Dozens of ads aired during the 2018 Super Bowl, the great majority of them safe and competent rather than outstanding, risk-taking or appalling.
There are the 10 that really stood out, the best and the worst:
Big Detergent absolutely nails it in a spot that’s not only front-to-back engaging but also manages to co-opt all the other ads people paid $5 million or $10 million to air. Regular-guy “Stranger Things” star David Harbour opens in a car in the McConaughey pitchman position. “Typical Super Bowl car ad?” Harbour asks. No. Suddenly he’s in a bar as a bottle crashes to the floor: “Hilarious beer ad?” Nope, “It’s a Tide ad” we learn, because the guy working under a car has a dirty face, but a clean shirt. And it goes on, false-starting a recognizable beach-based beverage ad and more. So, says Harbour, “Does this make every ad a Tide ad? Watch and see.” Note perfect.
NBC’s singing competition returns in late February, and it has a first-rate promotional spot to tout it. Fresh, funny and on point, hosts Blake Shelton, Alicia Keys, Adam Levine and Kelly Clarkson are terrific in a parody of country music cliches such as haybale seats and ridiculously long fabric trains in fields of grain. Between this and the Olympics ads, especially the one for Lindsey Vonn, NBC’s promo department is killing it.
The hip-hop star Pras takes a risk by buying a Super Bowl ad for his new black culture site. The ad he and director Antoine Fuqua come up with is a winner, as well as arguably the most political of the night. He comes on stage blindfolded and with tape over his mouth. He removes the covering. “A voice and a vision for Black Culture,” says the text. This, remember, is amid the championship game for a sports league that has effectively blackballed a talented quarterback.
Doritos, Mountain Dew
At first, hurried viewing, I didn’t think there was much to praise in this tribute to high-schoolers’ food choices. Peter Dinklage (Tyrion, in “Game of Thrones”) lip-syncs a Busta Rhymes rap for Doritos Blaze, yet another tortilla chip topped with spicy powder.
Then Morgan Freeman (God, in just about everything) lip-syncs Missy Elliott for Mtn. Dew Ice, a new lemon-lime sugar-water from the company that no longer can be bothered to spell out “mountain.”
Watching celebs mouth lyrics didn’t seem that interesting or innovative. But on a second, closer look, this joint spot really gains pop — and crunch. The fire-and-ice theme is carried through to perfection, while still working as a subtle nod to “Game of Thrones,” derived from the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire.”
Another nod: The little, dragonesque breath of fire Dinklage emits as his song ends. The eternally dignified Freeman delivering a tune called “Get Ur Freak On” will never not be funny. And the cameos by Rhymes and Elliott add depth. Doritos ‘n’ Dew may not be the best thing to put in your body, but in the diet of Super Bowl advertising, this is pretty nourishing stuff.
Feel-good ads are a thing in 2018, and this Paralympics-themed spot is one of the feel-goodest. A girl is born with incomplete legs, and an onscreen ticker starts registering her long odds of winning a gold medal. As scenes from her life play out, the girl becomes eight-time Canadian gold-medal skier Lauren Woolstencroft, and the odds change to even.
Too soon? Yes, it is absolutely too soon, and maybe always will be, to enlist a Martin Luther King Jr. speech in service to selling trucks. But Ram does it anyway, backing a series of all-American images (plus trucks) with a King speech from “50 years ago today.”
“If you want to be important, wonderful,” says King, “but recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be a servant.” Ram absolutely does not save the misappropriation that is this ad with the tagline, “Built to serve. Ram.”
“So let’s get Keanu Reeves and have him stand on a moving motorcycle speaking feel-good bromides.” “Yeah, great! Then what?” “Well, the budget kind of runs out after that. But people will be so intrigued they’ll go to the website.” Or maybe they won’t. And maybe the web services company will decide to stick to its forte, podcast advertising.
Pretty generic stuff here. Aerial shots of a road, voiceover about the road being disappointing. Then we see the 2019 Jeep Cherokee driving through a stream.
Yellow Tail Wine
And the loser of the Australian ad category? This one, which once again features tacky Australian host guy in a yellow suit and a kangaroo forced to mug for the camera. In something of a warning, the on-screen tags asserts that Yellow Tail is “America’s #1 Imported Wine.”
“I like beer” say the words to the 1970s country tune repurposed for this spot, which shows athletes and other celebs working out. But the disconnect between the lyrics they chant and the thin taste of this low-cal beer, touted for its sports friendliness, is so profound as to destroy the message. If you actually like beer, you ain’t drinking Mich Ultra.