It’s possible that the worst Super Bowl commercial to air this year was the moment when one didn’t. In the first half, NBC aired a black screen for about 30 seconds, confusing viewers. It probably was an expensive error, too: A 30-second spot in the game costs about $5 million. NBC attributed the error to a “brief equipment failure.”
But hey, a blank screen may have been preferable to some of these commercials. The good news: This year’s Super Bowl commercials managed to avoid blatant sexism and homophobia. Race, though, was a stickier issue, with one commercial angering viewers for using a civil rights icon’s words. Other commercials just whiffed it: They were derivative, they made us cringe, or they didn’t make the most of a golden celebrity cameo. Here are five that missed the mark.
The voice-over for this Dodge Ram commercial featured the words of a sermon by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who the commercial notes spoke on this day 50 years ago. “Recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant,” King says in the commercial, which leans heavily on images of Americana — football and fishermen and cowboys. “That’s your new definition of greatness — it means that everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
But using King’s words to sell cars did not go over well. Many people were outraged that the company commercialized King’s words, and they dragged Dodge on social media for using them in the commercial.
It’s not the first time King’s often litigious estate has approved a commercial using his words or image. Our colleague Paul Farhi wrote about a 2010 Mercedes-Benz commercial that earned criticism for using footage of King. A Dodge spokesman told BuzzFeed that “the Ram brand worked closely with the representatives of the Martin Luther King Jr. estate to receive the necessary approvals and estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process.”
Cringe cringe cringe cringe. We’re pretty sure Diet Coke thought that this manic pixie dream girl dancing awkwardly with her Twisted Mango-flavored soda would be endearing. Instead, it just makes you feel kind of bad for her, in a “bless your heart” sort of way.
Bud Light introduced viewers to the “Dilly Dilly” universe, clearly inspired by “Game of Thrones,” in ads that began airing in August. It’s awful, awful. The catchphrase made its way into two Super Bowl spots, in one of which the Bud Knight interrupts a medieval king delivering a mid-battle pep talk. “Time to do what must be done,” our husky-voiced knight proclaims, and the outnumbered subjects assume this means he’ll help them fight the enemy. Alas, he’s just running to ye olde convenience shoppe to buy some beer for a friend’s birthday. He does end up zapping a light beam into the air with his sword, and we’re meant to assume this means the subjects are saved.
Bud Light, stop trying to make “Dilly Dilly” happen. It’s not going to happen.
Pepsi used to have fun, fizzy commercials with pop stars and dancing and energy. But this commercial relied on a wearying Super Bowl commercial formula, which is: Young people use this product. Old people use this product. People have used this product for a long time. Everyone uses this product! They trotted out Cindy Crawford, who used to be one of their most reliable pitchwomen — again. And although a thousand teenage crushes on her son, Presley Gerber, may have begun tonight, this commercial felt derivative and, well, old. At least it was better than the tone-deaf Kendall Jenner ad, though.
The inside joke here is that star Tiffany Haddish went viral earlier this year for telling a long, hilarious story on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” about the time she used a Groupon to go on a swamp tour with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. But this commercial captured none of that humor and instead relied on a cheap crotch shot. It felt like a wasted opportunity. The Kimmel clip is a far better Groupon ad than this.