Advance marketing campaigns have largely leeched the thrill of discovery out of Super Bowl advertising, since many of the spots were exposed before the game. Of course, that logic seems less assailable given that the game itself was essentially over on the first play of the second half, making viewing optional if you really gave a damn about who wins.
The level of perceived creativity in Super Bowl advertising has taken on a life of its own, which has led to the content generally being overrated. Moreover, one of the biggest sponsor categories — movie studios — are invariably challenged to come up with genuinely breakthrough creative, since a trailer is pretty much a trailer, the only difference here being the size of the stage and cost of the platform.
That said, watching the game like a regular fan (including a couple of pale ales just to complete the effect), here’s a set of knee-jerk reactions about the in-game advertising, assessing who scored — in a creative sense, if not necessarily a moving-product one — and who could have put those millions of dollars to better use.
Because they’re of special interest to Hollywood — and really belong in a separate class — we’ll break the movies out separately, followed by the rest of the field. In general, there were relatively few standouts, but also few outright howlers, with car companies conjuring some of the most memorable spots, for both good and ill. As always, when it comes to the size of a corporate footprint at the Super Bowl, there’s Budweiser, and then everybody else:
Need for Speed (DreamWorks): Pretty smart, doing an ad for a high-testosterone movie without built-in sequel recognition that virtually omits any dialogue. Essentially reduced the project to its adrenaline-rush core.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount): If I could sit through another one of these movies, that spot would probably make me want to watch this one.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Sony): The special effects look fine, but for some reason as I watched it, I kept thinking about the first “Spider-Man 3.”
24: Live Another Day (Fox): I know, it’s a TV show, but the ad certainly looked like a movie trailer — and made me laugh for all the wrong reasons. Jack Bauer, trust me, you don’t want to go out this way, dude.
Volkswagen: German engineers sprouting wings each time one of their cars hits 100,000 miles — including wings of varying sizes in the men’s room? Genius.
Chevy: The company’s spot about World Cancer Day was just beautiful — haunting, touching, a little movie, played out in 30 seconds.
Hyundai Genesis: Who can’t relate to the idea of a dad trying to protect his kid — and a car’s breaking system stepping in when he’s not available? Perfect way of pushing the product in a light yet highly identifiable manner. Too bad it’s other spot, with Johnny Galecki, was a waste.
SodaStream: Although this has always struck me as a completely unnecessary product, the company’s “banned” Scarlett Johansson ad was a winner well before kick off, going viral thanks to the NFL forcing a change because the company dared to mention fellow Super Bowl sponsor Pepsi. And it’s a good thing, too, since the spot didn’t air until the fourth quarter, when the outcome of the game was long since decided, and wasn’t particularly imaginative.
Budweiser: Unabashedly patriotic and designed to make viewers cry, the notion of every returning soldier receiving a hero’s welcome was enough to trump the inherent manipulation in the way it was mounted and produced. Ditto for the adorable-puppy-meets-Clydesdale ad.
Microsoft: A thoughtful look at how technology is changing — and improving — the world, while not-so-subtly linking Microsoft to those innovations.
Beats Music: Ellen DeGeneres seemed like the right talent for a playful spot pushing the music service.
RadioShack: A dizzying wave of ’80s nostalgia used to sell the stores’ new look. Clever.
Cheerios: Adorable kid finds out she’s getting a new baby. What’s not to like?
Coca-Cola: Old-fashioned and heart-tugging, America in all its diversity is united in its love for sugary brown water. And in reality, very little else. Got it — and much better than the second spot, with the young kid running (and running and running) for a touchdown.
Time Warner Cable: One of those weird fever dreams — “True Blood?” “Ray Donovan?” Diddy? — that kind of strangely worked.
Toyota Highlander: Hard to go wrong with the Muppets. But a modest winner at best.
Kia: As much as I enjoyed Laurence Fishburne’s “The Matrix” spoof, I also found it mildly depressing that he would do it.
Jaguar: Nicely produced spot featuring British actors explaining why they’re cast as villains in movies — and like to drive Jaguar. Although probably not as much of a recognition factor for a lot of viewers as the company would have liked to really make this pop.
Wonderful Pistachios: What a criminal waste of Stephen Colbert as a pitchman.
Maserati: That ad with the kid was terribly dramatic, but I have no idea what the hell it has to do with cars.
Bud Light: Kudos to the idea of doing a serialized spot — with Don Cheadle and Arnold Schwarzenegger, no less — but the payoff to this reality-TV spoof felt like a missed opportunity. While I suspect it will score well in public polling, kind of a creative mess, conceptually.
GoDaddy: Someone quits their job on TV, in this economy, and that’s fodder for a commercial? Never thought I’d say this, but go back to teasing that you’re going to show naked women — or the other spot with the running bodybuilders.
Audi: I’m sure they thought the Doberhuahua spot and its “Don’t compromise” message was crowd-pleasing, but as executed, all they did was stumble into a possible plot for the next Kevin James and/or Adam Sandler movie.
CarMax and Geico: Hey, I love “Rudy” as much as the next guy — and for that matter, talking pigs — but what was the point?
Subway: Olympians eat at Subway, huh? Right, and rainbows fly out of the butts of German engineers.
Chobani: So if I buy your yogurt, a bear is going to break into my house to get it? Does anybody ever think these spots through?
M&M and Butterfingers: Apparently the candy industry just decided to be weird this year. Although did the latter really imply a chocolate-peanut butter-candy bar three-way? Kinky, but still….
Chrysler: “We will build your car” is a powerful message, but A) this looked exactly like the Clint Eastwood spot and B) Bob Dylan strikes me as a rather awkward spokesman to deliver it. Too many people will find themselves thinking, like I did, less about the loving imagery than, “Wow, why would Dylan do this?”
Honda: Having Bruce Willis deliver a car safety message wasn’t a bad idea, but why not just play it straight, instead of mucking it up with the Fred Armisen gag?
T-Mobile: Great for the Tim Tebow lovers out there, but kind of a waste for those who felt he was overexposed about three seasons ago.
Doritos: OK, the kid using the “time machine” to steal the guy’s Doritos was kind of funny, but it didn’t feel particularly special.
Chevy: So the Silverado truck will get a Bull laid? Cheeky, but — pardon the expression — where’s the beef?
TurboTax: While I like the idea of trying to dissect the sociology of the Super Bowl, trying to convince me to go worry about my taxes while I have a big plate of bean dip isn’t particularly appetizing or interesting.
Squarespace and Sonos: Not a bad idea trying to highlight what a strange universe the Web often is, but the spot left me with absolutely no idea what the company’s product does. And ditto for the second one.
WeatherTech: Despite the appealing “Made in America” message, not particularly well done.
Heinz: Probably effective, but “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” strikes me as just a trifle too simplistic to be worthy of a Super Bowl campaign.
Oikos: Kind of fun to do a “Full House” reunion in the context of a commercial, but this just felt so … flat.