was no exception. Abandoning actors and lifestyle imagery in favor of on-screen type, Google made search terms the star of its ad in a way that was surprisingly heartwarming — and managed to support the troops at the same time. I particularly liked the shot of the search auto-populating at the end of the ad, driving home the utility of Google’s product with one simple stroke.

Microsoft — “We All Win”   

When advertisers want to tackle real issues, they’ve been known to create memorable work — but too often, they forget to feature their product. That’s why it’s satisfying to see an ad hit the mark as well as Microsoft’s “We All Win.” By showing how differently-abled kids who love gaming can use the adaptive controller to play alongside their friends, Microsoft made a spot that not only tugged at heartstrings and called attention to ableism but also put their product front and center. "When everybody plays, we all win,” indeed.

 

WORST 3:

Sprint — “Best of Both Worlds”

This spot featuring the Sprint Guy (formerly the “Can you hear me now?” Verizon Guy), along with Bo Jackson, robots and a mermaid should have been a lot of fun. But it fell into the trap of kooky visuals that aren’t supported by clever writing. The copy was all boilerplate wireless carrier talk, and not even Bo Jackson holding a mermaid could save it.

Mint Mobile — "Chunky-Style milk"

My real-time notes for this commercial just read, “NOOOOOOOOOO.” By showing a family enjoying rotten milk they call “Chunky Style,” Mint Mobile is trying to land a gross-out humor moment — but like sour milk, this spot just left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, that scene was seared into my memory. But by the end of the game, I had no recollection of what it was advertising.

DEVOUR Foods — “Food Porn”    

This ad should have been funny, but I found it just unsettling. Bemoaning a partner’s addiction to “food porn” as if it’s actual porn is a joke that probably looked great on paper. But by the time you get to a couple making an amateur smartphone flick in bed with a plate of mac and cheese, you’ve gone too far.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Amazon — “Not Everything Makes the Cut”         

This series of Alexa fails (podcast-playing toothbrush, bark-activated dog collar) got big laughs in my living room; its stars (Forest Whitaker, Harrison Ford, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson) gamely applied some great comic timing to the material.

Hyundai — “The Elevator"

Leveraging our collective contempt for situations like root canals, jury duty and the dreaded sex talk from our parents, Hyundai’s tribute to life’s worst experiences (charmingly led by elevator operator Jason Bateman) drives home the value of its car-shopping mobile app. To the penthouse, please.

Doritos — “Chance the Rapper + Backstreet Boys”        

Having come of age in the 90’s, I’m not even going to pretend that I’m not biased in favor of an ad that features the Backstreet Boys’ “Tell Me Why.” With all the trappings of a big-budget music video and a Chance the Rapper remix that absolutely slaps, this spot flawlessly delivers on its final slogan: “The Original: Now It’s Hot.”

Budweiser — “Wind Never Felt Better”     

High-budget, nostalgic Super Bowl ads with a vintage patina have become as much a part of Budweiser’s brand as its familiar team of Clydesdales. And while they stayed true to form this time around, I was impressed to see them employ their familiar template to make a nod to clean energy and building a better future.

Audi — “Cashew”    

This ad was all about its surprise ending. Now, are we comfortable with the idea that sleek plug-in electric cars exist only on the astral plane between life and death? Maybe not. But the jarring cut from the soft-focus afterlife to the fluorescent-lit cubicle farm was a risky joke that I think paid off.