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Super Bowl Ad Spots: Everybody Gets to Play in This Game

February 3, 2020

people watching sports game; image copy: the post-game

A college student asked me recently why I chose advertising as a career. “Because it’s not math” was my response. There’s one correct answer in math, an infinite number in advertising. That’s why I love it and I suspect the reason that people are so fascinated by the biggest day of the year in advertising—your opinion is every bit as valid as mine.

Here are a few of mine (and mine alone) about this year’s crop of spots—some of my favorites, some I think missed the mark, and some interesting head-to-head comparisons. With a few random thoughts thrown in for the heck of it.

Random thought #1: Audi

So let me get this straight. Audi wants to sell an expensive, electric vehicle to parents using a song that makes most parents want to jump off a bridge?

Budweiser and Bud Light

If you have a few years under your belt, you remember the Bud vs Bud Light commercials that were a mainstay of Super Bowl Sunday. Mercifully, this year didn’t feature another Bud Bowl, but in a different way the contrast between Bud and Bud Light—Seltzer this time—was among the most intriguing for me.

Budweiser ranked as a favorite spot for me in 2020. While some miss the horses of previous years, I watch with admiration as Budweiser proves that they know and embrace their core audience better than many other brands. By turning stereotypes on their heads, this year’s “Typical American” spot appeals to the consumers who have always been fiercely loyal to Bud, and to the consumers who will embrace Budweiser’s ingenious message—that the typical American is a pretty awesome person.

As well as Budweiser knows its audience, Bud Light Seltzer doesn’t have a clue. When you have to include the line “there’s no Bud Light in it” when you describe the product, it may be an indication that you should revisit the brand. When the people in Post Malone’s head controlling his body (let’s not spend the time to discuss the strategy that led to that) debate whether he wants Bud Light Seltzer or Bud Light, it confuses the confusing issue all the more. The hard seltzer category is so hot right now, Bud Light Seltzer might sell a gazillion cans. But this spot won’t be the reason.

Random thought #2: Snickers

Perhaps my favorite line of the night… “Babies named after produce.” This was a little spot that I loved. The world really could use a Snickers.


Historically, my least favorite ads have fallen into what I guess we can call the “impossibly dumb guy” category. The guy who will sell his supermodel girlfriend for a Bud Light. The dude whose life revolves around nothing but his next fix of Doritos. This year’s entry into that category—and hands down my least favorite spot of the night—was Sodastream. We’ve found water on Mars! Dumb Guy uses it to make seltzer. No doubt he will enjoy it with some Doritos made from the moon’s green cheese.

Random thought #3: Heinz

The idea used to be to make a really good commercial that millions would see during the game. Seems that Heinz has tried to make an absolutely terrible one so people will seek it out on the internet to watch it four times.

Google vs. Amazon

No, this isn’t about which company will eventually take over the world. It is an intriguing comparison about how two companies went about selling the features of their technologies.

Think about the Super Bowl spots that have become classics. Coke’s Mean Joe Greene. Chrysler’s Imported from Detroit. VW’s Darth Vader. Nike’s Find Your Greatness. Most of the iconic spots have been highly emotional ones and they have always ranked among my favorites. Humor may win each year’s poll of the best commercial, but emotion is often more effective.

Now flip that 180 degrees for this year.

Google pulled out all the stops to make a tear jerker. A man asks Google to remember different characteristics about his wife as we see moving images of their life together. We may walk away sobbing, but we also essentially see just one, relatively ordinary aspect of Google technology—I can tell Google to remember that I need to pick up milk on the way home.

Amazon used Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi in one of the funniest spots of the year as they try to imagine life without Alexa. Instead of selling a single capability, it hilariously shows all the voice-activated assistant can do—from turning down the thermostat to playing a favorite song. The fact that Alexa’s name changes in every era makes the spot even more watchable.

Random thought #4: Hulu

Even when he isn’t playing, it’s easy to long for a teeth-rattling hit on Tom Brady. (If you are reading this in Boston, admit it, you know what I mean.) After all the speculation that his Instagram photo was a tribute to Kobe Bryant, nope…it just was a tease for Hulu. Not his fault, but let’s blame him anyway.

The cars

It really dawned on me as I watched all the car spots…commercials are like a golf swing. Often the harder you try, the worse you do. Other than a Toyota spot a few years ago that masterfully combined Paralympic medalist Amy Purdy and the voice of Muhammad Ali, no automobile advertisements really stick in my memory. This year seemed to be more of the same.

I find it hard to imagine that anyone with the means to buy a Porsche would be motivated by this year’s dreadful “heist” spot. For a car that is all about performance, the pacing of this spot is almost as terrible as the idea. Toyota and Hyundai do an admirable job of selling specific features of their vehicles with ads for people who really can’t park for themselves and who are very worried about running out of room. But it seemed like another year of automobile mediocrity.

Then along came Bill Murray.

In the evening’s best concept, a Jeep Gladiator turns the tedium of everyday into something worth bounding out of bed for. As we see the characters we grew to love in the movie, Phil Connors embraces life with gusto while driving one damn good looking truck. In the end, a single sentiment captures both the spirit of desperation he faced in the original movie when nothing changed from day to day and the adventurous Jeep spirit he found in this classic spot.

Farmer: “Hey, you’re going to freeze to death.”

Phil: “Who cares?”

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