What’s Not Working Anymore
Wow! I sure didn’t expect it, but that little guy just talked! We’ve seen three dozen of these things.
- Bro-y Animal/Human Interaction
This year, Skechers brings it back, but doesn’t bother earning the point, wink, or fist-bump payoff. Why does this dude care about the deer? Lazy advertising.
would like to go to a vaguely-Gothic party with Roman arches, cavernous halls, and sixty ethnically-ambiguous twentysomethings dancing on 15th-century wooden tables. Just not me.
Good Intentions, Questionable Results
The Top 10
10. Mercedes-Benz - Soul
The Gist: A young man sits at a diner, gazing longingly through the window at a Mercedes-Benz billboard. Willem Dafoe (The Boondock Saints, Spider-Man) lounges across the table, fingernails cut like claws, eyes sparkling menacingly. It’s a classic soul-for-car Faustian bargain. All he has to do is sign. We see an imaginary montage of beautiful women and magazine covers (inevitable consequences of owning the car, of course), and our hero seems ready to do the deal. But wait! The corner of the billboard (just now finished) reveals the car is only 29 grand. Young man: “Thanks…but I think I got this.”
What Hit: Commendably, Mercedes sends a coherent message about its product: it’s a luxury car, yes, but it’s affordable. The spot also nails both gender demographics, with appearances from Usher and Kate Upton, along with fake magazine covers for GQ and Vanity Fair.
What Missed: While the ad’s message generally works, the price reveal and subsequent punch-line fall a bit flat. At $30K, most of us are still signing with the devil.
9. Doritos - Goat
The Gist: A man walks along a sidewalk, eating a bag of Doritos. He comes across a goat (for sale), nibbling on a second bag of the iconic orange chips. Kindred spirits! The sale complete, man and beast proceed to eat Doritos everywhere: the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom. But the goat won’t stop. “42 bags later,” the incessant crunch, crunch, crunch drives the man to horde his remaining chip bags. He’s just painted a new Goat 4 Sale sign, when his pet discovers the man’s traitorous intentions. The ad ends with the goat cornering his master, the unpleasant details of his retribution left off screen.
What Hit: Doritos knows how to choose simple plots and execute them well. We even get a bit of circular narrative structure (a Goat 4 Sale sign starts and ends the ad). Wisely, the commercial ends the story in our imagination instead of on screen, the most dramatic outcome of all.
What Missed: There’s not much original about the spot: we’ve seen man vs. beast plenty of times. Plus the message gets a little murky: you’ll love Doritos so much you’ll want to share them with a pet goat, except that if that goat annoys you, you’ll want to horde the chips for yourself and sell that goat. The best spots put the product first; in this case, Doritos comes second to the man-goat narrative.
8. Cars.com - Wolf
The Gist: A car salesman and couple have just completed a sale. The couple explains that Cars.com—with their expert reviews—made the decision easy, but…. “you miss the drama,” says the salesman, smiling knowingly. He opens a drawer and pulls out a baby wolf. The wife picks up the adorable pup, but the salesman gestures toward the wolf’s “incredibly protective mother,” who’s just been released down the hall. “Put the wolf down,” whispers the husband. “Get the right car, without all the drama,” the ad says.
What Hit: The ad nails its tagline efficiently, effectively, and humorously. By the end, we all know one specific thing the Cars.com product does: take drama out of the car buying process. I also liked how the spot didn’t have to personify the animals to make things funny.
What Missed: One might say the ad underwhelmed slightly, given the extravagance of almost all the other spots. An efficient, decent ad isn’t always enough for the Super Bowl. Though it was technically sound, I found it less memorable than the next seven items on this list.
7. Axe - Apollo
The Gist: A shark attack at the beach. The crowd runs for shore, but a young woman remains in peril. An attractive male lifeguard swims directly for the shark, throws a few punches, then carries the damsel back to the beach. Just as she’s coming to, an astronaut arrives out of nowhere, and we see “Nothing Beats an Astronaut” as she runs for the man in the space suit. “Axe Apollo.”
What Hit: The shark fistfight (ridiculous), and the arrival of the astronaut (bizarre, nonsensical) work so well because Axe fully commits to it.
What Missed: The sheer absurdity of the ad’s logic—nothing beats an astronaut-->this deoderant spray has “Apollo” in its name-->therefore you should buy this it—is quintessential Axe, but it says absolutely nothing about the product. It may work for the 18-25 demo, but fleetingly at best.
6. Doritos - Daddy Fashionista
The Gist: Dad’s on his way out the door to play football with the bros, but his adorable daughter wants to play princess. Critically, she holds a bag of Doritos. Cut to the dad’s group of (surprisingly) ethnically diverse friends, who peer in as the dad snacks on the chips, playing princess with his little girl. Cut yet again to mommy, who observes the scene (five guys now in dresses), and asks (flatly) if that’s her wedding dress one guy is wearing. “It could be,” he says, as orange crumbs fly from his mouth.
What Hit: The message here is cleaner than in Doritos’ goat ad: You will do silly things if it means a chance to eat Doritos. Plus the sheepish “It could be” line just sells the ludicrousness of it all.
What Missed: The little girl gets lost after her first appearance, sadly waving her broken wand in the corner of subsequent shots. Doritos misses the chance for a little more cute-kid appeal.
5. Budweiser - Brotherhood
The Gist: A farmer raises a baby horse from foal to majestic steed. He sells the stallion to Budweiser, but not before the man and horse have formed a special bond. Years later, as the steed marches proudly through town in a Budweiser parade, the farmer watches from the edge of the road, hoping for some sort of snort of recognition. The horse passes by, nose straight ahead, trot uninterrupted. Disappointed, the farmer starts up his car, but then there he is! The horse! Galloping his way! The two reunite. “Budweiser.”
What Hit: Steve Nicks’ acoustic tune of sentimental longing ("Landslide") adds just the right touch of emotion, and the story—for once!—actually works. See Budweiser: you can do a 1.5-minute ad!
What Missed: I’ve never really bought Budweiser-as-benevolent-horse-breeders, and I tend to get a bit spooked by all the schmaltziness. That being said, it looks like Budweiser is having a contest to name the horse! Fun!
4. GoDaddy - Your Big Idea
The Gist: A wife asks her husband when he’s going to put his “big idea” online. “Relax,” he says, “it’s not like anybody else is going to have…” *cut to new couple* “…the exact same idea…” *cut again* “…that popped into my head.” *cut to couple in private jet* “So thank goodness I put my idea online first!” A smiling flight attendant asks, “More champagne, sir?” “More everything, sky waitress!” he says, and the couple, waitress, and even pilot (Danica Patrick) fake laugh for 10 straight seconds before we cut to “GoDaddy.”
What Hit: GoDaddy taps directly into their potential customers’ most primal motivation: fear that someone else will snatch their URL away. Props to the perennial Super Bowl advertiser for (once) not degrading women, relying on shock value, or implementing cheap “See More Online!” ploys.
What Missed: Even if GoDaddy eschewed nudity, we still have an ad with all male entrepreneurs, and all female nagging spouses. Sure, they needed the symmetry to make the cuts work, but what if they had flipped the scheme from the outset, allowing each wife to have the great idea? Baby steps, I guess.
3. Taco Bell - Viva Young
The Gist: Grandpa’s just been put to bed at Glencobrooke Retirement Center, but wait, he’s sneaking out for a night on the town! He and his buddies cause all sorts of trouble, jumping in the neighbor’s pool, blasting music at 3 am, and lighting smoke bombs on doorsteps. To round out the night, the group heads for—where else?—Taco Bell, for a late night (early morning?) snack.
What Hit: Spit-polished and beautifully shot, this spot is the best-looking Super Bowl ad of the lot. The background anthem—“Viva Young,” a Spanish version of “We Are Young”—hits the perfect pitch. Taco Bell also embraces its place as the go-to midnight snack stop. Some of my fondest college memories involve midnight runs to local fast-food joints.
What Missed: To me, the look-it’s-old-people-doing-young-people-things! gag has lost nearly all originality. Taco Bell executes admirably, but chooses a narrative bordering on cliché.
2. Samsung - The Next Big Thing
The Gist: Paul Rudd (Knocked Up, and the other 12 movies exactly like Knocked Up) and Seth Rogen (same) have been contacted by Samsung (separately) to do their NextBigThing ad. They arrive in the lobby, confused that the other also received a call. After some comedic bickering, Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad’s slick and goofy lawyer) strolls out to invite the two into his office. They proceed to brainstorm ideas for Samsung’s ad campaign, before LeBron James Skypes in on a Samsung tablet, upstaging Rudd and Rogen. The ad cuts to black as the two verbally trip over each other trying to grab back Odenkirk’s attention.
What Hit: Samsung knows if they throw enough money at talented actors, they’ll produce a memorable ad. Sure, it may be a little lazy, but when you’re making the kind of money they do, you’ve earned it.
What Missed: The spot employs awkward/improvisational humor (popularized by The Office) throughout, which has its fans and its critics. Personally, I love it, but I can understand those who prefer smart, exacting dialogue over the meandering creative stylings of Rudd and Rogen.
1. Audi - Prom
The Gist: A geeky (but not that geeky…this is TV, after all) high school senior doesn’t have a date for Prom. He stands sheepishly, bowtie crooked, as his mother reassures him. It’s no use: even his eight-year-old sister knows he’s in trouble. As he saunters toward the door, his dad tosses him the keys to his Audi. “Hey son: have fun tonight.” Emboldened by the sweet ride, he parks in the Principal Only spot, and strides into the dance hall. Up ahead, the Prom Queen herself dances. Our hero walks straight up, kissing her in front of the whole school. We see the Prom King (stereotypical blonde bully look) march toward him, fist raised. Cut to our (now) black-and-bruised geek, zooming down the freeway and whooping in exultation. “Bravery. It’s what defines us. Audi.”
What Hit: The cut from the kiss to the bruised eye is classic storytelling economy, and Audi executes it with a superb sense of pace and timing. Subtly, the spot also plays to an ideal demographic: nerdy smart guys in their late twenties or early thirties. They still have shivers of awkward dances and high school rejection, but their geekiness now translates to high-income jobs. Who better to target in a sports car ad?
What Missed: Soon after the commercial aired, a small (but vocal) minority accused the ad of endorsing sexual assault. For the history books, I’m acknowledging the outcry here. But my personal take? Patently ludicrous. When you’re in high school, you’re just figuring out all sorts of things: how to study, how to play sports, how to interact with the opposite sex. Show me one high school relationship without a moment or two where someone had to take (Heaven forbid) a risk. Every kiss in high school is the same: you never know if you’ll get kissed back, slapped, or forever ignored. I salute Audi’s geeky kid, high school kids who take risks, and Audi itself for their clever commercial about navigating through one of the most confusing phases of life.
For those reasons, Audi’s “Prom” wins my title as Best 2013 Super Bowl Ad.