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The Winners and Losers of Super Bowl LIII

At no other time of year do viewers look forward to TV commercials with such ardor. Whether those ads actually work as marketing is up for debate, but the cultural spectacle of it cannot be denied. As a nation, the expectation is that we be entertained, amused, delighted by a score or two of celebrities doing especially silly or heartfelt or notable things. And, usually, we’re not disappointed.

Usually. This year’s batch of ads seemed—to us at TopRight, anyway—to be somewhat lackluster. The ones that made us laugh largely did not push the brand name strongly enough for it to stick in the mind, and those ads by the most recognizable brands (Wendy’s, Coke) left hardly any impression at all. By and large it was all kind of disappointing stuff that was in dire need of better story.

Still, there were some big winners and some mighty losers. Here’s our shortlist of the best and worst of Super Bowl LIII.

Best of the Best

  1. In one of many ads by Hyundai, Jason Bateman plays an elevator operator helping passengers get to their floors—all going down to levels with names like “Root Canal” and “Jury Duty.” When a car-shopping couple gets on and asks for Hyundai, the elevator’s direction is reversed and they step out to greet pleasantness and ease. It was a simple, clear, memorable brand story and a hilarious way to show how easy it is to buy a Hyundai. It made the Hyundai name—up to this point not all that notable—stand out.
  2. Verizon finally nailed it with their ad. For years phone service providers have given us the What—how they’re the best network with the lowest rates or the clearest signal (“Can you hear me now?”). Verizon finally captured the Why. The fact that the ad focused on football players and coaches made it relevant, too. Additionally, the option to go to the website for additional authentic stories was a great way to multiply the message.
  3. Microsoft’s ad was a touching story and a thoughtful way to combine AI, humor, and nostalgia. The commercial focused on children in need of adaptive controls for gaming, and handing the brand story off to them made the impact powerful and meaningful.
  4. The NFL ad was certainly a unique contribution. Was it a commercial, really? Something else? Not totally clear, but regardless it was fun to watch, with players from every generation. It made for a great way to connect viewers to the NFL’s history.
  5. Stella Artois used notable cultural characters to deliver a strong “change is good” message.

Worst of the Worst

  1. Rapper 2 Chainz and actor Adam Scott feature in the first TV ad for Expensify, the receipt-tracking app. A big waste of money for this first-time Super Bowl advertiser. Few will remember the brand name in this context, and the spot seemed be a case of celebrity antics overwhelming brand story. The full-length version released online represented a vast improvement to the 30-second spot, but still not great.
  2. Drinking rotten milk is the vehicle to introduce MintMobile—is that what that brand was going for? It’s still not clear from the commercial what they do or why anyone should care. All you can say is they’re the rotten milk people with an ad that will make your stomach turn. Plus, something about rotten milk and “mint” together is particularly gag inducing.
  3. Michelob’s pitch to promote Michelob Ultra Pure Gold as an organic beer may do nothing but cause some of their current customer base to switch from one Michelob to another, depending on whether they prefer “organic” (so, are the other Michelob labels inorganic?). Anyway, it will take more than Zoe Kravitz weirdly whispering into a microphone to get anyone to believe that Michelob comes from the rain forest.
  4. Pepsi’s attempt at replicating the magic of “dilly, dilly” by Budweiser. Steven Carrell says Pepsi is “more than okay,” after which Lil Jon and Cardi B bust into the room to humorous effect. The idea is that Pepsi, actually, is quite good. Really? Not a compelling brand story at all.
  5. Amazon’s ad campaign was a jumble of celebrities and freak accidents that seemed interesting at first but actually amounted to nil.

For more advice and great insights on purpose-driven brands and smart advertising, check out my new book, Marketing, Interrupted.

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