Super Bowl LI may have been full of surprises, but the commercials? Not so much. It was a lackluster year with many forgettable ads. (It didn’t help that several of the Super Bowl’s most reliably funny advertisers, including Doritos and Butterfingers, dropped out.) Other advertisers — with the exception of a few that were motivated to tackle the recent immigration order head-on — seemed disinclined to take risks. It’s been a fraught couple of months, so perhaps that’s why this year’s commercials seemed a little more tepid than usual.
There were a dozen interchangeably bland car commercials (every single Alfa Romeo spot) and celebrity cameos that probably weren’t worth the money (here’s looking at you, Miranda Kerr). Worst of all: There weren’t even any cute animals. But these five commercials were funny, poignant and memorable.
Christopher Walken is always a good sign. It took three millennials about 10 seconds to figure out that the legendary actor was reciting the lyrics to ’N Sync’s 2000 hit “Bye Bye Bye.” Then the camera flashed to ’N Sync alum Justin Timberlake and we squealed like the high schoolers we were 17 years ago. Get it? It’s a Bai ad! This commercial is particularly impressive given the borderline offensive dud the low-calorie, antioxidant beverage company delivered during last year’s Super Bowl. Way to rebound, Bai!
This was really sweet and innovative. Honda turned old celebrity photos into yearbook-like shots in a salute to dreamers — and so that Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Amy Adams, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Steve Carell, Missy Elliott, Stan Lee, Jimmy Kimmel and Viola Davis could give us some advice. Even in yearbook format, the stars were true to their personal brands. Robert Redford’s female classmates swooned as the actor told us to stay focused. “If you want to make an album, make an album,” Missy said. Tina Fey poked fun at the random red rose she was holding in her photo. Steve Carell rhetorically asked his classmates if they ever thought he would make it. (Darryl Chalk, for the record, did not.) “If you want to play the clarinet, maybe don’t dress like this, but play the clarinet,” advised the ever self-deprecating Jimmy Kimmel.
We were happy to see comedian Kristen Schaal in this clever “Fifty Shades of Grey” spoof. She was led into a dimly lit room by a male suitor who told her he’d “been saving something special for” her. The surprise turned out to be Verizon phones. “Every time you go over your data limit, you get punished,” he said. “But I love streaming movies,” she said. “Punished,” he reminded her with a crack of his whip. “I love getting hit with surprise fees!” (Punished.)
“Wait till you see how confusing and painful the bill is,” the guy said as things were about to get really steamy. The kicker: “Wireless pain is fine if you’re into that sort of thing.” Bonus points for the background song: Nao’s “Bad Blood.”
T-Mobile resurfaced in another commercial (dubbed #NSFWireless) that featured Schaal making one Verizon employee very uncomfortable during a call about her overages and the resulting taxes and fees. What are you gonna do to me? Am I gonna get punished?
We’re not going to lie, it was good for us.
It was one of the most polarizing commercials in the Super Bowl: you either loved it, or took to Twitter to call for a boycott. But regardless of how well it aligned with your political beliefs, Budweiser’s retelling of its origin tale — which showed immigrant Adolphus Busch journeying to America to seek a better life — was a (dramatized) true story. It was well-timed to our political conversation and, most importantly for an advertisement, it got everyone talking.
Avocados from Mexico
So, there’s a secret society that keeps track of little-known facts — apparently there are only 49 shades of gray, and we faked the moon landing. Among the “secrets” they let slip? Avocados have good fat, and a thing called subliminal advertising exists. It’s why Jon Lovitz is there to tell us to eat more avocados. Could there also be an underlying political statement here since the avocados are, you know, from Mexico? Or since Americans would need to buy 25 billion of them to pay for President Trump’s proposed border wall? You decide.