Super Bowl Ads: Who Scored, And Who Wasted Their Money

Super Bowl Ads: Who Scored, and

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.

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  1. Jeff says:

    How do you make that Tim Tebow ad much funnier and more memorable for a football audience? Somewhere around the :45 mark, have him decide he can’t finish out the spot, and as he starts to walk off the set past the equipment and crew, the director berates him: “You just can’t complete anything, can you?”

    A little self-deprecation would have gone a long way toward making him an effective pitchman, since the guy is a joke to most football fans. This way, at least he’d be in on the joke.

  2. MCS says:

    I kept on scrolling down and scrolling down and…yeah… that sure was a lot of commercials…

  3. I think I missed that Time Warner Cable commercial. I think it was around the time my Time Warner Cable blacked out on the standard-def feed of SB48, here in Los Angeles. ugh! Had to resort to Fox Deportes. They showed different commercials. smh!

  4. Audrey says:

    look, that Butterfinger commercial was HILARIOUS. everyone I was with was absolutely rolling at it. they hit their target market. if you didn’t like it, you probably weren’t their target audience.

  5. JB23 says:

    If the losers are companies that may have wasted their money, then how can an ad (the bud light one) that you think will poll well with the public be a loser? You’re not judging these by winner or loser you’re judging them by how much you liked and disliked each commercial. It’s confusing, much like the commercials you say you hate.

  6. Rae says:

    Jaguar’s ad was definitely a winner! For goodness sake it featured Tom Hiddleston!!!

  7. BAM says:

    You said,
    “Maserati: That ad with the kid was terribly dramatic, but I have no idea what the hell it has to do with cars.”

    Not sure if you realize it but the entire concept AND the same ” kid” actress Q Wallis, are ripped from last years indie marvel “Beasts of the Southern Wilds”. This is only one of MANY advertisers who usurped that concept blatantly. So it is entirely derivative. Makes a lot of sense eh, a 10 yo kid selling Maserati. Why would a brand executive think this is just great and original? I can just imagine what the pitch was like.

  8. Alex Mugica says:

    No comment on how Chrysler used America when they clearly meant USA? The missed that geography lesson? America includes Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Argentina … and I did not see those represented at all. And why is it OK to buy foreign beer and watches but not cars?
    I agree that it´s interesting you forgot to mention H&M ad, a clear winner for me!

  9. Kristina says:

    Also missing was the “Alex & Ani” spot.

    I’m from back east and RI is (maybe was?) the costume jewelry capitol of the USA (Monet, etc.) so this was nice to see. Maybe not as shocking but a bit patriotic.

  10. I didn’t see the game; but your list of ads, WOW!! With so many ads was there any game time to watch????

  11. djc says:

    What about the Radio Shack Ad? Give me my 80’s back…Great One!

    • Truth says:

      Did you read the article or just scroll down to comment? RadioShack is listed under CLEAR WINNERS (the last one).

  12. BriteBlonde1 says:

    You TOTALLY missed the #1 spot that women liked, Brian. Seriously, both in the online world and the huge event I was at…every female stopped cold and heated up when David Beckham went racing around in his H&M skivvies. Yes, the spot worked for women, and that says a lot for your $4 mil.

  13. I don’t know if it’s censorship, but it’s funny that the article makes no mention that soda stream
    is made in a settlement and that’s why it went viral. I don’t know if you’ve heard of BDS but you must have hear of OXFAM?

  14. Dav says:

    It’s funny that they use #SpeakAmerican to show their outrage because “American” is exactly what they were speaking. I happen to speak ENGLISH but this country is made up of many different cultures with different languages and accents. (just as it was when it was first founded.) So speaking “American” is exactly what they were doing.

  15. MichaelZ says:

    Slow down on the sauce Brian! Audi’s Doberhuahua was brilliant AND entertaining; the Teboow T-Mobile ad was smart and funny. But clear proof you should’ve stopped at one beer: Volkswagen referencing size while men urinate was vulgar AND not funny.

  16. thriea wilson says:

    no mention of the scientology ad? oversight or fear?

    • Bob Fritz says:

      There was a Scientology ad? They may have bumped it in Pittsburgh because there were a couple of local ads in the telecast here.

  17. vp19 says:

    There were plenty of derogatory comments and tweets from cyber-jingoists regarding the Coca-Cola spot, including one with the hashtag #SpeakAmerican(?).. As for me, I thought it was the best use of “America The Beautiful” since Ray Charles recorded his definitive version of what should be the real national anthem.

  18. Jacques Strappe says:

    Admire your writing and reviews, Mr. Lowry but I think you either consumed too many or not enough pale ales. All the ads were mostly uninspiring but it could have been the dull gridiron play that gave me my dour outlook

  19. ethan says:

    VW ad was sexist. Only male engineers. Idiotic. Got sooo many negative tweets on my timeline that I have a feeling it’s making a lot of people rethink VW. Not a 21st century ad.

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