Back by popular demand, here's my annual list of winners and losers from this year's roundup of Super Bowl advertisements...
Most Relevant Message for 2022: Expedia Stuff
I don't want to spoil the powerful message of this spot before you see it... so just watch it.
It's a message that's been particularly resonating with me over the past few years, and that's even before the COVID lockdowns began. And I suspect it will resonate with a lot more people as we look forward to 2022 and beyond.
My one critique of this spot is that the message could apply to any travel (or any "experience") company, so I'm not sure anybody will remember this as an "Expedia" spot.
And if they don't, that's not good advertising, no matter how much I may have personally liked the message being shared.
Runner-Up: Cue Health - Meet Cue Home COVID Test. You know COVID has officially become normalized when a "smart home COVID test" is advertising at the Super Bowl.
Least Believable Ad: Tonal - Strength Made Me: Serena Williams
I like this spot because it focuses on the actual product being advertised, even though it uses a mega superstar athlete to do it.
It shows Tonal as a sleek, technologically advanced piece of fitness equipment that doesn't take up a lot of space in your home... even in a cavernous home gym like the one depicted in the ad.
My only problem? I'm not convinced Serena Williams actually uses a Tonal.
If she actually does, then I would have declared that in a subtitle. Something like, "This is actually Serena Williams' home." or "Serena Williams uses Tonal. You should too."
If she doesn't? Then even as incredible as Ms. Williams is as an athlete, influencer, and (by all accounts) person... she should never have been featured in this ad.
Best use of Nostalgia: Peacock - "Bel-Air with Will Smith" It took me about five seconds of watching this pot before my body started grooving to the beat on autopilot.
This ad is a beautiful update of a song that many, many people from my generation know and love, but you don't need to know the song to appreciate the music, and the diversity of artists performing it.
I'd be shocked if anybody didn't watch this ad from start to finish, and pay complete attention throughout.
And I'll bet it gets more than a few people considering a Peacock subscription too.
Worst use of Nostalgia: GM - Dr. EV-il
Let me start by saying that I loved all of "Austin Powers" films, and I think Mike Myers is a Canadian national treasure.
So when I saw Dr. Evil was back for a Super Bowl ad, I was excited!
Until I watched it...
The jokes throughout will make you smile if you're into Austin-Powers-humour... but they distract from the overall promotion of GM's Ultium Platform, which is discussed for literally four seconds in this 60-second spot. That's not a great product:other ratio in my books.
Given how important electric vehicles are to GM's future -- and how behind they are in the category from market leader Tesla -- they should have used their Super Bowl time to highlight the merits of what they're offering in the category, not rehashing jokes from 2002.
By the way. GM wasn't the only car company promoting its electric vehicles during this year's Super Bowl. But BMW's Zeus and Hera spot did a much better job.
Most Effective Use of Humour: Uber Don't Eats
This "Uber Don't Eats" ad is a great example of a company that uses humour to enhance the ad instead of detracting from it. (GM could learn a thing or two from UberEats...)
Before watching this spot, I didn't know that UberEats also delivered non-edible items like aluminum foil, diapers, and dish soap... and now I do.
And I'm willing to bet Ad Recall will be off the charts for this spot because the humour was used to underscore that message.
Best joke of the spot: Gweneth Paltrow eating her candle at 0:13 and responding with an "Oooh!" That's amazingly bold for a Super Bowl ad and laugh-out-loud funny if you've read anything about that particular candle.
Second Best joke of the spot: the legal lines throughout, informing people that these non-edible items are not actually to be eaten. Um... those were supposed to be jokes, right? I mean, we didn't actually have to tell people this stuff, right??
Best Use of Music in a Commercial: Pepsi - The Call
Actually, it's not just the music... I loved everything about this spot EXCEPT the opening. (Unless I'm mistaken -- and I watched the beginning of this spot several times in slow motion, so I don't think I am -- that appears to be a Queen moving like a Knight, from a white space to a black one on the next row. That's not allowed. And if you're going to use chess in anything, you should know the basic rules of the game.)
Chess faux-pas aside, this ad has big-name artists, wonderful settings, and great music.
And even though this spot is advertising the Pepsi Halftime show (NOT Pepsi's products), the products still manage to get some decent airtime in this 3:48 commercial. And I hesitate even calling it a "commercial"; at that length, it's almost a full-on music video, isn't it?
Biggest Missed Opportunity Ad: Google - Lizzo in Real Tone
Anyone who has read me for any amount of time knows that I'm a big fan of Google as a company and as an advertiser.
But this is the first Google ad that I've been disappointed with in... well, possibly ever.
Not because of the product being advertised; the technology that makes Real Tone possible is both incredible and long overdue.
Not because of the message; the message is brilliant, beautiful, and critically important.
And not because of the music; this song is hauntingly beautiful.
What disappoints me is that I'm not sure the "too dark" photos shown at the beginning of the ad do the Real Tone technology justice. Why not show a side-by-side comparison of the beautiful Real Tone photos with what the same photos look like taken with another phone's camera?
Although the two are not mutually exclusive, marketing is about selling products, not winning awards. And the opportunity not to drive home, without a shadow of a doubt, just how breakthrough this technology is just because it might not have looked as visually appealing? That's a miss in my books.
Most Puzzling Ad: Meta - Old Friends. New Fun.
The first time I watched this ad, my initial reaction was, "WTF did I just watch?"
But the second time I watched this ad... I had the same reaction.
In fairness, I'm not sure you can expect anything more from an ad focusing on the Metaverse, since our collective reaction to what THAT is supposed to be might also be described as "WTF?"
And if you think I'm being harsh there, consider the small print at the 0:44 mark, shortly after we first get a look at this magical Metaverse: "Screen images simulated and not representative of current product. User experience will vary." So... you're advertising something that might or might not actually exist in the future? Got it.
I get what the ad was trying to say and do: the MetaQuest2 is a new way to have fun with your existing ("old") friends. I'll even admit I chuckled a bit at the end of this spot.
But I'm not convinced that the average user who wasn't already aware of the headpiece-formerly-known-as-Oculus will understand the call to action is to buy a MetaQuest unit, and not a ticket to a virtual realm where giant puppets will play you music.
And I'm absolutely baffled about the "blink and you'll miss it" image that flashes for two seconds (literally!) at the very end... when it tells you that you can watch a Super Bowl After Show in VR with the FooFighters! So wait, you're saying that you're hosting a FREE Foo Fighters concert, and we can watch it from the front row? Well, why the *%#& did you bother with the dog puppet and his friends instead of focusing the entire ad on all MetaQuest users coming together to watch that experience?? Sigh...
Worst use of a Celebrity: Squarespace - 'Sally's Seashells starring Zendaya"
Celebrity critique aside, I really like this spot; it very clearly outlines the benefit that Squarespace offers for entrepreneurs looking to grow their business: an easy-to-build website.
But... why Zendaya?
I'd completely understand using her for the spot and then leveraging her celebrity or talents to the fullest, because she's amazing! I'd also understand going in the exact opposite direction and casting an unknown actor in the spot to achieve the same effect at presumably a much lower cost. But to cast the incredibly talented Zendaya in a commercial and then give her exactly one word to say ("Shucks!") seems like a massive waste of her time and talent... it's as if the only reason this happened was because the SquareSpace VP of Marketing really, really wanted to meet Zendaya.
Also, who recognized the voice of the narrator as that of Andre 3000? I didn't, until I stumbled across a Squarespace ad stating as much. That's another celebrity that's being underutilized relative to what it likely cost to get him involved... he's got a great voice, sure, but is it distinctive enough to warrant the cost. More importantly, why not just allow Zendaya to narrate the spot herself?
Again, I really like this spot. But when you compare it to the Squarespace Super Bowl spot from last year, where featuring Dolly Parton made sense given the "9 to 5" creative concept, this year's spot feels underwhelming.
Runner-Up: TurboTax - Matchmaker
I understand what this Intuit TurboTax ad is trying to say with their "MatchMaker" spot... but it's just plain bizarre. Not in that amazing, innovative, funny way that Super Bowl ads can be bizarre and capture our minds and hearts. It's distractingly bizarre: the odd visuals detract from the message.
In fact, it's so distracting that I barely noticed Will Arnett, who's in the ad for literally four seconds (I checked) out of a 45-second spot. Again, why would you hire a well-known celebrity for a Super Bowl spot and then use him for less than 10% of it?
I know I've written before that Super Bowl ads should focus on the product or service being advertised and not the celebrity hired to promote them... but Intuit might have taken my message too far.
Second Runner-Up: Avocados from Mexico using Andy Richter as Caesar. Um... why?
The Best One-Liner in a Super Bowl spot: Planters - Feed the Debate
What I liked about this spot is that it makes Planters Mixed Nuts the hero... there's no debate about what's being advertised here.
That said, I thought this spot was fairly uninspiring until the last line... which was a brilliant critique of how the world has acted over the past several years. Runner Up: When Matthew McConaughey boldly proclaims, "So while the others look to the Metaverse and Mars, let's stay here and restore ours" in Salesforce's #Team Earth spot.
The ad itself is unremarkable, and I didn't see how it had anything to do with Salesforce or the products the company sells... but that line is a good one!
Best Legal Line in a Super Bowl Spot: Pepsi's "Road to Super Bowl LVI" "DO NOT ATTEMPT if you are not a Super Bowl legend in a PepsiCo commercial."
Awesome. The spot itself is a bit cheesy (if you'll pardon the Dorritos wordplay), but it does a great job of showcasing multiple Pepsi beverage and snack products and it's a fun watch.
Most Overused Celebrity in 2022 Super Bowl Commercials: Peyton Manning Peyton Manning is undeniably an incredible athlete with tremendous appeal. But by my count, he's starring in THREE SuperBowl commercials this year -- for Caesar's Sportsbook, Michelob Ultra, and Pepsico -- and that's a high risk of over-exposure for any celebrity.
Runner Up: Eli Manning, who stars in two of those same commercials with his brother.
My Favourite Spot of 2022: Amazon - Alexa the Mind-Reader
The first Super Bowl commercial I saw this year was also my favourite, and it's my pick for the best Super Bowl spot of 2022. And I'm saying that entirely because it perfectly showcases Alexa's capabilities in a laugh-out-loud way, and definitely not because I'm mildly obsessed with the beautiful, talented Scarlett Johansson.
VERY close runner-up: Nissan's Thrill Driver with Eugene Levy, Brie Larson, Nanai Gurira, and Dave Bautista
I love how this spot suggests that driving a Nissan can take a mild-mannered Eugene Levy and turn him into a daring action star. (Honestly, I'd watch that film!) It's a great-looking car and a really great positioning for it.
Second VERY close runner-up: Lay's Golden Memories
I'm a fan of both Paul Rudd and Seth Rogan, so putting them together in a commercial is going to tip the scales for me. But I laughed out loud several times during this 60-second spot, and "Lay's" is featured very prominently throughout, so I expect both Brand Recall scores for this one will be high.
Best Canadian Super Bowl Spot: Krueger - Unapologetically Human
Is a Super Bowl ad that wasn't specifically created to air during the Super Bowl truly a Super Bowl ad? I'm not sure. But the Unapolegitcally Human spot, created for Kruger products and first launched in the Summer of 2020, is apparently going to air during the Canadian showing of the Big Game, so I think it counts.
Yes, I know that in the past I've blasted Canadian companies for "reusing" old spots during the Super Bowl instead of giving the event the type of attention it gets from US companies. But I love everything about this spot, and if there's ever an "old spot" that deserves to be shown during a Super Bowl, it's this one.
Full disclosure: I know a few great people at Broken Heart Love Affair, the agency that created this ad, and I've had the pleasure of connecting with Krueger Chief Marketing Officer Susan Irving a few times... but I'd love this spot even if those things weren't true.
Watch it, and see why...
Did you ever think it was possible to get teary-eyed over a spot for paper towels and toilet paper? Yeah, me neither...
Runner up: BitBuy - Kyle Lowry "Again and Again"
I have to admit I had never heard of BitBuy, a company that allows you to "Invest with confidence with Canada’s first fully regulated crypto marketplace", before doing my research for this post. But their Super Bowl commercial is very funny, and even though they reportedly spent a quarter of their total 2022 marketing budget on this ad, I suspect it will effectively drive the type of Brand Awareness this relatively unknown company needs.
And there you have it! Of course, these aren't all of the ads that are going to be shown during the game; they're just the ones I really liked from those I was able to see by Sunday afternoon when I published this post.
Will there be additional spots aired for the first time during Sunday night's game?
Almost certainly. And if I see any that merit special mention, I'll write about them in a follow-up post. If you see any you believe deserve to be on this list, send me a note.
Enjoy the game!