After an extraordinary week in which millions of Americans experienced record-setting cold—and in turn were in dire need of an extraordinary distraction—the most-anticipated football game of the year was a dud. In fact, it set a record for the fewest points scored. Oh, and the longest punt. How perfect.
The commercials weren’t much better. Did anyone even crack a smile at that creepy Turbo Tax RoboChild, or were you too busy preparing for the apocalypse? Forget your taxes, gather your loved ones and head for the hills!
While Super Bowl LIII reestablished Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots as kings of the hill (for the sixth time), we zeroed in on the car commercials, because, well, cars. Sure, we understand that it isn’t easy to create an ad that nails it, especially on a big stage like the Super Bowl. Whether you go for laughs, tears, thrills, or social messaging, you can’t please everyone. But when you’re paying more than $5 million for a 30-second spot, you should probably try to please most of them, right?
It’s a tricky business. You can win or lose big with an ad on such a scale. Ford and Chevy skipped it, along with past advertisers Lexus, Jaguar, Land Rover, Acura, Mini USA, and Nissan, as many automakers transition to more social media-based campaigns. And some, like Dodge, chose to release their ads only online. For better and worse, these automotive Super Bowl commercials stood out.
HYUNDAI — Jason Bateman is a scene-stealer. (I dare you to keep a straight face watching him in The Breakup and Couples Retreat.) True to form, Bateman’s impish, deadpan delivery is spot on in Hyundai’s Super Bowl entry. Dressed as a bellboy and running a weird elevator in which each floor represents the worst things in life—like root canals, jury duty, and a colonoscopy—Bateman attempts to drop off some car shoppers at a stereotypical used car lot, but they tell him they have Hyundai’s Shopper Assurance. He immediately realizes he made the wrong assumption. “Hyundai. Going up.” The doors close, and then they open to reveal a car shopping nirvana that includes the 2020 Palisade SUV. Much better than the Vegan Dinner Party, which is serving Sergio’s specialty, beetloaf. “Is that even a thing?”
AUDI — Walking through a serene wheat field towards a distant farmhouse, a young man is warmly greeted by his grandfather, who takes him into the barn and uncovers a sweet-looking sports car—an Audi E-Tron. “What are you waiting for?” the grandfather urges, but before he can drive off into the white light he is rudely brought back to reality by a co-worker, who saves him from choking on a cashew. She assures him, “You’re one lucky man,” but judging from the look on his face he doesn’t feel like it. Good news from Audi: “A thrilling future awaits. On earth.” Nailed it.
DODGE SRT HELLCAT — Predictable, yes. Fun, hell yes! In exactly the invigorating, action-packed commercial you’d expect for Dodge’s Hellcats, there are lots of smoking tires and power slides in this ad, and Charlie Daniels’ rabble-rousing classic The Devil Went Down to Georgia provides the perfect musical backdrop.
TOYOTA SUPRA — Toyota gave us two ads. Two completely different ads. One was great, the other not so much. The star of the show features the new Supra, which Toyota placed inside a pinball machine, treating us to the new sports car’s straight-six engine note, quick acceleration, and white-knuckle cornering, to the tune of Pinball Wizard. The ad did exactly what car commercials are supposed to do. It put us inside the car, showed us the excitement of driving it, and made us want one.
TOYOTA RAV4 — Toyota’s other Super Bowl ad featured female football player Antoinette “Toni” Harris, who plays free safety for Bethany College. It was all rah-rah about underdogs and beating the odds, but the fact that it was an advertisement for the RAV4 seemed like an afterthought. While Toni Harris deserves our utmost respect and admiration, she did nothing to convince us that the RAV4 belongs on any car shopping list.
JEEP — When it comes to pure patriotism, Jeep nailed it. There’s plenty of red, white, and blue, and who doesn’t like Marilyn Monroe, pillow fights, space walks, baseball, and military veterans? You want to shout, “God Bless, America!” The question is, will it also make you say, “I gotta get myself one of those”? Probably not.
CROSSOVERS FOR TWO
DORITOS — We know, we know, Doritos isn’t a car company. But we had to give the Frito-Lay marketing folks their due. They perfectly blended cars into their Super Bowl commercial by using a fleet of brightly-painted customs (including a Gremlin), along with celebs Chance the Rapper and the Backstreet Boys, to make this point that original is hot. Well done.
BUDWEISER — Same goes for Budweiser, which began with a close-up image of a Dalmatian, its ear flapping in the wind, clearly enjoying the ride. Just when you think, “Hey, there’s no way those Clydesdales have enough horsepower to blow a dog’s ears back,” you see the team is rolling through a wind farm, and Bud tells us that it now uses wind energy to brew its beer. Anheuser-Busch actually previewed this one a week before the big game, but it still landed well.
PLANTERS — The guy behind the wheel is a nut, but dang, does he ever know how to drive. In a fun ride that includes Charlie Sheen and Alex Rodriguez, Mr. Peanut puts the pedal to the metal and screams around town in a souped-up peanut hot rod, delivering Planters’ snacks to game-watchers. You could say this ad has everything from souped to nuts. OK, moving on…
RAM — Predictable, yes. Fun, no. The exact opposite of the Hellcat ad: A little cheesy with a punchline that didn’t deliver.
JEEP GLADIATOR — NOOOOOOOOOOO! Don’t crush that classic Jeep Gladiator!! Are you out of your mind?! We cringed with every shattered window and creaking piece of metal. But we see what you did there, Jeep. You miraculously turned that crushed scrap heap into the new and improved Gladiator. Neat effect. But it won’t bring back the classic. And that makes us sad—or worse, mad. It feels a lot like the time a female clothing designer crushed a Porsche in order to sell some new threads. We hated that so much that we made our own rebuttal video.
MERCEDES-BENZ — Sure, Mercedes’ “natural speech recognition” feature is cool, but this ad for the innovation missed the mark. A dude realizes he has the power to make things happen just by saying it (a golfer makes a putt, a lost cat finds its way home, cash shoots out of an ATM). Just when you think you’re in an Amazon commercial, the announcer says, “If only everything in life listened to you like your new A-Class.” Then the driver says, “Hey, Mercedes. Change color. Make it cooler. Play my music.” What, no please? Watch your manners, guy.
KIA — “We’re not famous,” the commercial begins. Too bad. A celeb or two would have helped this ad, which seemed a little on the sappy side. Paying homage to the 2020 Kia Telluride’s home in West Point, Georgia—which is so small that “the closest thing to a world stage is 81 miles away in Atlanta”—Kia tried to tug at our heartstrings but came up a tad short. It was a wholesome attempt to shine the spotlight on Kia’s workers, but this is the Super Bowl. When it comes to TV ads, the viewers anticipate humor, action, adventure. Hopefully for Kia, the Telluride will be better remembered than this ad featuring the good folks of rural Georgia.
EXPENSIFY — True, not an automaker. But what was that ice car that 2 Chainz was driving? A Ferrari 308 kit car, maybe? We may need that thing to escape the crazy RoboChild, even if it melts soon after.