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Super Bowl ads: The winning and losing commercials

Cardi B appears in a Pepsi Super Bowl

Cardi B appears in a Pepsi Super Bowl ad. Credit: AP

Dogs, celebrities, cars, digital assistants. That about sum it up?

Pretty much. We also learned that Doritos are now hot, and that Luke Wilson is a close talker. We found out that Budweiser uses wind power to make beer but we didn't find out whether that actually makes the beer any better (as if). Robots are big, mermaids almost as big. Zoë Kravitz was doing something on a tropical island. Something.

Thank you, Super Bowl LIII advertisers, we needed all that — our annual diversion from the real reason a hundred million people convene in front of TV sets this time every year. And with that, to our winners and losers:


Pepsi: A Super Bowl LIII winner — THE winner — that found both its heart and humor in the simplest of questions, repeated countless times every day: Is it OK to have a Pepsi instead of a Coke? Steve Carell, in flawless mock outrage, responds: "Are puppies OK? Are shooting stars OK? . . . " then throws the question to Lil Jon, and on to Cardi B, who both offer opinions on this profound matter in their uniquely idiosyncratic ways.

Amazon Alexa: The genius of this commercial was in the pre-release — getting it out online long before the game, where it went from infinity to beyond. "Not Everything Makes the Cut" scored some 29 million views before the game. With Forest Whitaker, Harrison Ford, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson and twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, this was about Alexa brand-extension floperoos.

Microsoft: On paper, using children with disabilities to sell a product — in this case an adaptive game controller — for one of the world's largest technology corporations probably seemed like a bad idea. On film, another matter: These kids, most of whom were missing limbs, were so full of vitality that this fourth-quarter gem reminded viewers that sometimes the best commercials aren't about the message at all. They're about the messengers.

Bud Light: And what's wrong with corn syrup anyway — other than the fact that it's used in a lot of beer, and makes it taste like stuff you should pour on pancakes? This first-quarter ad about returning the giant barrel of corn syrup to its rightful owner was terrific and funny and ridiculous and utterly nonsensical. In other words, the perfect Super Bowl ad.

NFL 100A wild melee breaks out at a party celebrating the 100th season of the NFL, and it's comically awful. You watch and cringe as bodies tumble across bodies, and cakes deflate under the weight of 300-pound players, then wince as Joe Montana steps up to throw a football to some other retiree, and finally . . . start to smile when Jim Brown and Franco Harris arrive. You wonder about all the other great players who skipped this nonsense, because of (well) injuries and the violence they endured. Then you realize: What the heck? It's more entertaining than the game.


Devour: The winner of the worst. "My boyfriend has an addiction. Ever since it started he's turned into a three-minute man." And with that, this new product from Kraft Heinz gave viewers all they needed to make a wide berth around it in the supermarket. Equating anything to pornography is invariably a bad idea but equating food to porn earns its own special spot in advertising hell, particularly during an event during which most viewers eat.

Bud Light/"Game of Thrones": Enough, enough, enough. The hype for HBO's "Game of Thrones" is so beyond the beyond right now that adding some beer suds — light, industrial-brewed beer suds, no less — is just obnoxious. That 30-second ad, as well-produced as it was, devalued the whole franchise. Even the Mountain and the dragons (the surviving ones) were embarrassed or should have been.

Olay: Why pick on poor Olay? Because how bone weary, how clichéd, how obvious was this dopey waste of Sarah Michelle Gellar — playing off her old last-century roles as the last teen to make it out alive in some horror flick? "Your skin is glowing," said the slasher. "You could be a movie star." And you should also tell your agent: Never again.

Michelob Ultra Pure GoldAdmittedly, this one could land on some best-of lists, and some worst-of lists but let's go with the worst-of here. Michelob deployed ASMR (so-called autonomous sensory meridian response — aka audio shivers up or down the spine) to engage viewers, then dis-engaged them with some of the silliest ad copy in Supe ad history: "So pure you can taste it in its organic form!" Whaa? Or ewww?


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