There were about 50 world-class (supposedly) ads airing tonight in the “Super Bowl” of commercials. (Unfortunately, we had to sit through interruptions by some kind of football game to watch them all.) I’m reviewing every one of them, in real time, as they happen. And, to make things a bit harder, I’ve not watched a single one of them ahead of time. So, without further ado, my impressions of the 2020 Super Bowl commercials:
F9 movie. Vin Diesel, flying cars (not much driving this time around?), a background chorus of “Hallelujahs” and lots of explosions. Haven’t we been here before?
Quibi. Bank robbers in lamb masks can’t find their getaway driver, because he’s watching something on his phone. Apparently he’s watching “Quibi”, which has episodes (of what, I’m not quite sure) that last only 10 minutes. The point is made, but still no idea why I would want to watch Quibi.
Tide. Super Bowl party celebrations get a little out of hand and Charlie Day’s white shirt gets stained. He’s told to wait to clean it until “later” but freaks out — “what if later never comes?” The only clever part is that he then also appears in the next ad, a preview for Fox’s show Masked Singer.
Trump for President. An African American prisoner is released and praises President Trump for his part in criminal justice reform. I don’t know that this will change anyone’s mind, but it was definitely a strategic choice.
Walmart. Movie characters including Buzz Lightyear, old Bill and young Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, R2D2 and C3PO, and, my favorite, the alien in Arrival (a delivery of glass cleaner) get their supplies from Walmart. A clever way to show you can pick up (or have delivered) just about anything from the retailer.
Black Widow movie. “Know who you are.” But, the problem is, I don’t know who the Marvel characters are, so it may as well be another language for me. I suppose it might be effective for Marvel fans?
Rocket Mortgage. “What does home mean to me?” asks Jason Momoa as he enters his perfectly decorated house, discarding his boots — and his muscles, and his hair — while he (or a VERY scrawny version of he) tells us that “Home is where you feel the most comfortable.” Not sure what this has to do with mortgages, but it will be talked about.
Porsche. The Porsche museum security guards use millions dollars worth of classic Porsches to chase the Taycan, the new electric Porsche, across various Germanic scenery. (The newest security guard gets to drive the Porsche tractor.) “Finally an electric car that moves you,” is the tag, but lots of Tesla drivers would probably argue.
Snickers. This appears to be a play on the classic Coca Cola “Teach the world to sing” commercial, except a helicopter drops a giant Snickers into a huge hole — into which a couple of Instagram influencers promptly fall. “The Snickers hole — it’s working!”
Hulu. Tom Brady speaking seriously with language that suggests he’s retiring, but he simply announces that Hulu has live sports (“according to the script they just gave me”). Closes with “I’m not going anywhere,” — nice setup, but may overshadow the point of the ad.
Squarespace. An encounter between a couple of quirky Minnesotans, one of whom (Winona Ryder) is laying in the snow, telling the state trooper that “I’m building a website about Winona,” apparently with Squarespace. The ad wraps with “Welcometowinona.com,” which, I’m guessing, has some interesting content promoting the service.
New York Life. A reflective recitation of the types of love. “Be good at life,” concludes the ad. In another setting this could be a good ad, but it gets lost today.
Hyundai. A bunch of celebrities with New England accents demonstrate that the Hyundai “smart park” feature is a “game changer” — by repeating “smaht pahk” over and over again. It’s clever, a good use of celebrity and humor, and you can’t help but remember “smart park.”
Cheetos. MC Hammer appears repeatedly to reinforce that folks with orange “Cheetos fingers” . . . wait for it . . . “can’t touch this.” So, so obvious.
Olay. Katie Couric, a rocket with “Olay” on the side, a few other celebrities in astronaut suits, and a real female astronaut (Nicole Stott) all use some sarcastic commentary to make the point that girls can do anything, including go to space. (I think. It happened so quickly I couldn’t keep track.)
Michelob Ultra Pure Gold. For every 6-pack they sell, they’ll “help transition 6 square feet of farmland to organic.” And then they show groups of people to demonstrate what that means. I’m not sure ANYONE buys beer based on helping farmers be more organic, but I’ve been wrong before.
Avocados from Mexico. It’s the AFM shopping network, pitching the Avo-Carrier, a matching travel collection for your avocado, an avocado helmet, and . . . Molly Ringwald? I’m so confused . . .
Hard Rock Hotel. JLo’s bling cup gets stolen, and we see a huge parade of celebrity cameos as she attempts to get it back. So many I couldn’t keep track, and I still don’t understand the point.
Pringles. Characters from “Rick and Morty” attempt to demonstrate how you can create your own flavor of Pringles by stacking other flavors, until they realize that they are . . . trapped in a Pringles commercial?
Turbotax. I began to cringe when very stereotyped Asian and Indian actors started dancing to an unfamiliar song — but then hipsters, goths, beekeepers, laundry-doers, and cowboy bar patrons all get the same stereotyped treatment. The song? “All people are tax people,” I guess to demonstrate that Turbotax is easy for everyone?
Tide. Charlie Day, and his stained shirt, reappears in the Bud Light commercial — and apparently this isn’t “later” enough. A clever cross-brand promotion — will it keep going?
Genesis. John Legend and Chrissy Tiegen team up to toast to the end of “old luxury,” and christen “young luxury” — apparently with the new car brand Genesis by Hyundai. “Somebody had to make luxury fun,” is the closing line, and the commercial lives up to the tagline. Will it sell luxury cars to brand-conscious buyers, though?
Coca-Cola. Martin Scorcese is at a costume party waiting for Jonah Hill, ant the world demands to know whether a sluggish Mr. Hill will show up at the party (even the Pac-Man game comes to a halt). But a Coca-Cola Energy drink saves the day. Another instance where celebrities trump concept, to poor effect, in my opinion.
Mr. Peanut. The promised funeral of Mr. Peanut (attended by other product mascots including Mr. Clean and the Koolaid pitcher). But, as tears strike the ground, we’re given . . . Baby Peanut? Head-scratching, at the very least.
No Time to Die movie. Daniel Craig, beautiful women, creepy villains, Aston Martins, and daring stunts advertise the next James Bond film. But somehow, “This will change everything.”?
Google. Through nothing more than screen shots of Google and the touching questions of an elderly man who asks Google “How to not forget,” the ad demonstrates how Google can help do that very thing. Mustaches, Sitka, and Casablanca are just a few of the memories, framed by perfectly touching music. Extremely effective, even for a Google skeptic. As my wife said, “I never thought I’d cry over a Google commercial.”
Sabra. Too many celebrities in brightly colored backgrounds telling us Sabra hummus is perfect for snacking. I’m done with the celebrity parade and we’re only halfway through the 2nd quarter.
WeatherTech. Not an ad for floor mats, but for charitable donations, told from the viewpoint of Scout, a golden retriever who was in last year’s WeatherTech Super Bowl ad but had cancer and was cured through treatment at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine.
Verizon. A voiceover tells us what 5G will mean to first responders. Seems to be one of these every year, but I’m getting weary of companies deciding that associating themselves with first responders is a fresh creative choice. It’s been done, folks.
GMC. The absence of sound, and a voiceover by Lebron James, are used with some video metaphors to introduce the new Hummer EV from GMC. With all of the noise during the game, selective silence is an attention getter; while it makes sense for an EV, I think it could have been used to greater effect.
Pop Tarts. YouTube influencers “fixed the pretzel” (that we didn’t know was broken). Too meta for me.
Minions The Rise of Gru movie. 101 gags (including Tupperware with flatulence) do an effective job of whetting our appetite for the next Minion movie.
FoxNation. It’s a new streaming service from Fox News that “celebrates America.” I’m not sure if it’s satire or real.
SodaStream. Water discovered on Mars gets mistaken for “Mark’s water” by an astronaut, as he makes a soda using SodaStream — and the precious Mars water. Didn’t work for me.
Bloomberg for President. An African-American mother of a killed child makes the case that Bloomberg will do something about gun violence. An interesting juxtaposition — both presidential candidate ads are based on the testimony of an African-American woman.
Amazon. A captivating preview of the show Hunters, starring Al Pacino. I’m not sure what it’s about, but it’s definitely intriguing. So I guess that’s a success.
Pepsi. Missy Elliot and compatriots and dancers start on a giant red screen holding what looks like a Coke as the song “Painted Black” plays — and the setting, and her can, turn to a black Pepsi setup. The tag is “Zero Sugar Done Right,” but it’s not immediately evident what that means. (Especially since Coke Zero also comes in a black can. . .)
Heinz Ketchup. A 4-split screen of a variety of typical movie scenes, backed by the song “I’ll Be There,” resolves into showing that Heinz ketchup is present in every scene (including the one where the alien grabs the bottle). Pretty effective at showing that Heinz is the ketchup for any occasion.
Bud Light. Bud Light now has seltzer, and Post Malone’s brain can’t make up “his” mind about which to buy at the convenience store. And the result is a destroyed store before his mind realizes “we’re rich, we can afford both.” A mildly humorous way to introduce the product.
Little Caesars. Their new delivery service is the greatest thing “since sliced bread,” which results in all sorts of hilarity happening at, wait for it, the Sliced Bread Headquarters. Effective, and funny. (If only our local Little Caesars would actually answer their phone when you call to place an order.)
Doritos. I’ve been looking forward to this one, as the preview with Sam Elliott reciting Old Town Road at the bar was definitely intriguing. We’re rewarded with Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott doing a dance off in the middle of a western town. The horses — and Billy Ray Cyrus — have the final say. Lots of fun, and, for once, a GOOD use of celebrity.
Kia. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs talks to his homeless younger self while driving him in the new Kia Seltos, dropping him off at a football field with the admonition “That’s your proving ground. Push yourself to be something, and I promise someday you will.” The tag is “Give it everything,” but I’m not sure how that relates to a small SUV.
Turkish Airlines. The voiceover encourages us to “Step on earth,” because they visit the most countries on the planet. It’s (at least for me) a fine point that’s a bit hard to follow.
Reeses. A bunch of cliches, illustrated in an office, as a co-worker can’t believe someone hasn’t heard of the Reeses Take 5 candy bar. A mildly humorous way to demonstrate it’s “The best bar you’ve never heard of.”
Tide. Its our laundry guy again, but this time Wonder Woman appears to “convince” him not to do laundry now. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow works.” The gag is working.
Alexa. Ellen Degeneres wonders aloud how folks lived without Alexa, and we’re treated to a gorgeous set of mini-vignettes of people with variations on the name Alexa (Al, Alex, Alicia, etc.) doing things that Alexa does now, including a jester, a carrier pigeon, a maid, a newsboy, (“it’s all fake” he yells), and a medieval washerwoman, who, when asked to say something interesting shares that “the world is flat and a witch stole his pants.” A clever, fun and entertaining way to demonstrate all that Alexa can do.
Michelob. Jimmy Fallon thinks that “working out sucks,” and another parade of celebrities try to convince him otherwise. The only redeeming feature of this ad is Jimmy Fallon’s delivery.
Toyota. A few cliched movie scenes, such as an exploding chemical plant, a western town, a giant alien, and a rainy New York street, all leave one person behind — who is rescued by a mom driving the new Toyota Highlander. An entertaining way to demonstrate you can fit 7 people in the SUV.
Discover. The fact that Discover charges no annual fee is reinforced by a slew of famous movie and TV clips with actors saying “no.” Effective, and short.
Disney+. A bunch of Marvel clips (here we go again?) to demonstrate what’s available on Disney+ other than kids’ shows. I suppose it’s effective in that regard.
Discover. Another short ad with movie and TV clips saying “Yes” — to demonstrate that yes, most places do accept Discover. These ads, separated by one other commercial, are effective in using No vs. Yes. I like the strategy and creative choices.
T-Mobile. Anthony Anderson’s mom calls him from a dozen different mundane locations to show him that 5G works everywhere. Including in the club. It’s actually pretty effective.
Budweiser. A clever and patriotic take on “typical Americans,” closing with “Show them what typical can do.”
Procter and Gamble. A bunch of P&G brands (Febreeze, Bounty, Mr. Clean, Charmin, Olay), mascots and celebrities all “come together” to clean up an enormous mess. I guess when you have a bunch of disparate brands, you have to work extra-hard to show them all working together.
Microsoft. A mini-bio of Katie Sowers, the first female coach in the NFL. Does a good job balancing the message of the ad with subtle promotion of the Microsoft Surface.
Jeep. Bill Murray reprises his role in Groundhog Day, but gets to drive a bright-orange Jeep Gladiator, which means he looks forward to every day instead. The ad closes with “no day is the same in a Jeep Gladiator.” (And the ad aired on the REAL Groundhog Day, no less.) Clever, and effective.
Facebook. An array of unusual Facebook groups, all of which have something to do with rocks (rock climbers, rockets, Alcactraz, rockhounds, stone sculpters, Rocky Balboa fans), are shown over a music bed of “I Wanna Rock.” When Chris Rock and Sylvester Stallone appear at the end, its a nice conclusion. Effective and fun.
Tide. A very old Charlie Day is back, with a clean shirt (“I got it clean, cuz, it’s later!”)— but his sweater gets an ice cream stain. A setup for an ongoing series of ads?
Audi. Maisie Williams is driving an Audi E-tron in a traffic jam. Which suddenly disappears when she starts singing “Let it Go.” And we’re told we can drive toward a more sustainable future, presumably with a luxury electric SUV. Um . . . huh?
So overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag for ads. A few good ones, a few entertaining ones, but far, FAR too many celebrity-as-creative-concept ads. Doritos, Discover, Tide, Walmart, Little Caesars, Toyota, Jeep and Facebook were all pretty good commercials.
But the best ads of the night? In my opinion, interestingly enough, it’s between 2 virtual information assistants: Google and Alexa. Both ads are good, but they take completely different approaches to demonstrate what they can do. I’d probably give the nod to Google.
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts below. And if you want to see any of the ads again (or for the first time), you can check most of them out on Adweek or USA Today. (And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a big shoutout to my crack pop-culture expert/researcher, Carson McQuaid.)