If watching the Super Bowl is one of America's most beloved pastimes, then getting excited about its TV commercials is surely one of our weirdest. We're at the point now when companies release teasers for their advertisements in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, and we accept this practice with the sort of resigned acceptance we usually reserve for new Spider-Man movies. But if the ads for Super Bowl XLIX (ex licks) could be boiled down to a few trends, they'd be this: Dads, trucks, prosthetic limbs, women presented as human beings, alt-comedy, and sadness. So, the same trends as every year. But it's that last one that was noticeably more prominent this time. See, historically Super Bowl commercial breaks have been America's third favorite sketch comedy show (after SNL and Geico ads), but this year's commercials trended into shockingly emo territory. But if you're like us and love emo things, then this was not a bad thing! (Well, mostly.) Let's get into what worked what didn't in this year's newest batch of billion dollar advertisements.
1. Dove — "Calls For Dad"
Having a dad is awesome sometimes. This is not a very controversial stance on Dove's part. But what totally works here are all the different contexts and meanings behind someone calling out for their father. This ad is a sucker punch directly to our hearts and Dove knows it, so, good job, Dove. Is the message that men make great fathers only after they've showered and perfumed up their nether-regions with body wash? Unclear. But up until we have to actually consider the product this ad is selling, it's one of the simplest, most emotional short films I've seen recently.
2. Toyota Camry — "How Great I Am"
Like the Men's Dove commercial, this one is so gorgeous that it makes you almost grateful that a major corporation would spend the money to make it. In it, prosthetically enhanced Amy Purdy competes and models and dances and LIVES, all while scored to Muhammed Ali's inspiring words about wrestling whales and whatnot. Unlike the similar Microsoft ad which seemed to take credit for making a child amputee's life better, this one simply shows Amy Purdy being awesome and hopes to associate its mid-level sedan with that kind of positivity. Inoffensive and maybe even meaningful, this is one car ad that actually works.
3. T-Mobile — "See More Kim"
Credit where credit's due: Occasionally Kim Kardashian seems in on the joke. This is an expertly written and executed riff on those super serious celebrity PSAs, and it absolutely nails the ludicrousness of Kardashian's celebrity. Not to mention an entire grad school dissertation could be written about its clever satire of Internet and celebrity culture. And dare I say: This ad makes Kim Kardashian seem very cool and likable? What is happening?
4. Mountain Dew — "Come Alive"
Sometimes there's a fine line between comedy and NIGHTMARE, and this ad absolutely swan-dives into the nightmare zone. Apparently there is a new beverage that will cause you and your friends to twerk while undead taxidermied animals burst through the wall to join you? Who on earth would want this to happen? What kind of decent and merciful God would allow this? Doesn't matter. Let's all buy some Mountain Dew Kickstart ASAP.
5. Clash of Clans — "Liam Neeson"
We're currently living in the golden age of Liam Neeson's late-period badass phase, and this ad absolutely plays into the self-parody he so often verges on. Putting aside the idea that someone of his star-caliber would actually appear in a commercial for a game app, it's still really well-written and, of course, expertly performed. I mean, come on. It's Liam F--king Neeson.
6. Skittles — "Settle It"
Ever since Too Many Cooks made the world safe for alt-comedy, the brands that have been trafficking in this type of thing all along suddenly feel more relevant than ever. The premise of this Skittles ad — a small western town that settles everything via arm wrestling — is so astonishingly dumb that it's actually clever. The fact that nobody ever says the words "arm wrestling" is ridiculous enough, but it's the idea that anybody in the world would prefer a YELLOW Skittle that is the height of absurdity. I mean, come on. Yellow?
7. NoMore.org — Domestic Violence PSA
Of the game's two most controversial ads (the other, a Nationwide ad we'll talk about in a minute), this one skirted the line of shock value but still worked. Its power lay in what felt like the beginning of a comedic setup — a woman trying to order pizza via 911 — and then revealed the slow-burn horror of what it must be like to live in constant threat of domestic violence. Effective, chilling, and memorable, this PSA accomplished everything it needed to. That it aired during one of the year's most testosterone-worshipping events felt borderline subversive. Well done.
8. Always — "Like a Girl"
Another bracingly memorable ad was this Always spot which posited that perhaps we as a society use the phrase "like a girl" too often as an epithet. Because we do! And in a strongly phrased but not overly heavy-handed moment, it asserts that maybe girls' constant exposure to these less-than comparisons harms them once they enter adolescence. Sounds simplistic, sure, but message received.
9. Loctite — Fanny Packs
But enough of these serious ads — let's talk about the craziest, most Tim & Eric ad of the night: Loctite! Directed by Tim & Eric themselves (accept no substitutes), it went light on the Loctite and heavy on the subtle absurdity that the comedy duo have been perfecting on Adult Swim for years. Sometimes the point of an ad is less to sell a product and more to just get you to remember the product's name. I will remember Loctite now. God bless Tim & Eric.
10. Mophie — God's phone
Basically, God's phone dies and the world ends. There are one million delightful things going on in nearly every frame of this thing, but the casting of God Himself is by far the best part. I had a FEELING that's what he'd look like.
11. Budweiser — "Lost Dog"
What kind of monster didn't get chills at this reprehensibly manipulative ad? A lost puppy goes all Homeward Bound to get back to his model-hot farmer, and a pack of Clydesdales saves him from a wolf while a syrupy-slow cover of The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" plays? It's fine to not like this commercial — it is, after all a paid advertisement for carbonated gutter water — but get real. It's so heartwarming it burns.
1. Nationwide — "Boy Can't Grow"
Dear Nationwide, F--KKKKK YOUUUUUUUU.
2. Microsoft — "Empowering Us All"
Combining three of the night's biggest trends — prosthetic limbs, children, and sadness — this Microsoft ad would like us to believe that it occasionally takes breaks from selling trillions of dollars' worth of terrible software so that it can make young amputees' lives better. Sure, whatever you say, guys.
3. Mercedes-Benz — "Fable"
Sorry, but that tortoise is a goddamn CHEATER. Also, at some point computer animation became so detailed and expensive-looking that it verges on creepy. Plus why even bother with one of the world's hoariest parables and then change the moral of the story? This is what happens when "comedy" is developed and approved by 14 dozen people. Confusing and meaningless.
4. Kia Sorento — "The Perfect Getaway"
Hollywood is always overestimating the general public's interest in Hollywood-behind-the-scenes stuff. But in this case this ad doesn't even make sense. Why is Pierce Brosnan's agent pitching him a story idea? And sure, the joke is that the pitch does not match up with Brosnan's imagination, but in that case what exactly is the agent pitching him, if not a Pierce Brosnan movie? A Kia Sorento ad? I just don't get it, sorry. (Also, the idea that Pierce Brosnan might turn down a movie offer is such wishful thinking it borders on poignancy.)
5. Chevrolet — "You Know You Want a Truck"
Hey Chevrolet, to whom are you actually speaking when you declare "You know you want a truck"? Because I do not want a truck! And I live in Los Angeles, much like the smarmy douchebag in this ad who uses his enormous Hummer-with-a-flatbed to tear up the streets of downtown L.A. The two sequel ads you aired after this didn't help matters either; just because "regular women" are more sexually attracted to men who drive pickups is not a reason for men to buy trucks, but for men to maybe stop using the purchase of enormous vehicles to exude confidence. But that probably wouldn't be great for your business model.
6. Carl's Jr. — "Charlotte McKinney All-Natural"
Okay, yes, fine, a naked lady. That is pretty high up there when it comes to entertainment value. But she's walking around a farmer's market naked like some kind of crazed sex offender and her naughty bits are covered up by fruit like it's a cut-scene from a third-rate Austin Powers rip-off. Anyway, I'm glad there's an all-natural option at Carl's Jr. now, but I resent the brutal reminder that the rest of the menu is full of poison. Stop ruining my love for Carl's Jr., Carl's Jr.!
What were YOUR favorite and least favorite ads?