Super Bowl LIII Ads Recap: R.I.P. Bud Knight… And Anything All That Interesting

John B.
John B.
Feb 4, 2019 · 7 min read
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Source: Bud Light handout

Much like the boring football game and monotonous halftime show, the ads for Super Bowl LIII were mostly… just there. Sure, there were a few highs and a few lows, but most of the ads lacked the spectacle I was hoping for. I’ll go into a little more detail on all of that in another post later this week, but for now, some initial rankings and thoughts:

TOP Four Ads Of The Night

Bud Light — Special Delivery and Bud Light x Game of Thrones

Special Delivery was funny and made the usage of “corn syrup” in competitor brands an easy battle for the brand to wage and instantly win. The Game of Thrones mashup was the most attention-getting ad of the night. The brand’s other spots mostly fell flat, but those two winners carried the day.

NFL — The 100 Year Game

An ad that could have rested on its star power ended up being much more entertaining and fun than it probably should have been. I recommend reading about the making of this ad, it was a pretty crazy undertaking that paid off big time.

Google — Job Search For Veterans

Speaking as someone who had absolutely no idea what those codes meant, I was struck by how much this ad still spoke to me. That’s huge because this ad was being seen by millions of people who had no idea what those codes meant, so if it resonated with them as it did with me, that’s a sure sign of very well-executed creative work.

Additionally, of course, is how much more I can only imagine this ad speaks to those who DID immediately recognize those codes and deal with them on a daily basis. Great concept, great execution, and its all for a great cause. Big win for Google.

Michelob Ultra — The Pure Experience

If you’re not going to go “epic” for your Super Bowl ad, why not do the exact opposite and embrace the silence? The goal of a Super Bowl ad is to get people to turn their heads towards the tv screen. The ASMR-inspired sound design in this ad does just that, properly differentiating from more conventional ads with music and effects. In a year where most ads threw fastballs, this one was an effective knuckle-curveball.

BOTTOM Four Ads Of The Night

Mint Mobile — Chunky Style Milk

Who, I implore you, thought it would be good to introduce a brand to the masses by using a thinly-veiled metaphor that, unless paid very close attention to, seems to associate that brand with old milk? You already have your mint-colored spokes-fox(?) in the ad, find a metaphor using him and develop some brand awareness. Instead, I have no idea what your brand is (it kind of sounds like ice cream!) and then I get to hear about chunky milk (ugh, ice cream… or anything dairy-related for that matter). What an absolute misfire of an ad.

TurboTax — Robochild

Here’s a fun concept for an ad: “We create a child and destroy its dreams… Happy Tax Season!” This ad makes me feel like I’m in a room with a family I don’t know and they are having an intervention. Far be it from me to provide “THE RULES OF COMEDY,” but I do think that when you’re trying to wrap a punchline around a defenseless child saying “Is that true, poppa??” you’re gonna run into issues. Oh, and then, just to tighten the cover on this cannister of nightmare fuel, we get a sad robotic face laughing uncontrollably. Dear. God. I will say that the production value is lightyears better than the initial concept, but that doesn’t save this from being a total disaster.

Colgate Total — Close Talker

Nothing outrageously wrong with the concept or production with this ad, it just feels so… obtrusive. I get it, that’s basically the point, he’s a close-talker so he should feel… close. It also has the makings of an ad we’re going to see MANY times over the next 3–6 months. So… get used to Luke Wilson’s fisheye-lensed face, it’s not going anywhere.

Burger King — #EatLikeAndy

If you knew about the “mystery box,” I bet you were disappointed. If you didn’t know about the “mystery box,” I bet you were disappointed and slightly confused. So, who’s this ad even for??? Burger King has been experimental with their ads in the past, maybe they were trying to “get meta” and create an ad that shows Andy Warhol actively disliking their product in an effort to subvert expectations and… annoy everyone?? Or, well, maybe they just made a terrible choice using footage that was much less interesting than anticipated, and a bad ad resulted from it. I’m guessing the latter…

HONORABLE MENTION: Just Give Up Already

Giving Persil or Pringles too much attention flies in the face of the point I want to make, so I’ll keep it brief. How outrageously disappointing have their brands’ ads been the last two years? Take a look at Tide and Doritos as examples of competitor brands with ads that, if nothing else, feel like time and effort have been put into them. The only thing I’ll add in regard to Pringles is, if they have data that shows their demographic actually buys multiple flavors of chips at a time and does “flavor mixing,” their ads may resonate with that audience. But, as far as I can tell, no one is making a day out of untangling the unknown flavor combos of potato crisps that come in a tennis ball tin. It’s just a dumb concept.

Persil and Pringles need new agencies and fresh concepts because what they’re doing is worse than “great” or “terrible,” they’re just “forgettable.”

Overall Thoughts On The Super Bowl LII Ads

Content-wise, most of the Super Bowl LIII commercials looked to please the masses, putting aside anything even slightly approaching a “controversial” idea. Is this, in itself, a bad thing? No, the Super Bowl is basically viewed by everyone, so why attempt to alienate your audience unless it’s absolutely necessary?

However, removing any teeth from the ads last night led to a pretty forgettable slate of ads. Even worse, while a number of ads were, from a technical standpoint, very well made, I don’t think many of them resonated particularly well. Waking up this morning, only a few brands/ads were still resonating with me at all. The rest of the ads were, simply, pretty forgettable.

The two main Budweiser brands tackled two topics on Super Bowl Sunday, both of which were a deviation from what one would expect a “beer ad” to focus on: Corn Syrup and Wind Power. Taking a look around on Monday morning, “corn” is a topic of discussion. Wind power… not so much.

Additionally, Bud Light’s partnering with Game of Thrones resulted in the only ad of the night that truly felt like an “event” that could stop conversations in a room and command attention. Quite the contrary, Budweiser’s ad felt like skippable pre-roll before a YouTube video. If you were watching the game at a party or bar, I bet you missed it.

Two brands tried to “PuppyMonkeyBaby” it up on Super Bowl Sunday, and the results for both were absolute disasters. TurboTax’s “Robochild” conjured up the saddest parts of A.I. and Frankenstein in an apparent attempt to make taxes the SECOND most disturbing thing on this earth. Meanwhile, Mint Mobile remains a brand absolutely no one knows a thing about after incorrectly thinking it could draw some type of analogy that would resonate with an audience that was being forced to watch people drink lumpy milk. PuppyMonkeyBaby worked because it was for a brand — Mountain Dew — that thrives with offbeat sensibilities, plus the uncomfortable nature of the ad built tension that was released with immediate humor. Tax software and cell phone carriers do not thrive on that same offbeat ideas, and both spots would most charitably be described as humor-adjacent. Just terrible.

Look, there are too few words on this planet to properly describe how the NFL has taken misstep after misstep in recent weeks. To simplify, let’s just use one word, one number, and move on: Maroon 5.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s focus on the one thing the NFL did exceptionally well on Sunday: the ad kicking off its 100 year anniversary. Much has been written about how simply producing the ad was a marvel in itself — think of the scheduling required to get each and every one of the NFL’s legendary players onto the set in time to shoot their segment. But, on top of all that, the ad was actually lighthearted, funny, and managed to amplify the things that initially made people like the NFL in the first place. Attaching those good feelings to the brand is no small task, so it should be commended that the ad does this so well.

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