How do you measure Super Bowl ad success? Some kneel at the altar of consensus with USA Today’s Ad Meter. Some will look at direct impact on sales or brand awareness. At Fast Company, I adhere to an evaluation process that revolves around entertainment value, how the creative actually addresses the product or brand, and whether or not it evokes an eye roll, full-body cringe, or rather aggressive dry heaving.
Ultimately, commercials—like film, music, art, or any other piece of culture—are subjective. There are no wrong answers! (Unless you’re WeatherTech.) On to the countdown!
5. Irish Spring “Welcome to Irish Spring”
Okay, okay, I know. Hear me out. This is a brand no one has talked about for eons, and now parent Colgate-Palmolive decides to jump into the soap wars with a Super Bowl ad. There were so many ways this could go. In the end, we get an oddly fun mix of Old Spice-meets-Skittles crossed with . . . Midsommar? I don’t know, but I’m a sucker for oddvertising. The setting is steeped in the brand’s vintage work, the tagline “Smell From a Nice Smelling Place” echoes “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” and that creepy bunny harks back to Skittles’s singing rabbit from 2006, all without coming off like a copycat. Ultimately, it’s a spot that is just weird enough to get your attention for a brand you haven’t seen since you had to shower at your grandparents’ place, and it provided the game with a much needed dose of actual WTF.
4. Lay’s “Stay Golden”
Lay’s brings back so many memories. Like that time Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen were in a Super Bowl LVI commercial together. pic.twitter.com/0mwdIKLE7n
— LAY'S (@LAYS) February 2, 2022
This ad was tailor-made for the Super Bowl. You can almost hear the Don Draper-style pitch. Two very likable, famous, and funny faces are dropped into a montage of ridiculous situations to keep you interested and giggling for 60 seconds. Created by Highdive, a smaller agency jam-packed with Big Game vets, it capitalizes on a winning formula that works, and continues to execute it in a variety of ways. Last year’s Ad Meter-topping Rocket Mortgage ad with Tracy Morgan? Funny guy in a montage of ridiculous situations. The best-rated ad of 2020 was the agency’s Jeep ad, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray. Funny guy, montage—you get the idea. Add to that the proven Rudd-Rogen chemistry, and you’ve hit standout Super Bowl levels.
3. Nissan “Thrill Driver”
Automotive spots are the meat and potatoes of any Super Bowl advertising lineup. These brands are a constant in the ever-shifting landscape of marketer trends and emerging industries. Toyota had a heart-warming Olympic story (again), Kia tried to split the difference between cute animals and innovation with a Robo Dog, and I’m not even going to acknowledge the comedic blasphemy of GM’s Austin Powers reboot spot. Both BMW and Nissan went with big, conceptual Hollywood takes. The former used Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek Pinault as Greek Gods and didn’t quite hit the mark. Nissan, on the other hand, collected a fun variety of faces—Brie Larson, Danai Gurira, and Dave Bautista—to surround the legendary Eugene Levy in an action-flick spoof that actually uses the product as the central character throughout. Levy is as versatile as ever, going from goofy to suave quicker than you can say Armed and Dangerous. The Catharine O’Hara cameo is just a bonus.
2. Michelob Ultra “Welcome to the Superior Bowl”
This spot has everything, a Super Friends mix of sport stars and celebrities, a Big Lebowski tribute, and a “Grade A” Super Bowl pun. That’s all you really need. Peyton Manning, golfer Brooks Koepka, soccer legend Alex Morgan, NBA star Jimmy Butler, WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike, and tennis great Serena Williams are all strapping on the rental shoes served up by Steve Buscemi. It’s fun to imagine these folks gathering at the alley for their Tuesday night league, tipping back a few low-carb suds and talking trash. ELO’s “Showdown” is no “Just Dropped In” by Kenny Rogers, but it gets the job done.
1. Amazon “Mind Reader”
Once again, we’re back to Amazon. Starring real-life husband and wife Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost, the ad shows us what might happen if Alexa knows a bit too much about us. Since launching last Monday, the ad had racked up more than 50 million views on Amazon’s YouTube channel by Sunday morning and garnered gleeful coverage by the global press. So by most metrics, it was a hit well before kickoff.
At its most basic level, we have a celebrity couple put in funny situations with the actual product at the center of the joke. That last part is the difference between a funny ad like the one for Lay’s and this one. Rudd and Rogen could’ve been bonding over just about any snack or soda. While the appearance of a familiar big-name face boosts a brand’s chances of getting your attention somewhere between third down, a second beer, and that fourth plate of wings, if the spot doesn’t effectively involve your product or brand until that final logo flash, the celebrity is the only thing anyone will remember.
Amazon and its longtime Super Bowl ad agency Lucky Generals have crafted a proven formula for Big Game success, and it’s executed here once again to near perfection. They did it in 2018 with “Alexa Loses Her Voice,” in 2019 with “Not Everything Makes the Cut,” in 2020 with “Before Alexa,” and again last year with “Alexa’s New Body.” Each pairs a fun, unexpected celebrity or celebrities with a montage of borderline absurd situations involving the brand’s virtual assistant. Again, that last part is the not-so-secret sauce, and every single one of these ads scored at the top or close to all Super Bowl ad rankings in their respective years. The formula, creatively interpreted each time, simply works. And this Johansson-Jost ad keeps the streak alive.
And now . . . the Worst Ad of the 2022 Super Bowl.
Budweiser “A Clydesdale’s Journey”
Directed by Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao and made with agency VaynerMedia, this ad has Budweiser once again swinging for the barnyard fences with a heartwarming Clydes-tale. Problem is, there isn’t much of a story. As a dog watches, the horse carelessly attempts to jump a barbed wire fence, even though it’s clearly a workhorse built for pulling wagons, hauling goods, and working the land. It’s no Dutch Warmblood. It suffers a heinous leg injury and looks destined for the glue factory. The dog seems to not want this to happen. A few worried glances are exchanged over a beer and a fire. Seasons change. And voilà! The horse miraculously recovers. The End.
What we needed here was to form some kind of emotional connection with these two characters and their friendship. What we needed was a Rocky IV-style training montage in which the horse is Rocky and the dog is Uncle Paulie. Budweiser is no stranger to crafting stories about a dog and a Clydesdale that tug the heartstrings. The brand topped Super Bowl ad rankings in 2014 with “Puppy Love,” and again with “Lost Dog” in 2015, two ads that at least introduce some stakes as well as context to the relationship between the pooch and the horse.
Here we get none of that, just a collection of images seemingly slapped together to make us go “Awwww” but with nothing beyond that.
There may be more poorly executed ads that ran during the game. WeatherTech has a standing reservation at that table. GM’s Austin Powers abomination and Meta’s metaversing of the Chuck E. Cheese band failed in their missions of presenting a bold future for those companies. But Bud is the most disappointing. The venerable beer brand possesses all the resources, talent, pedigree, heritage, and obvious enthusiasm for the Big Game spotlight. But this year, the result was just skunky.