Over the last decade, perhaps the most significant strategic notion in advertising has been to create work that breaks through and becomes a part of culture. However, this is an increasingly difficult mission given that it’s coincided with a major shift in public behavior and technological advancement that has allowed and encouraged us to take any and every opportunity to skip and avoid that very advertising.
Yet there remains one oasis. A place where the advertising is actually a part of the entertainment. A time when people actively look forward to and watch the commercials, at a level of collective experience unheard of in our current age of fragmented media consumption.
The Super Bowl.
“The Super Bowl is the Roman Colosseum of advertising,” Wieden+Kennedy chief creative officer and partner Colleen DeCourcy told me this week. With ads for Bud Light, Coke, McDonald’s, Facebook, Heinz, and TurboTax in the game, she should know. It’s far from life or death, but like that ancient battle arena, there are winners and there are losers.
Are you not entertained?
Here are our picks for best and worst ads of the 2020 Super Bowl.
While it’s the same device that made past ads like “Parisian Love” and “Dear Sophie” so effective and successful, the brand manages to make it fresh by swapping significant beginnings—first love, birth, and parenthood—for the gravitas of later life.
Mountain Dew, “The Shining”
This is so weirdly random that it actually works incredibly well. Two beloved big names in Bryan Cranston and Tracee Ellis Ross, recreating an iconic scene from a legendary film that has absolutely nothing to do with zero sugar soda. But it’s that very reason that the spot is funny, memorable, and ties in directly to the Dew’s long-established ad rep of quirky insanity (remember PuppyMonkeyBaby?).
Doritos, “Old Town Road” (teaser)
I know, I know, this is not officially the ad, but hey, according to the agency exec behind it (Goodby’s Margaret Johnson) the teasers are arguably as important as the big game spot. While the full commercial itself is fun, this teaser is the one that delivers a hilariously unexpected celebrity-hit song combination that also just happens to be the velvet sandpaper vocal cords of Sam Elliott drawling out “Old Town Road.”
Jeep, “Groundhog Day”
An iconic movie, with its iconic star, for an iconic American brand. It doesn’t get much more Super Bowl-y than that. An homage to 1993’s Groundhog Day, with star Bill Murray, along with insurance salesman Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky) and Buster (Bryan Doyle Murray) returning . . . oh, and of course Punxsutawney Phil. What’s new is the Jeep Gladiator, taking the place of the old Chevy truck in the movie. Murray slays just about anything he does, but for Jeep it’s a real home run, finding a way to combine comedy, nostalgia, all with a film that’s repetitive nature brings to mind the annual Super Bowl ad arms race itself. Chevy must be absolutely kicking themselves for not doing it sooner.
Dashlane, “Password Paradise”
This password-storage service is no McDonald’s in terms of brand awareness, and it’s chosen to avoid the rookie Super Bowl move of enlisting a celebrity to make up for it. But it makes this list for a funny, memorable spot rooted in the rage-inducing insight of forgotten passwords. No tech scare-mongering, but a lighter approach that still manages to convey Dashlane’s core value proposition.
Olay, “Make Space for Women”
I’ve said it before, but it’s got piles of talent on display here, between Lilly Singh, Busy Philipps, astronaut Nicole Stott, Katie Couric, Taraji P. Henson, a space gimmick, and the laudable cause of raising money and awareness for Girls Who Code. But the spot itself seems to think these alone are enough, without other key elements like narrative, humor, tension, or any story whatsoever.
Avocados From Mexico, “Shopping Network”
A pretty standard Super Bowl concept of random celebrity (Molly Ringwald) put in a goofy premise (home shopping network for avocados) that feels like one of those SNL sketches that drags on too long. Would’ve been better as a 30-second spot. On the bright side, people will definitely be asking to buy some of these batsh*t products.
Pop Tarts, “Pop Tarts Fixed the Pretzel”
This cheesy premise and corny writing have somehow managed to find the limits of Jonathan Van Ness’s seemingly endless supply of charm.
WeatherTech, “Lucky Dog”
WeatherTech annually falls under the WTF umbrella of Super Bowl ad brands that feel a bit more suited to local TV or very late night rather than the most expensive real estate in TV advertising. The decision here to celebrate veterinary doctors who saved the star of last year’s big game ad (also the CEO’s pooch) is either genius or a waste. On one hand, people looooooove dogs. On the other, this spot couldn’t be less about car floor mats. For that reason, it’s a bad ad, but it’s one that may just be remembered more than anything car-related that the brand could’ve come up with.
Audi, “Let It Go”
Yep, another random celebrity/hit song combination, tying Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams and the Frozen soundtrack hit “Let It Go” to sustainability. Look close enough and you can see the checklist: Kids? Check. Parents? Check. Purpose marketing? Check. As with a few other “worst” picks, it’s not just the ad itself, but also the wasted potential. Audi has all the brand strength and marketing budget to make almost literally whatever they want, and yet this result is just so, so corny.