The Best and Worst Super Bowl Ads
The Coke bears weren't cute enough, and Budweiser went Ken Burns.
A Chevy Silverado spot emphasizes the truck’s durability by suggesting that, unlike Ford pickups, it shall survive the coming apocalypse. This was the only world-end-in-2012-themed ad of the night—I’d expected a few more. Seems the Mayan apocalypse meme doesn’t have nearly the same buzz that Y2K enjoyed. Will the average consumer even get the reference? Either way, nice touch with the raining frogs at the end. Someone’s been watching Magnolia on cable. (Symbolic demonstration of the product’s benefit: Chevy trucks are solid enough to survive the end times.)
Bridgestone says its tires are so advanced that if you made a football out of that same material, it would defy all the rules of ballistics. This ad was simple and straightforward, but it’s worth mentioning that it does what so many other too-clever-by-half Super Bowl ads fail to do: It mentions the Bridgestone name early and often—even displaying some Bridgestone signage in the context of the spot’s narrative. We see the tires in action on a sportscar before we get to our requisite celebrity cameos and anemic punchline. (Symbolic demonstration of the product’s benefit: Bridgestone tires give you so much control, it’s like you’re Troy Aikman zigzagging a throw past Deion Sanders.)
Hey, it’s an ad for the Battleship movie! I’m awarding points for the fact that they didn’t utter the phrase “You sunk my battleship” during the ad. I’m deducting points for the fact that they made a full-length film based on Battleship. I think I’d much prefer to watch a movie about Battle Shots.
A Budweiser ad re-creates the dark days of Prohibition, and the triumphant return of booze to American life. Finally, an ad with a little scope—this spot had a cast of thousands, some sepia-toned grandeur, and a feel-good vibe. I enjoyed its small details, like when a dude blows the dust off a long-dormant bottle opener. Not quite sure why they chose this moment for a Prohibition-themed spot, though. Could the recent Ken Burns documentary possibly serve as a peg? If so, highbrow kudos, Bud! This mournful violin refrain’s for you!
A new graduate’s parents don’t have the heart to tell him that his gift is a mini-fridge, not that yellow Camaro parked out on the street. The ad is mildly amusing, but I give it special credit for literally putting the product front and center: For most of those expensive 30 seconds, that pretty convertible is attractively posed in the center of our TV frame.
TaxAct.com gives us the story of a little boy who desperately needs to pee. He can find no relief—until he soils a swimming pool. The urge to micturate is well-evoked here. But I question the wisdom of associating your product with streaming urine. (Symbolic demonstration of the product’s benefit: Doing your taxes for free at TaxAct.com provides the same satisfaction as taking a long-overdue leak.)
Volkswagen follows up last year’s beloved Darth Vader kid ad with a spot about a dog that’s grown too obese to chase cars. The scenes of the dog working out elicited grins—I especially enjoyed the shot of the dieting doggie allowing dropped meat niblets to bounce uneaten off his snout. In a closing twist, the ad goes meta: It shows us the alien denizens of the Star Wars bar arguing over whether this ad is better or worse than the one with the Vader kid. I suppose it’s a tribute to the previous spot’s success that VW deemed it famous enough for a call-back reference. But this complicated ploy ate up precious airtime, and as a result we barely glimpsed the car that’s on offer. (You know, the product?) Keep it simpler, VW. And stop resting on your laurels—the Vader kid is so last year.
H&M has David Beckham in his skivvies. I have to imagine this is an ad aimed mostly at women, who are urged to purchase these briefs for the men in their lives. Thus the lingering shots of Beckham’s wedding band. And of his tush. Check it out, ladies: a monogamist with a hot bod!
Teleflora always seems to court controversy. This year’s effort from the flower delivery service has supermodel Adriana Lima sexily donning lingerie. She coos to the camera, explaining to men that if they give they “shall receive.” Implication: Ladies put out for flower bouquets—which, by the way fellas, you can hastily order with a few Internet clicks. I understand that flowers are often bought by men, and thus this ad is targeting dudes. But Teleflora again risks severely alienating women—who, one assumes, sometimes send flowers to sick, bereaved, or newly promoted friends. When it comes to branding, I am an advocate of not ticking off a massive swathe of potential customers.
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.