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Super Bowl commercials: The best and worst, from Budweiser to Nationwide

Nationwide, "Make Safe Happen"

Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" commercial about child safety that aired during Super Bowl XLIX was a buzz kill, to say the least.

Great game. The ads, not so much.

But winners must be chosen, and we have them.

Before we get to the list, what was so different about the ad parade of Super Bowl XLIX was the bounty that came long before -- a steady stream of teases, in lieu of pre-released ads, that hinted at something great or, at the very least, watchable. But many advertisers -- such as Squarespace, the website builder -- assumed the nation had anxiously followed Jeff Bridges' odd quest to make a sleep tape, or that McDonald's really was going to give away menu items for free, or that Mercedes-Benz really had worked out a different outcome to the Aesop's fable about the tortoise versus the hare.

The nation had not anxiously followed most of these teases (did you, Nation...)  

The result: #commercialdeflategate. (And don't get me started on hashtags in commercials.) 

 On to...

The best

1.) Budweiser: Bud reasonably wanted a worthy sequel to 2014's "Puppy Love," one of the most successful Super Bowl ads in history, and got one with "Lost Puppy." And a shrewd bit of tradecraft this one was, too -- full of that middle America iconography that Bud has commandeered in its Super Bowl advertising for the purpose of yoking all-American values to the selling of beer. Works every time, especially when puppies are deployed. The song that tracked, by the way, was "I'm Gonna be (500 Miles)" by . . . a Scottish band, The Proclaimers.

2.) Coke: Long before the game, the soda giant teased a campaign to make the Internet a "happy" place -- about as realistic as making the ocean salt-free. So, sure, skepticism was justified, but Coke's ad -- guy spills his drink on the server, happiness spreads -- effectively defused that. This was an instance of the teasing actually working, at least for those who had been paying attention to the teases.

3.) Always: This commercial, with the tag, "Rewrite the rules," aired during halftime, but actually had a nearly four-minute online version that was even better. Unfortunately, the 30-second version didn't fully capture the power of that four-minute movie, but the spirit remains -- words matter. Think before you say them, and then think again about why you thought of them. A winner.

4.) Carnival: The cruise giant was a Super Bowl ad rookie, and it did not waste the opportunity -- a clean, elegant, evocative, beautifully produced ad with a voice-over by John F. Kennedy, who, in September 1962, offered an ode to the ocean, in advance of an America's Cup race. Little did he know, or could, that he would be selling a cruise liner more than half a century later.

5.) Snickers: Humor wasn't all that big Sunday night, or big enough, but Snickers managed to capture the best of it, at least before the half. Danny Trejo as Marcia and Steve Buscemi as Jan, of "The Brady Bunch"? Who saw this coming? Trejo's "Marcia" had gone viral days ago, but Buscemi as Jan was the great surprise here, and it worked perfectly. A winner, all 30 seconds of it.

The worst:

1.) Nationwide: Both the Mindy Kaling one but especially the one about the Boy Who Will Never Grow Old -- and we're not talking about Peter Pan here, either. Nationwide = Nationwide buzzkill. It was such a bummer that the company had to release a statement explaining that it was not actually trying to sell insurance, but...who  knew what it was trying to do. This was a disaster.  

2.) Esurance: Only on a matter of principle more than anything else. Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad," one of the greatest actors in TV history, in a dumb ad making fun of his greatest triumph? Life's too short for this kind of nonsense. Lindsay Lohan's starring turn actually arrived just before the game, at 6:29, and it was better than this. In fact -- getting beyond  the fact that a Lohan ad making fun of her driving misadventures is in abominable taste -- she was not bad at all. Not an endorsement, mind you, but not bad. Cranston devaluing his work is...bad. 

3.) Cure Auto. Right before the half, this idiocy arrived -- a knuckleheaded attempt to make light of "DeflateGate," and, just to add insult to the original injury, the first 15-second execution is followed up with an apology, with this hashtag: #LeaveYourBallsAlone.

4.) Mercedes-Benz:  Tortoise versus hare. Another one of those commercials that had been preceded by mountains of online teases promising at the very least a resolution to the ancient question of whether the hare actually does win this race after all. Instead.... 

5.) Squarespace: Consider this opportunity squandered, at least by the half (and uncertain whether a longer commercial aired during the second half, but I don't think so). The online teases with Bridges were amusing, interesting and unique...a pre-somnolent Big Lebowski wandering the woods in search of sounds that would put him and you to sleep.. But the one we watched before the first half literally put viewers to sleep.

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