My favorite part of the Super Bowl is not the commercials; it’s talking about the commercials on Monday with WGN’s Bill and Wendy. They’re not in advertising; they’re simply students of culture with curious, interesting minds, which means I’m never fully prepared for what they might want to discuss. They are also amazingly supportive and helpful, particularly if your voice sounds like you spent the morning gargling molasses and working on your Harrison Ford mumble…
And because it’s not really kosher to comment without sharing your own perspective for critique, here are my four top ads from Super Bowl LIII. Sure I loved Amazon’s over-the-top, super Super Bowl-y ad about Alexa’s mythical failures. I was also heartened by Google’s showcasing of data on the three most translated phrases worldwide (spoiler alert: “I love you” is #1). And who didn’t choke up at the emotional resonance of Verizon’s “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here” ad honoring first responders? Still, you can only pick four in this totally arbitrary exercise I just dreamed up, so here goes:
1. BUD LIGHT: GAME OF THRONES
I hate everything about Bud Light trying to conjure an issue out of corn syrup. As the category leader, these types of mean-spirited attack ads should be beneath them (did they learn nothing from the sweet Google Translate ad?). That said, the mash up ad with Game of Thrones was stupendous. It delivered what you rarely get in Super Bowl ads: genuine surprise. After an expectedly breezy dilly-dilly opening, the story makes a head snapping turn to the dark side that stopped me cold and was entirely brand appropriate for HBO.
And despite his gruesome death, I’m also certain the Bud Knight will be back in future ads with no explanation, kinda like Kenny in South Park.
2. NFL: THE 100 YEAR GAME
This was pure fun; a playful, winning nod to the amazing personalities that have played the game over the years. How can anyone not love this? It sidestepped mountains of controversy surrounding the brand without appearing to be sidestepping controversy. Nicely done. And great to see Singletary again.
3. HULU: THE HANDMAIDEN’S TALE
I haven’t read or watched “The Handmaiden’s Tale” but as an ad fan, recycling the Hal Riney-esque VO from the ad that got Ronald Reagan elected in 1980 was an inspired move. An amazingly simple, graceful idea…though admittedly, it probably spoke more to ad nerds than the general public.
4. THE WASHINGTON POST
Call me old fashioned, but I don’t believe the relentless attacks on the free press come from a place of selfless concern for the republic. Yes, both sides of the media aisle are complicit in exaggerating and framing facts to fit their frameworks; chasing clicks in a social media powered world does little to encourage centrist reporting. But the fact remains that Jamal Khashoggi was an American resident and father of three citizens yet we did nothing to hold the foreign powers who murdered him accountable. That’s weak. And wrong. And this spot does a tremendous job of speaking to a social issue in a manner relevant to the brand.
All in all, the general consensus seems to be that the crop of spots were disappointing, but I didn’t really find that anymore true this year than others. It’s nearly impossible to please all the people all the time, and this is the one few advertising platform where that’s still the job. It’s an unforgiving spotlight, and yet everyone in the ad game still wants to be there. That says something…