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Super Bowl Ads: The Best, The Worst, The Movies and NBC

Super Bowl advertising is almost invariably overrated, which doesn’t spare us from the impulse — even the need — to rate it.

As usual, the hype surrounding the ads turned many into a super-bust, suggesting that the folks on Madison Avenue are either bereft of ideas or, in some instances, taking too much advantage of liberalized pot laws.

There was some excitement going into the game about an influx of relatively new advertisers, offering the promise of new blood. But just as a wave of newcomers in 2000 preceded the dot-com meltdown, this year’s crop of novice sponsors merely exposed a lot of not-ready-for-primetime players in the marketing world.

Of course, the criticism isn’t limited to the new guys. Car companies in general had a bad day. And Budweiser– which traditionally wields the biggest stick during the game – didn’t so much come up with new creative as recycle it, going back to the cross-species love affair between puppies and Clydesdales and erecting a giant Pac-Man maze to prove that, um, what was the point of that Bud Light spot again? (Admittedly, the puppy ad will no doubt be one of the day’s most popular in snap polls.)

The overall mix once again seemed to careen from the hopelessly schmaltzy (“Care makes a man stronger,” says Dove) to the simply goofy (Doritos strapping a rocket to a pig) to the borderline bizarre, such as Snickers dropping Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi into an old “The Brady Bunch” episode.

There was also a surplus of poorly utilized celebrities, including Mindy Kaling for Nationwide; Kim Kardashian for T-Mobile, along with Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman; and Pierce Brosnan for Kia. And while Liam Neeson was great, can anybody remember what the product was?

Another subcategory would be the overproduced extravaganza, such as Mercedes’ CGI “Tortoise & the Hare” retelling or Bud Light’s aforementioned Pac-Man spot. Some of these fare well in audience surveys, but the link between creative and advertiser is so tenuous the benefits often seem exaggerated. And while it’s not necessarily fair, both Microsoft and Toyota’s ads featuring people walking thanks to prosthetic blades were undermined in part by the specter of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who was found guilty of the equivalent of manslaughter last year.

Finally, there were the public-service announcements, with the sobering NoMore.org domestic violence spot – which resonated in light of the NFL’s Ray Rice fiasco – and Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign. Yet as compelling as those spots were, they almost have to be broken out separately from more directly commercial advertising.

So what were the principal highlights and lowlights? Separating out movies (which are essentially their own animal), public-service announcements and NBC’s promos for its midseason lineup, they loosely breakdown as follows:

THE BEST

ESurance: Tapping Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad” mode was a genius move, mostly because of the instant cool the association creates in the mind of the show’s fans. In this case, they really did have a lot of us at hello.

Fiat: Look, we all know car ads are essentially about sex. Fiat made the connection overt by dropping a Viagra tablet into one of its cars. If not the best ad of the day, it was the most truthful, since it’s hard to think of any other reason to drive a Fiat.

Carnival Cruises: Wedding John F. Kennedy’s voice discussing man’s love affair with the ocean to beautiful imagery of ships at sea accomplished the near-impossible: It almost made me forget Kathie Lee Gifford and think, at least momentarily, about taking a Carnival Cruise. Plus, in practical terms, the Kennedy-era contingent probably a big part of the company’s target demo.

Coca-Cola: While it’s unlikely spilling Coke on the Internet will sap the venom out of Web comments and our political discourse, it’s hard not to applaud the underlying sentiment and idealism. Notably, McDonald’s went for a similar uplifting spiel with its “Pay With Lovin’” ad, which is probably effective from a marketing standpoint but felt cloying as a commercial.

BMW: Great idea reuniting of Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel, using a 20-year-old clip of the former “Today” cohosts to make a point about technology. Even if you don’t much care for the talent, it was certainly clever.

Avocados: The idea of going back to the first draft for the Ark was very funny and well suited to the occasion.

Wix.com: Using former NFL stars to pitch its service was an amusing, quick and easy way of explaining what the company offers.

THE WORST

Nationwide: “This kid never grew up because he died” is an awfully depressing message to peddle to a lot of people up to their eyeballs in nachos and beer. Just an enormous miscalculation.

GoDaddy: OK, in the past the company has been outrageous, but in hindsight, that’s better than being completely boring.

Nissan: Yes, we should have gotten all choked up by Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle,” but couldn’t help thinking the ad was as long as the actual song.

Dodge: The idea of featuring people 100 years old in an ad seemed great, right up until you realized it was a pitch for a 100-year-old car brand. As virtually every other car ad on Sunday made clear, auto technology is about the future, not the past.

Lexus: A perfect example of all style, no substance. In fact, 20 minutes later couldn’t remember what it was about.

Squarespace: It’s very nice that the company had enough money to hire Jeff Bridges and buy Super Bowl time. Now go away.

Jublia/Loctite: Toenail fungus isn’t cute, even if you put a football helmet on it; ditto for setting glue to music. Seriously, guys, stick to advertising at 3 a.m. on cable news, where you belong.

THE MOVIES

Movies often have a hard time standing out during the Super Bowl, since the creative is invariably just a glorified cut-down of a theatrical trailer. Those limitations, however, haven’t stopped action films in particular from capitalizing on this once-a-year opportunity to reach slightly drunken men in such enormous numbers.

In descending order on the “Yeah, that probably made me want to see it more” scale:

Jurassic World: Dinosaurs and Chris Pratt. What’s not to like (assuming you can ignore all the other lousy “Jurassic Park” sequels)?

Fifty Shades of Grey: A lot of men are likely going to get dragged to this movie. The trailer almost felt calibrated, shrewdly, to whet their curiosity, playing up both the sex and its status as a cultural phenomenon.

Tomorrowland: Other than the fact George Clooney’s in it, very hard to determine much about the plot or tone of this from the ad that ran. Plus, who would ever go see a movie based on a theme-park attraction. (What? “Pirates of the” who?)

Terminator Genisys: Yes, it’s an enormously durable franchise, but this still looks like one of the most-anticipated movies of 1995, featuring an AARP-eligible Terminator.

Minions/Ted 2/Furious 7:  If you didn’t know these sequels were coming out later this year, well, now you do. Although have to say, that last one does blow stuff up real good.

NBC

The host network always uses the game to push its midseason lineup, with the move of “The Blacklist” to Thursday nights representing its biggest gamble.

That said, NBC’s best promotion was, naturally, devoted to the show that probably needs such help the least: “The Voice.” Not only did the “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”-inspired spot actually make sense (which can be rare with these specifically produced efforts), but it looked like it cost a fortune.

As for “The Blacklist,” the network’s postgame telecast was the only real ad the show needed for its Thursday move, which is good, because the spots that ran during the game didn’t do much to sell it to the uninitiated.

In terms of the new shows, NBC’s “Odyssey” spot was too cryptic, while the network fared somewhat better with its teases for “Allegiance,” “Heroes Reborn” and “A.D.,” simply because the concepts aren’t complicated. “The Slap” promo was also effective, although frankly, probably gave more away than it should.

Sister Comcast networks also squeezed into the act, with USA promoting “Dig,” which looked big and theatrical; and E!’s plug for its first drama, “The Royals,” which felt more like “Access Hollywood” outtakes than a TV show, even with Elizabeth Hurley strutting through it.

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