The Best and Worst Super Bowl Ads
Go Daddy is sexist, Amy Poehler is charming, and BlackBerry reminds us all why we don’t have BlackBerries.
BlackBerry introduces its new z10 model by showing lots of cool things it can’t do—like give you elephant feet or make you disappear in a puff of rainbow smoke. Super awful idea. I think most people now just assume that BlackBerries have limited utility. Why reinforce the notion? At this point, if you want me to try a BlackBerry, your best bet is to convince me that it actually can give me elephant feet. Who among us doesn’t want elephant feet?
The E*trade baby envisions all the things he could do with the money he saves from reduced brokerage fees. He hot tubs with a panda, bids on fine art, and runs with the bulls in Pamplona. Most realistic moment: When we see the baby’s yacht run aground on a beach. I mean, seriously, can you imagine an infant trying to hoist a mainsail or trim a jib sheet? Ridiculous. There’s simply no way that baby could meet the Basic Keelboat certification standards of the American Sailing Association.
Gildan (a clothing company I’ve never heard of) airs an ad in which a guy wakes up from a weird one-night stand, only to discover that the woman in bed next to him is still wearing his t-shirt. He’s afraid to wake her. But he needs that shirt back because it’s his “favorite.” Really? According to Gildan’s web site, this is a $6 t-shirt. Seems a fair price to pay if the guy really wants to escape an awkward sitch. Make the sacrifice, dude. New shirt’s on me.
Psy appearing in a pistachio commercial formally marks the end of the Gangnam era. Round of applause. It was a good run, Psy. Ride that invisible horse into the sunset.
An ad shows us a fish serenading a bottle of Beck’s Sapphire, which I gather is a new beer offering. Really at a loss here. Why is a black fish singing a Blackstreet song to a black bottle of beer? That’s a lot of “black” coding going on. But then the beer is called “Sapphire”! Which is a different, non-black color.
The Budweiser Clydesdales make their return in an ad that follows a trainer as he spends years preparing a horse to join the Budweiser horse team. Cute infant horse. Sweet tale of a trainer who misses his horse baby. The Clydesdales are powerful and memorable brand imagery for Budweiser—more powerful and memorable even than Bud Man—so it’s worthwhile to periodically renew the association. Also, any time you can play Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” in an ad, you should probably do it. Take your love and take it down, Bud.
For me, the big disappointment this year was the lack of a great Chrysler ad. Two years ago, we got the amazing tagline “imported from Detroit.” Last year, we got Clint Eastwood warning us we were at “halftime in America.” And this year? First, an ad for Chrysler’s Jeep brand that, while a well-meaning tribute to military veterans, was ultimately sort of meh. Then this spot, in which a 1978 recording of radio legend Paul Harvey is used to sell Ram trucks. The visual imagery is stark and arresting—grimy hands, lined faces, wide-open vistas. The recording is great—Harvey’s piercing voice and evocative phrases hold our attention. But this ad isn’t new. It’s a reworking of a YouTube video made by Farms.com in 2011. More important, the ad doesn’t put its finger on the pulse of the national mood the way those previous Chrysler spots did.
Mercedes-Benz introduces its CLA model with a Faustian tale. Satan (played by Willem Dafoe, enjoying his meatiest role since Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant) offers a Mercedes in exchange for a man’s soul. The man thinks about all the devilish things he’ll do when he gets his new ride. Party with Kate Upton. Dance with Usher. Make the cover of Vanity Fair. He’s ready to sign on the bottom line until he learns that the car costs a mere $29,900. So he opts to pay in cash instead of in metaphysical debt. Well-conceived ad. And take note, Audi: This is how you give your car some evil swagger without suggesting that teen boys should sexually accost teen girls.
Samsung is advertising a product here, I think. Or maybe a suite of products. But I’m not sure what they are or what they do. Why? Because this ad uses its interminable two-minute running time (I’m guessing they got a bulk discount—otherwise that adds up to roughly $15 million) to show us Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen halfheartedly joshing in casual clothes. It’s like the Judd Apatow movie that never should have been. In these two minutes, we learn basically nothing about the products vaguely on view. And we are given zero incentive to buy them beyond the irresistible, lighthearted charm of these mid-list actors. Color me dubious.
Well, that’s it for Super Bowl XLVII. No doubt I left out your favorite ad (or said nasty things about it). Take to the comments to let us know what you thought of this year’s commercial crop.
Correction, Feb. 4, 2013: This piece originally included a superfluous colon in the title of the upcoming film Star Trek Into Darkness.
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.