The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Super Bowl LIII

The Super Bowl is possibly the biggest advertising opportunity of the year, closely tied with Christmas ads. Super Bowl ads are a phenomenon apart from the actual game itself: a 30-sec spot would cost an advertiser $5.25 million, and that’s before they hired A-Listers to star in the ad.

With this much money behind them, it’s obvious why they stand in a league of their own. Sometimes, though, advertisers are more concerned with standing out amongst the other celebrities and flashing lights than producing something exceptional.

In this post-game haze, join me in the fantasy dreamland of Super Bowl ads as I lay out the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Super Bowl LIII.

The Good

Naturally, Super Bowl ads are a much higher quality than those at any other point of the year. Brands have bigger budgets, and audiences have bigger expectations. Never-the-less, there were a couple of ads that really stood out.

Amazon’s spot teeters on the line between good and phenomenal. It is saved by 10 seconds of pure genius: Alexa dog collars. Specifically: Harrison Ford’s Alexa dog collar. The concept behind the ad is failed Alexa integrations, with Alexa for Dogs being a definite fail. Ford’s tiny pupper can order dog food, gravy, and even sausages, just by barking. It was an ad that doesn’t take itself so seriously and it proved an overall crowd pleaser.

We’ve all heard the phrase. Many have come to dread it. “Is Pepsi okay?”. In their Super Bowl ad, Pepsi decided that it was time to reclaim the phrase in a loud and proud ad featuring Steve Carrell, Cardi B and Lil Jon.

After the ad was aired, the company then released a full-page piece thanking the people of Atlanta – long-standing Coke Country – for putting aside their differences and helping them to donate meals to people in need and ran a supporting Twitter campaign with the hashtags #PepsiSweepstakesOK #PepsiMoreThanOK. Cross channel advertising at its finest.

Finally comes an ad I didn’t expect to like, but I’m so glad I do. While one might have expected Bumble to have come up with something a lot more flashy, Serena Williams provides a welcome break with an inspirational spot encouraging viewers to make the first move. It’s an uplifting and timely piece that stands out amongst a crowd of loud and excitable ads.

The Bad

To say a Super Bowl ad is bad is simply to say that it is not as good as others. With huge budgets and clearly hours of creative time going into them, they still stand head and shoulders above the ads of the day-to-day. In context though, they aren’t up to snuff.

Olay put together a half-baked horror movie starring Sarah Michelle Geller, who can’t call for help because her phone won’t recognise her face thanks to her youthful looks courtesy of Olay’s products. An interesting concept in and of itself, but was frankly not long enough. Had Olay been more aware of the resources available to them, perhaps this might have been more effective and elicited more than eyerolls from this humble reviewer.

Burger King pulled footage from the archives for their spot to a lukewarm reception. Back in the 80s, Andy Warhol was given a Burger King rather than a McDonalds and they recorded him eating it. That’s the ad. Now, this clip itself is part of an artistic film made by Jorgen Leth in 1982 called 66 Scenes from America.

I surveyed the office, and very few people could tell who it was in the video clip, even with the caption “#EatLikeAndy”. The idea was to make something quiet that would cut through the noise of usual Super Bowl ads but it doesn’t appear to have paid off. As part of the campaign, Burger King sent out Mystery Boxes containing a wig, Burger King bag, and an empty bottle of ketchup so you too could #EatLikeAndy and post your videos on social media. Personally, I prefer to eat like Andy Doghol.

The Ugly

Sometimes brands have more money than sense and it certainly shows in some of the ads in this year’s crop. Cross-over episodes are the name of the game here: some cross-overs I can understand but these? Not so much.  

Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” campaign has become something of a cultural phenomenon, with its pervasive catchphrase and medieval setting. However, its latest iteration, featuring Game of Thrones, was perhaps not the best move. Just because both occur in similar time periods does not mean a match made in heaven. Bud Light’s ads are incredibly lighthearted, while Game of Thrones is much more gritty. The reference to The Mountain is a good parody, but the introduction of a dragon is much more jarring. The two don’t quite work, and the result is something so over the top but all over the place.

Another cross-over that joins the ranks of the “Ugly” is the latest Doritos ad featuring Chance the Rapper……..and the Backstreet Boys. I still don’t understand it and I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t a fever dream. Chance on his own would have made a fine ad, but by bringing in the Backstreet Boys, the ad is once again unfocused and in places looks lazy.  Sorry Backstreet Boys, but you should have stayed in the 90s. I’ll always miss you.

A final note

Some ads just don’t fit neatly into a box. Perhaps they’re a cool idea that isn’t executed flawlessly. Expensify falls into this category.

Expensify’s concept was interesting: encouraging viewers to download their app and scan the receipts that appeared for a chance to win money. This in itself is incredibly exciting. Would viewers actively download the app based off the slot? If so, would this be the start of a new wave of advertising? The execution was another story. The ad as a music video is fine: not to my tastes but I could see how others might enjoy it. The introduction featuring Adam Scott, which was necessary to actually make this an ad, is what makes me cringe. Never-the-less, I’ll be keeping an eye on this ad to see if they did get an upswing in downloads and if others begin to take up this kind of “download now” messaging.