Just when we thought nothing—nothing—could come close to matching the drama of last year’s Super Bowl, we were treated to one of the most entertaining football games in the event’s 52-year history. The commercials, on the other hand… Let’s just say the conversation around the ol’ water cooler wasn’t about how awesome they were.
Sure, there were some winners. But overall, there’s agreement here that it was a down year on the advertising front. And that “ho-hum” perception includes automotive sales pitches—assuming anyone was actually trying to sell a car during the Super Bowl. (That is the point, right? And if you aren’t selling a car and just want the world to know how freaking awesome you are, then for the love of all things Foles, at least be funny.)
There’s a fine line between promoting your brand and promoting a vehicle—and an even thinner line between “feel-good” and “over the top.” That’s why the marketing geniuses who really nail it get paid the big bucks. Too many auto ads left us wondering if some of those creative folks and their bosses might have had a little sit-down this morning to discuss what $5 million buys these days.
Perhaps the biggest winners are Ford and Chevy, who were noticeably absent from the mix and thus cannot be grouped with year’s collection of “tried hard but didn’t quite reach the end zone" commercials. On the other hand, maybe they just missed a golden opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Regardless, these commercials certainly stood out—for better or (mostly) worse:
TIDE and PEPSI — Yes, the best (certainly the most memorable and entertaining) Super Bowl ads involving automobiles weren’t tied to the auto industry.
Kudos to Tide, which spoofed on typical Super Bowl fare in such a clever way that the spotlight was on something other than the insane game that teenage morons have been playing lately, the “Tide pod challenge.” (Editor’s note: Those pods go in the washing machine, not your mouth.) The commercial fun began with a question from Stranger Things star David K. Harbour, sitting behind the wheel of an automobile: “Just your typical Super Bowl car ad… right?” Wrong. It seems that everything is a Tide commercial. And we mean everything. Tide carried the gag throughout the game, and it never got old. Well played.
And a tip of the cap to Pepsi, which turned to the past and put a new spin on some old commercials, many involving cars. With Jimmy Fallon narrating, we enjoyed a classic Trans Am, vintage cars parked at a drive-in theatre, Cindy Crawford getting out of a Corvette (not a Lamborghini this time), and a Back to the Future DeLorean that was quickly passed by Jeff Gordon and his famous #24 Monte Carlo. A winner.
MERCEDES-BENZ — Not only did Mercedes-Benz create a heart-pounding trailer for its “Last Fan Standing” smartphone game, but its “Off the Line” commercial for the super-quick AMG E63 S (0–60 mph in 3.3 seconds) actually got you excited about driving the car. Can any other auto company say that about their Super Bowl ad? Not to this extent.
JEEP — Full disclosure: We like “The Road” because it sounds like a commercial that we would make: “Leave the trappings of modern society behind and get out there and drive your classic car!” Granted, Jeep would actually prefer that you to hang on to those modern trappings… in the form of a new Jeep, of course. But the message is similar: “Get off the road and live a little.” We also enjoyed “Jeep Jurassic” with Jurassic Park star Jeff Goldblum because, much like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, he turns the tables on the bad guy—in this case, a T-Rex instead of a black Charger. And in “Anti-Manifesto,” Jeep shows off the toughness of its latest model, not only in word but deed.
HYUNDAI — We loved the youth soccer referee who red-carded every single kid on the pitch so that everyone could get home in time to watch the Super Bowl. And we appreciate the good intentions of the “Hope Detector” ad that followed. Although a few of our colleagues thought Hyundai’s second ad was either weird (Hug a stranger…during flu season?) or overly contrived (Buy a car, save a life), we’re going to err on the positive side of this and just say thank you, Hyundai.
DODGE RAM — After a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary awfulness (more on that below), Ram got back on track with an entertaining story of “Icelandic Vikings” making an unthinkable trek over land and sea to reach Minneapolis in time for the Super Bowl, only to find out that the Minnesota Vikings weren’t in the game. So the seafaring Norsemen turn around and head from whence they came. Want to make the thing funnier? Have the Vikings shrug their shoulders and, in a “when in Rome” opportunity to make lemonade from lemons, put on Eagles and Patriots jerseys and head inside. Hey, as long you made the trip, why not? It was still a fun ad. Thankfully, that one helped erase Ram’s poor attempt to leverage Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspirational speech about servanthood, grace, and love to make people want to own a new truck. Better luck next time.
KIA — Two old guys (one being racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi) each have a go at driving a Kia Stinger on the track, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler throws his car into reverse, burns rubber, and turns back time to his younger days. Then the words “Feel Something Again” and “Fueled by Youth” flash on the screen. To quote Joey from Friends, when Monica keeps assuring everyone how “breezy” she is, “You can’t say breezy. That totally negates the breezy.” Exactly.
LEXUS — We figure Marvel Studios ponied up most of the cash for this commercial effort because it’s more of a movie ad (Black Panther) than a car ad. The new Lexus LS 500 F Sport might be the greatest car ever, but does the F in LS 500 F Sport stand for Fictional? We aren’t sure.
TOYOTA — Toyota’s “Good Odds” commercial about paraplegic athletes had heart, as did its spot devoted to non-car mobility. But its “One Team” ad about leaders from various religions carpooling to the Super Bowl totally missed the boat. A priest responds to a parishioner with “You’re probably fine” and then runs out of mass? Leaving your flock hanging so you don’t miss a football game doesn’t say much about your true calling. Plus, the commercial played late in the day after several advertisers had already used the “we’re in this together” theme. It had a somewhat hollow ring to it.