Larry David in FTX commercial, 2022.

Larry David in FTX commercial, 2022. Credit: FTX

For better or worse, commercials have long been part of the Super Bowl experience, and often the most memorable part, too. Every year, fans and pundits decide on their favorites. Occasionally, they even agree on choices.

As Super Bowl LVII arrives Sunday evening, we finally settle the question (and settle some scores): What have been the best and worst of the 21st century? There have been some outstanding commercials this century, albeit many far less so. A few approach (and approach only) the most memorable in game day history — Coke’s “Hey, Kid, Catch” (starring Pittsburgh defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene, Super Bowl XIV, 1980) and “1984” (Apple Macintosh’s iconic launch in 1984’s XVIII).

In  descending order, here are the 10 worst — and 10 best — of the 21st century:



10. Larry David: FTX (2022)

Larry David in FTX commercial, 2022.

Larry David in FTX commercial, 2022. Credit: FTX

"They call it … the wheel," begins this once-celebrated ad with "LD" for FTX, the now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange and hedge fund. LD looks at the wheel, then says, "Eh, I don't think so." As a succession of world-famous inventions follow, Larry continues to dismiss them (forks, coffee, and so on). The overall message is that FTX and crypto has also revolutionized our world as we know it, so why be a party pooper? In fact, this was one of the most memorable ads of last year's game. Then, the bankruptcy happened, and hindsight offered a different interpretation. So in hindsight, it seems fair to call this ad not merely embarrassing but a terrible idea, too.

9. Audi: "Godfather" (2008)

 Audi "Godfather" Super Bowl commercial (2008).

 Audi "Godfather" Super Bowl commercial (2008). Credit: Audi

This ad parody of the famous horse's head scene from "The Godfather" starred Alex Rocco (Moe Greene in the movie)  as Jack Woltz, the movie mogul who disrespected Vito Corleone. In the commercial, he slowly lifts his sheets to reveal an oil-splattered car grill, followed by the tagline, "Old luxury has been put on notice." Designed to introduce its new R8 (price tag: $109,000), this was Audi's first Super Bowl ad in 20 years. According to a company marketing exec, the idea was to portray "old luxury as excessive extravagance" while also conveying the message that "Audi is not about excess, it's about substance." In fact, this was all about excess — the car company paid "Godfather" studio Paramount about a $1 million licensing fee — and the message conveyed was ridiculous.

8. Hummer: "Monsters" (2006)

Let's see if we've got this right: A Godzilla and a giant robot are demolishing a city, when they come face to grill and then fall in love? Cue to the pregnant 'Zilla, then to the … BABY? Which happens to be a Hummer. The YouTube comments say it all: "Watching this commercial for the first time was the most awkward moment I have ever experienced."

7. Febreze: "Halftime Bathroom Break" (2017)

The voice-over does pretty much say it all here: "I love you halftime bathroom break! … After two quarters of guzzling and slurping, gnawing and dripping … We do the unthinkable — head to the stalls." In fact, maybe the voice-over doesn't do it all: The sound effects (grunting) and the visuals (squatting people) that follow did force some people into the bathroom after watching but not for the reason Febreze says. Couldn't Febreze have done what every other advertiser seems to do — get a puppy instead?


6. Career Builders: "Follow your heart" (2008)

Career Builders Follow your heart Super Bowl commercial (2008)

Career Builders Follow your heart Super Bowl commercial (2008) Credit: Career Builders

Everyone has a different idea about what's "funny" when it comes to Super Bowl ads, but everyone can at least agree that there's a fine line between what's funny and what's horrific.This witless ad  features a heart popping out of the chest of an unhappy desk worker, which then hops over to the boss' office, where it announces, "I quit." The message is "follow your heart" (get it? who doesn't?) but the image is straight out of John Carpenter or Tobe Hooper.

5. Miller Lite: "Cat Fight" (2003)

 Miller Light: Cat Fight commercial.

 Miller Light: Cat Fight commercial. Credit: Miller Brewing Company

Let's set the scene. There are two young women debating that question which once seemed to consume all of commercial sports television back in the last century — Taste great? Or less filling? — and unable to resolve the matter, they get into a fight. Soon, their clothes are torn off and they fall into a vat of wet concrete. A man off to the side who witnesses says to his friend, "this would make a great commercial." He adds, "I've got an idea for the ending." Cue to the combatants, one of whom says, "let's make out." Enough said. More than enough.


4. GoDaddy: "Broadcast hearing" (2005)

Back in the aughts, everyone's worst-ad-of-the-game pick always seemed to go to some GoDaddy atrocity (alas, GoDaddy has been absent in recent years). But infamy was exactly what Go Daddy was reaching for. When the Tempe, AZ.-based domain registrar and web hosting company released its first ad in 2005, the outrage was almost reflexive (how COULD they!?) After that, GoDaddy then became a part of the "conversation" around Super Bowl ad quality, and often the liveliest part of that conversation (Danica Patrick? How could she?) The ads are meant to be offensive and (well) mission accomplished. I rest my case with this early one, believed to be the first.


3. Bud Light: "Rocket Sleigh" (2005)

A couple are out for a romantic sleigh ride, when the young swain holds up a candle. At the moment when he prepares to pour a glass of Bud for his paramour, the horse pulling the sleigh lifts its tail and … well, let's just say the horse did what horses do. An explosion of gas ignites the candle, thus providing the punchline, or at least comic-horror visual — a pan-seared young woman with blown-out hair. Yet still, remarkably, people bought Bud Light after watching this.


2. Devour: "Frozen food porn" (2019)

It's hard to adequately convey the sheer dreadfulness of this ad, which begins with the line "my boyfriend is addicted to frozen food porn," then deteriorates dramatically. We get a supercut of a guy who (we are told by his girlfriend) "watches it two to three times a day," and she then opens up his "hidden stash," which includes a magazine with pages stuck together. How could this get made? Seriously, how?


1. SalesGenie: Panda bears' "100 Free Sales" (2008)

It takes a special kind of talent to create an ad that debases Asians, panda bears, the entire animation industry, and a hundred (or so) million Super Bowl viewers who must have experienced this in slack-jawed wonder. The ad was about a pair of panda bears who spoke — in what someone presumed to be a Chinese accent — about their dying furniture business, which they then turned around with some sales leads from SalesGenie. The ineffable awfulness of this ad underscores its distinction as the worst Super Bowl ad of the century so far.



10. Snickers: Betty White (2010)

Betty White in Snickers Super Bowl commercial (2010).

Betty White in Snickers Super Bowl commercial (2010). Credit: Snickers

Much like its star, this Snickers ad has now reached iconic status, largely based on what might be called an effective surprise element — Betty gets tackled in a game of pickup football. Visually, that would present a significant problem, unless Betty hadn't returned to the huddle with a famous comeback line. One player tells her that "you're playing like Betty White out there." Betty: "That's not what your girlfriend says." Another TV legend, Abe Vigoda gets tackled in this game. His response: "That hurt."


9. Chrysler: "Imported From Detroit Featuring Eminem" (2011)

The 2011 Super Bowl was a good year for commercials — obviously with this one, and "The Force," but in some respects, this one especially. It begins with these words --"What does a town that's been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? Well, I'll tell ya. More than most" — while the famous chords of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" start to merge with the message. Eminem then appears to wrap it all up with this: "This is the Motor City. And this is what we do." What this ad did was sell the Chrysler 2000, but what it did especially well was read the room. The Great Recession had ground down the U.S. car industry, and with it, Detroit. But this ad was the Super Bowl version of a call-to-arms. It wildly succeeded, at least on an emotional level.

8. Coca-Cola: "The Heist" (2009)

Great Super Bowl ads tell stories in imagery and music, and it's hard to think of one that more perfectly manages the balance than this one (except for "Coke Celebrates Black History Month"): A man falls asleep in a bucolic country setting, while insects "heist" a Coke bottle by his side. When he awakes, he reaches for the bottle, which turns into a kaleidoscope of butterflies; the "March" from Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf '' both tracks and propels the action. A wonder of advertising and movie magic in miniature.


7. Linux: "Shake up the World" (2005)

A kid in a white room stares into a TV set where he is watching old footage of Muhammad Ali (" … ain't nobody gonna stop me … I shook up the world!!!"). Suddenly, the set is replaced by Ali himself: "Shake things up. Shake up the world." The kicker, "the future is open." Indeed, the open-source operating system is now the largest in the world (thanks in part to Android, which is based on the Linux operating system). There's something especially powerful about a commercial that promises to shake up the world — and does.


6. Budweiser: "Lost Dog" (2015)

 Budweiser '"Lost Dog" Super Bowl commercial (2015)

 Budweiser '"Lost Dog" Super Bowl commercial (2015) Credit: Budweiser

Think puppy. Think lost puppy. Think lost adorable puppy. Think whatever kind of puppy you like, but Bud scored a crowd-pleaser that had absolutely nothing to do with beer (as usual) but everything to do with cuteness. Here's the setup: A puppy gets lost, is then cornered by a much bigger dog, and — because this is a Bud ad — is saved when four Clydesdales come to its rescue. None of this makes much sense, nor is it supposed to, really. What matters is that emotional impact. This one impacted just about right.


5. E-Trade: "Talking baby" (2008)

 E-trade talking baby Super Bowl commercial (2008)

 E-trade talking baby Super Bowl commercial (2008) Credit: E-trade

Digital discount broker E-Trade has cornered the market on talking babies in commercials — its last one aired on last year's Super Bowl — but the most memorable of them all was the first, in Super Bowl XLII (Giants vs. Patriots, as you'll recall.) "I just look young," says the baby, who goes on to buy some stocks. "If I can do it" — burp — "you can do it." The baby then regurgitates a bit of his last meal. "Whaa," he says. The effectiveness of this wasn't just the surprise (talking baby) but that kicker. A baby is as a baby does.


4. Volkswagen: "The Force" (2011)

 Volkswagen Darth Vader Super Bowl commercial (2011).

 Volkswagen Darth Vader Super Bowl commercial (2011). Credit: Volkswagen

So much has been said about this most famous of 21st century Super Bowl ads — "The Ad that Changed Super Bowl Commercials Forever," thundered Time — that it's easy to forget why it was so effective. "The Force" was the first Super Bowl commercial to be "prereleased" before the big game, which allowed millions of people to see it on their computers or phones before it aired. What they saw was a little boy in a Darth Vader costume striding around his house, attempting to move various inanimate objects with "the force" — that magical, mystical element that binds together all of life and the cosmos itself, as "Star Wars" fans know so well. But failing, he finally goes out to his father's car, a new Passat, and tries once again. Witnessing this from a window, his father presses a key fob and — presto — the car appears to come to life. The basics of storytelling — conflict and resolution — are wrapped up in a one-minute mini-masterpiece, while the payoff turns out to be a genuine payoff which is exceedingly rare in Super Bowl ads.


3. Coke Celebrates Black History Month (2007)

This one featured a track by Smokey Hormel that accompanies a succession of milestones in Black history — like "Tuskegee, 1941" "Pilots Prove Heroism has no color" — each accessorized with a Coke bottle evolving through the years. You almost don't notice the bottles until you do, thus bonding a brand to a series of triumphs. Did Coke actually have anything to do with these milestones in BBBlackistory? Hardly, but the ad was so effective and so evocative that to ask almost seems churlish.


2. Chrysler "Motor City Is fighting back — Halftime in America" (2012)

: Chrysler's post-halftime "Motor City is fighting back." Halftime in...

: Chrysler's post-halftime "Motor City is fighting back." Halftime in America with Clint Eastwood. Credit: Chrysler

Welcome to the sequel to 2011's "Made in Detroit," and far and away the more famous of the two. Clint Eastwood's sandpaper-rough voice-over grounded this in a way that no celebrity commercial endorsement has before or since. You didn't need to see Eastwood say lines like "all that matters now is what's ahead … how do we come together … Detroit is showing it can get done." All you needed was Clint in your head (easy enough to do after a half-century career). Was this a campaign speech or car commercial? When Eastwood finally appeared, he closed with this "Yeah, it's halftime, America, and our second half is about to begin." Perhaps it was both. A huge winner, "Halftime" even earned a Bill Hader "SNL" parody as proof.


1. Pepsi: "Forever Young" (2009)

Even in 2009, the debate — "has Bob Dylan sold out?" — was a lively one, while this great ad threw more logs on the fire. Yes, he had sold out but we've all long since moved on, allowing us to appreciate Pepsi's "Forever Young" in a whole new light. The genius of this ad was to incorporate a track from Dylan's original cut of 1973's "Forever Young'' along with a cover by, which served to reinforce the power of the tagline, "Every generation [beat] refreshes the world." The song itself serves as kind of a benediction to eternal youth ("may your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung.") The message was pure, undiluted optimism. If only all Super Bowl ads were this good.

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