This year’s batch of Super Bowl commercials mostly played it safe with few surprises — especially since an unprecedented number of ads hit the Internet well before Sunday’s big game.
Advertisers banked on early releases to squeeze the most out of their Super Bowl spending. With an average price tag of $4 million for a 30-second spot, who can blame them? Here’s who did and didn’t make the most of it:
After ticking off some folks with last year’s ad that had a white man speaking in a Jamaican accent — one critic called it “blackface with voices” — the automaker gives us more white men in the form of German engineers who sprout wings every time a VW hits 100,000 miles. The only woman featured prominently in the commercial doesn’t get wings; she gets goosed. “They could have promoted more diversity,” said Stacey DelVecchio, president of the Chicago-based Society of Women Engineers. “It was a missed opportunity.” The spot’s paucity of engineers with two X chromosomes shouldn’t relegate it to the Bad Super Bowl Ad Hall of Fame (where it could high five 2011’s horrible Timothy Hutton/Tibet ad for Groupon). But it’s no young Darth Vader, either.
Best YouTube comment: I saw a lot of guys with wings but only one guy with a rainbow. I guess most VWs don’t last 200,000 miles.
FORD FUSION HYBRID
Ford embraced the hyperbolic nature of the night with its “Nearly Double” ad featuring Rob Riggle — and, even better, James Franco as Rob Riggle. The former “The Daily Show” correspondent kicks things off with mock gravitas, promising we’re about to see “no ordinary commercial.” It’s so special, we’re told, the ad will be double the length of the average ad. That’s when multi-hyphenate Franco takes over as Rob Riggle 2.0, complete with pet tiger. It’s sophisticated, playful and humorous while driving home the point: the Ford Fusion hybrid has nearly double the fuel economy of the average vehicle.
Anheuser-Busch uncorked an extended version of its buzz-worthy ad built around some lucky schmuck named Ian who gets treated to the night of his life. Bud Light’s campaign is all about positioning the beverage as “The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens.” In Ian’s case, Whatever Happens is a clever string of incidents that includes crashing a bachelorette party in a Hummer limo while Reggie Watts DJs, getting styled by Minka Kelly, sharing an elevator with Don Cheadle and his llama and crushing Arnold Schwarzenegger in a game of “tiny tennis” before capping off the night by rocking out on stage with One Republic. Directed by “Jackass” prank-master Jeff Tremaine (wearing a Chicago Blackhawks hat, no less), it’s entertaining, unexpected and makes the best use of a celebrity. Arnold meant it when he said, “I’ll be back.”
Best YouTube comment: Bud Light + Llamas = The reason I’m not allowed at the farm anymore.
DANNON OIKOS GREEK YOGURT
This suggestive ad features a woman licking yogurt off actor John Stamos, because we all know this probiotic pudding is the aphrodisiac oyster of breakfast foods. Seriously, Dannon: Please stop trying to make yogurt-is-sexy happen. The ad tries to take a humorous turn when Dave Coulier and Bob Saget show up for a “Full House” reunion — a pop culture happening that all of zero people have been demanding. The only positive thing about this ad is that the woman isn’t a twin with the last name Olsen.
Best YouTube comment: John Stamos skips legs day at the gym.
It’s Bob Dylan like you’ve never heard him: clearly. The legendary folk singer actually enunciates as he sing-speaks America’s praises in what’s become an expensive two-minute-long tradition for the U.S. car maker. Last year’s Paul Harvey-voiced ad, a stirring tribute to farmers, felt more authentic and less unapologetically jingoistic than this one, which would have benefited from a better lead-in line than, “Is there anything more American than America?”
RadioShack tackles its out-dated image head on in this gutsy, funny ad that has an employee fielding a phone call from “The ’80s,” and “they want their store back.” Cue a parade of characters from the colorful decade — everyone from Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton and Alf to “Cheers'” Cliff Claven and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider — as they loot the retail electronics store, making way for an updated, modern version.
The men’s body spray maker is aiming higher than its usual target audience of knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers with this mature, feel-good ad for its new Peace fragrance line. In this 60-second extended version of AXE’s Super Bowl ad, a string of menacing militaristic scenes around the world ends not in confrontation but in cuddling with the message, “Make love, not war.” What would have made this even better: If the Taylor Swift lookalike climbed into the tank of a Kanye West doppelganger.
Best YouTube comment: Congratulations to Axe for NOT GROSSING ME OUT for the first time, EVER.
This fan-generated spot about a clever little entrepreneur and his time machine is solid work, especially considering it came from a Regular Joe and not a seven-figure ad exec.
There’s nothing “Nice” about this nonsensical ad that squandered what had to be a big budget, since I’m sure a star on TV’s most-watched comedy, Oak Park native Johnny Galecki (“Big Bang Theory”), doesn’t come cheap. I’m sure Richard Lewis does, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick him in your commercial. “Galecki doesn’t have game” seems to be the take-home message, which I doubt is what Hyundai had in mind.
Best YouTube comment: Nice waste of $4 million.
Unlike Hyundai’s lame spot for the Elantra, “Dad’s Sixth Sense” fires on all cylinders. It’s sentimental, relatable and full of sight gags, not one of which involves getting hit with something in the crotch. It effectively drives home its point about the importance of auto-emergency braking, especially when you’re the parent of a boneheaded teenager.
Best YouTube comment: The Hyundai Genesis still won’t pull his son out before he impregnates his girlfriend. That’s something only a dad can do.
M&M Super Bowl ads are always crowd pleasers. This year, it was all Yellow. The commercial starts out dark and suspenseful, with a Russian bazillionaire melodramatically threatening the captive in his trunk, which turns out to be the sunny-colored piece of candy clueless about what fate awaits him. Sweet bait and switch.
This uninspired ad for an at-home soda maker sure has ginned folks up, which is the only interesting thing about it. Pitchwoman Scarlett Johansson severed her long relationship with Oxfam last week because the humanitarian group opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, where SodaStream operates a factory. And Fox got its knickers in a twist about these parting words that came out of ScarJo’s bee-stung lips: “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi,” a line the network reportedly axed before giving the commercial clearance for game day. Sorry SodaStream, but this ad is flatter than a glass of week-old 7-Up.
Best YouTube comment: People, just drink water.
In a blatant effort to tug the hell out of our heartstrings, did Anheuser-Busch go for low-hanging fruit with a cute puppy, horses and Passenger’s “Let Her Go,” the musical equivalent of a sad face emoji? Yes. Did it work? Yes. And if you don’t think so, you’re made of robot parts. If Budweiser’s beer were half as good as its commercials, I might actually drink it.
Best YouTube comment: Commercials like this are the reason I choose to vomit Budweiser in police cars.
Oscar-winning film director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech) helmed this slick, cinematic commercial that touts how good it is to be bad. Noting that Hollywood villains tend to have English accents — and keys to a Jag — this spot for the luxury car maker is fully loaded with British star power: Sir Ben Kingsley (“Iron Man 3”), Tom Hiddleston (“Thor”) and Mark Strong (“Green Lantern”), who’ve all played evil-doers on the big screen. Somewhere in heaven, “Mad Men’s” Lane Pryce is kicking himself for not having thought of this one.
Best YouTube comment: This was great but this needs a little Cumberbatch. His Smaug and Khan are perfect.
SOUR BRITE CRAWLERS
Oakbrook Terrace-based sweets giant Ferrara Candy Company is making its Super Bowl debut in the Chicago market with a “weirdly awesome” 30-second ad that has a distinct Napoleon Dynamite vibe. A cute little misfit kid with a mop of curly red hair builds a pet dog — his best friend — out of Trolli’s popular gummy worms. A disaffected teenager casually yanks off the dog’s head and takes a bite. “Mmmm, your best friend is delicious,” remarks the awkward, ginger-haired teen. The message here — no offense, red heads — is that weirdness can be awesome. It’s the cornerstone of Trolli’s creative campaign that goes beyond the “Best Friend Ever” TV commercial with a popular dedicated Tumblr at www.weirdlyawesome.com.
The Super Bowl ad karma gods are making up for the Volkswagen commercial’s lack of women engineers with a spot for GoldieBlox. The start-up that launched through a Kickstarter campaign produces a line of toys aimed at getting girls interested in engineering. The small company won a big prize from Intuit QuickBooks: a free 30-second commercial during the game. GoldieBlox released a teaser (above) for its Super Bowl spot, sure to be full of girl power.
The cereal maker has given us a second helping of its interracial family that first appeared last year in an an ad that was truly shocking. Shocking not because it showed a black man married to a white woman and their biracial child, but because some people living in 21st century America — more specifically, a cave with Internet access? — found that upsetting. Most of the haters seemed to have moved on from the comments section, which is pretty tame this time around. But the ad has once again made headlines, this time for resulting in the dismissal of an MSNBC employee who tweeted: “Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/biracial family.”
Best YouTube comment: I find this offensive. How can two humans be married and have kids? That’s just absurd.
I have mixed feelings about this one that uses a disastrously mixed-breed “doberhuahua” to make the point that Audi doesn’t like compromise. It’s a sea change from last year’s Audi Super Bowl spot (“Prom”), which was like a John Hughes film condensed down to one powerful minute. This one takes the humor route with mixed success. Singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan parodying her animal cruelty prevention ads was a nice touch, but actual doberhuahua shtick got old fast. By the end of the ad, I didn’t want an Audi. I just wanted to unsee those doberhuahuas.
Best YouTube comment: This doesn’t relate to cars…I love it!
The Internet domain name company promised someone would quit their job to follow their dreams during their Super Bowl commercial, and apparently that someone was Gwen, a machine worker from New York. She told her boss Ted she was quitting to start a puppet company, PuppetsbyGwen.com. The announcement fell flat.
Tim Tebow pokes some fun at his lack of a contract in this on-point message about the freedom that comes without being locked into a mobile phone company’s binding agreement. Tebow is admirably amusing as a gynecologist, astronaut and Bigfoot hunter, among other things. Turns out he’s as good as acting as he is at Tebowing.
— Lori Rackl, TV Critic