For those who’ve studied or worked in advertising, last night’s game was always going to be secondary. There’s a whole media-loving subculture for whom the game is all about the ads – and things have gotten even better this year: despite the general fragmentation of the TV-watching audience, the audience for the Bowl and for its commercials has only increased.
Everyone seems to have their favorites this morning, but here are the ten that caught our eye, the 10 Best Super Bowl Ads of 2016.
10. Doritos – Ultrasound
Doritos ends its “Crash the Superbowl” contest on a very high note, starting with a perhaps-gauche husband eating Doritos during the ultrasound, then turning surreal as the fetus develops an interest in the snack chips, which makes the whole day go pear-shaped. The two other Doritos commercials this year were also quite good, one with a creative re-imagining of Tinder and one with a few determined Dorito-loving dogs who, unlike the Trix Rabbit, find their persistence eventually pays off.
Still, nothing quite beats the outrageousness on display here. Doritos may be ending the contest, but it isn’t giving up on user-generated ads: it’s moving to a more year-round format with its “Legion of the Bold” meta-campaign.
9. Colgate – #EveryDropCounts
Advertisers felt like the last Super Bowl ad spread was too serious, on the whole: some insiders even called it the “Sad Bowl.” This year, only two ads were really on the serious side, even when they were dealing with serious subjects. One of those, the NFL’s own “Text Talk,” was a downright chilling wake-up call about the signs of domestic abuse.
But this simple spot from Colgate, noting the ease with which middle-class Americans can waste more water than many people have in a week, was more educational and had more visual impact. Colgate could certainly have done some funny skit about a blindingly bright smile, but the PSA approach was far more likely to stand out.
8. Heinz – Wiener Stampede
No, this isn’t the same as a sausage fest – we’re playing with the two other well-known meanings of “wiener,” here. The song, “Without You” as covered by Harry Nilsson, is surprisingly downbeat, but that just creates a mood to subvert. Everything else about this commercial is pure, delicious, Super-Bowl-ad excess, from the joyous dachshunds to the deadpan actors, mostly in Heinz’s newer style of bottle but with one older gentleman in a “classic” top-opener and one little kid as a squirt pack.
7. NFL – Super Bowl Babies Choir
The concept is a beautiful mix of sentiment, intelligence and brass: the NFL has gathered babies born in winning Super Bowl cities, about nine months after the big game, given them a sendup of Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” to sing, and argued that those cities see a “baby boom” related to euphoric fans, erm, celebrating the victory afterward. The actual evidence of the claim is limited, but not nonexistent, and there are certainly worse things you can do for the Super Bowl brand than claim “watching the game makes you want to have sex.”
6. The Longest Chase
Car commercials always get a pretty big piece of the action at the Super Bowl, since the potential return on the advertising investment is so high. This mini-movie is one of the best examples of what can be done with the format. Right away, it engages our sympathies for the bank robbers, as they leave a generous amount of stolen money in exchange for taking the Prius, then shifts into a nimble satire of our 24-hour news cycle interspersed with hilarious post-heist hi-jinks.
But does it work as an ad? All the incredulous comments about a Prius getting away from the police are probably meant to answer critics of the car’s earlier models, but may backfire with those who just think of it as a wealthy person’s car.
5. Shock Top – Unfiltered Talk
T.J. Miller of Silicon Valley, not the best-known comedian, shows an audience of millions his insult-comedy chops as Shock Top’s mascot lobs him a couple of compliments, then a put-down. He deflects it and sends one back in return, then the mascot sends another…
The version of this ad that aired on the Super Bowl is far too short: the real pleasure is watching these two go at it for a while, long enough to realize that what we’re seeing here isn’t a zero-sum game where the loser leaves the bar in defeat, but a form of male bonding that perhaps devoted football fans are best equipped to understand.
4. The Bud Light Party
“Hey guys. Can you be quiet? Seth and Amy are talking about our country!” With these words, we’re off on a “wouldn’t it be great if the world were really like this?” thought experiment. In a year where half of the actual candidates seem to be refugees from an SNL skit that nobody knew how to end, the idea of a political ticket coming out in favor of unity, Bud Light and an adorably flattered Paul Rudd is a lovely dream from which some political analysts won’t want to wake.
3. Kia – Walken Closet
The title gives away one of the best gags in the spot, as Richard goes into the walk-in closet to get his beige socks, to find Christopher Walken there, giving him the stink-eye and a brief motivational speech:
“There are two types of people in the world. Those who are content to blend in. These people walk through life like beige socks. Uninspired and bored. And there are those that expect more. They’re exciting. They have pizazz. Eventually the beige sock people get lost, or devoured by the ones that stand out. Do you want to be devoured, Richard?”
2. Budweiser – GiveADamn
This anti-drunk driving PSA is too good not to quote almost in its entirety.
“Hello. I’m Helen Mirren, a notoriously frank and uncensored British lady. The collective we are dumbfounded that people still drive drunk. So I’ll sum it up like this. If you drive drunk, you, simply put, are a short-sighted, utterly useless, oxygen-wasting human form of pollution. A Darwin-award-deserving, selfish coward. If your brain was donated to science, science would return it. So stop it. Now the chances are you’re a fun, solid, respectable human being. Don’t be a pillock. Your friends and family thank you. The friends and family of other drivers thank you. Your future self thanks you.”
1. Audi – Commander
It’s hard to say just now how much of a coincidence it was that a Super Bowl ad this year features one of the greatest hits of the much-missed David Bowie. Surely it was in development before he passed away, and Bowie may have authorized the specific spot or just licensed the song to Audi for general use. But it’s hard to say he wouldn’t be pleased.
Just as he found joy and meaning in the final phase of his life, a retired astronaut rediscovers the joy in his by taking a ride in another great example of the kind of American ingenuity that got us into the stars. As Bowie’s voice swells with the chorus of “Starman,” what would have otherwise been a pretty good ad turns into something transcendent.