Super Bowl commercials played it safe this year: light on the political commentary, heavy on the celebrity spokespeople. There weren’t even that many puppies and babies, unless you count the creepy TurboTax baby robot that longed to become an accountant. But what we lacked in cute animals, we made up for in ‘90s nostalgia, from Stella Artois’s callbacks to “The Big Lebowski” and “Sex and the City,” Doritos' Backstreet Boys remix, and Olay’s nod to the teen slasher film “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”
The ads that stood out this year excelled in the basics: clever wordplay, good comedic timing, tugging at heartstrings without being schmaltzy and unexpected twists. Here are the 10 ads that we thought were the best — excluding The Washington Post’s first Super Bowl ad, of course, because we’re biased toward that one.
We know from his time on “Parks and Recreation” that Adam Scott excels at playing nerdy guys who are good with numbers. He does exactly that in this commercial, as someone from a record label finance department who interrupts 2 Chainz’s music video shoot to make sure the rapper has paper receipts for all the ice sculptures and seafood towers involved. No worries, 2 Chainz tells Scott. Expensify will take care of all that! It’s an expense management app as cool as the car 2 Chainz describes as “so cool that it’s sneezin’.”
It speaks volumes about the quality of your drink that Carrie Bradshaw would order it over her trademark Cosmopolitan, and the Dude over a White Russian — that’s precisely what Stella Artois is betting on. Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges reprised their famous “Sex and the City” and “Big Lebowski” roles in the Stella commercial after Bridges drummed up excitement with an elusive tweet, the latest example of successful nostalgia marketing.
Pepsi may sponsor the Super Bowl, but Coca-Cola runs Atlanta. So, in enemy territory, Pepsi brought out the big guns: Steve Carell, Lil Jon and Cardi B. The commercial begins with a diner waiter asking a patron if “Pepsi is okay,” referring to the widely held opinion that Coke is, well, much better. “Are puppies okay? Is a shooting star okay? Is the laughter of a small child okay?” Carell yells in Pepsi’s defense. Lil Jon chimes in with an “OKAY!” from behind the counter, while Cardi B strides in with a sparkly jacket and a spunky “Okurrr.” Carell concludes: “I gotta come up with my own catchphrase.”
Pringles is still trying to convince us that their various flavors of chips should be stacked to create new gourmet flavors, instead of just eaten mindlessly from the can. So this commercial shows two guys trying to combine cheddar, jalapeño and sour cream and onion chips to make a “spicy nacho stack.” “How many flavor stack combinations are there?” one asks, and an unspecified Alexa-like voice assistant responds: “318,000.” And continues: “Sadly, I’ll never know the joy of tasting any for I have no hands to stack with, no mouth to taste with, no soul to feel with.” It’s kind of like Janet from “The Good Place” with more ennui, and just before the electronic voice is about to go to a truly dark place, one of the guys pipes up: “Play ‘Funky Town.’” A master class in commercial comedic timing.
Avocados from Mexico
What lengths would you go to for the chance to feast upon some delicious avocados? For the people in this commercial, the answer is taking part in a canine show where the dogs compete alongside their owners. Kristin Chenoweth and some British guy judge. Look at those humans prance! Look at the dogs and humans sit so obediently! “We’ve got a runner,” Chenoweth says of a human who looks eerily similar to her dog. In the end, a Dumbledore-esque man and his pup win a trophy full of guacamole.
If you don’t know what autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is, this ad was probably pretty boring and confusing to you. Actress Zoe Kravitz (“Big Little Lies”) whispers into a microphone, taps her fingers on the bottle of a Michelob Ultra and pours it gently into a glass. But for people who do experience ASMR, hearing those sounds can cause them to experience full-body tingles and a sense of euphoria — which are great things to associate with a beer brand. Too often, when brands try to capitalize on weird Internet trends like this one, they fall short, but *whispers* this one seemed to work quite well.
The commercial is mostly silent, and extremely simple: Pop artist Andy Warhol unwraps a Whopper, struggles to pour out some Heinz ketchup, and eats a bite. What makes this ad remarkable is its backstory: The footage was filmed 37 years ago by director Jorgen Leth for his film “66 Scenes in America,” and the Andy Warhol Foundation gave Burger King permission to use it. Like the rest of Warhol’s art, it’s a commentary on commercialism, and he’d likely have been delighted: “Good business is the best art,” he once said. The funny thing about the ad is that Leth recalled Warhol telling him he was disappointed the burger wasn’t from McDonald’s.
A tranquil field of wheat. A farmhouse straight from a Grant Wood painting. Some soft music, some beatific lighting, and a man walking through it all, embracing his grandfather, who presents him with a brand new Audi. It seems pretty schmaltzy at first glance, but Audi commercials often have a twist: Once the man gets behind the wheel, he starts jerking around uncontrollably. He awakes to a gray cubicle in a gray office, and a round of applause for the colleague who just dislodged the cashew that was blocking his windpipe. The message: Heaven is for real, and it’s in the driver’s seat of an electric Audi. It was an example of how a Super Bowl commercial doesn’t need celebrities to be effective — just good storytelling.
With this commercial, Google highlights the remarkably heartwarming way in which its Translate feature unites people of different cultures. The most-translated phrases are “how are you,” “thank you” and “I love you,” the narrator says over gentle instrumental music and clips of people using the feature to connect with strangers all over the world. RT if u cri evrytiem.
Just when we thought we’d seen enough of the beer company’s “Dilly Dilly” commercials, which are set among knights in medieval Europe, we hear familiar and dramatic violins approach. Wait … is that the “Game of Thrones” theme? A swift dragon appearance would suggest so. Bud Light pulled off a successful and surprising partnership with HBO, and, as the New York Times’ Dave Itzkoff pointed out, gave us more “Game of Thrones” content in a single ad than George R.R. Martin has in … awhile.