Adweek’s Take: 5 Best and 5 Worst Super Bowl Ads

Yes, I laughed at Doritos finger sucker and even at the pug spot, although it reminded me too much of one of last year’s “Crash the Bowl” winners that showed a dog take revenge on a man teasing it with the chips with a shock collar. The UGC “Crash” spots, first for Doritos and now also for Pepsi Max, feel more and more like regurgitated Bud Light spots every year. I guess that’s what happens when aspiring filmmakers study past poll winners to produce what they think will be surefire hits. Sadly, it often works.
As for the usual animal parade, CareerBuilder brought back its famous chimps in a humorous commercial that put one primate behind the wheel of a car, and a beaver paid it forward in a Bridgestone spot. All cute, funny moments. Bud Light made an unimpressive showing, even with a popular spot showing dogs serving the beer at a house party. And I usually like anything with a cute pooch in it. At least Bud’s Clydesdales spot gave me a chuckle with a Wild West sing-along of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” led by actor Peter Stormare.

Celebrities were everywhere. Roseanne Barr and Richard Lewis gave admirable slapstick performances in a Snickers’ spot, but none of the celebrity-driven ads provided a more oddball pairing than Best Buy’s commercial from Crispin, Porter + Bogusky starring Ozzy Osbourne and Justin Bieber. Osbourne, always befuddled, is behind on technology, so he’s replaced on a shoot by Bieber to highlight the retailer’s buyback program. “What’s a Bieber?” asked by the aging rocker remains my favorite line of the night.

Lots of great comedic moments were spread throughout the ads in the game, but surprisingly enough, the best commercials came from the auto industry this year. 

Adweek’s Five Best

1) VW, “The Force”
Deutsch, Los Angeles
A Star Wars-themed classic. The combination of the unmistakable “Imperial March,” the endearing performance of the mini Darth Vader, the direction of Lance Acord, the editing, all of it, adds up to a sweet, nostalgic spot that memorably highlights the Passat’s remote start-up features. Best is how startled the kid gets when he finally gets his dad’s car to start in the driveway and the double take he gives his parents inside once he regains his footing. Plus, the dad seems to have a look of recognition that he’s been there himself. Relatable all around. Also loved the Beetle “Black Betty” spot, but one VW in the top five is enough.

2) Chrysler, “Born of Fire”
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
The “Born of Fire” title perfectly sets up Chrysler’s 120-second gritty love letter to Detroit. The two-minute driving tour of the city, directed by Sam Bayer, establishes the premise with the taunting challenge: “I got a question for you. What does this city know about luxury?” The copy, credited to the Wieden team of Joe Staples, Mark Fitzloff, Kevin Jones, Greg Rutter and Dan Kroeger, with art direction by Jim Lasser, powerfully pushes the spot forward, timed to the beats of “Lose Yourself,” as the viewer catches glimpses of Eminem driving the Chrysler 200. “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? More than most…It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel.” The Detroit pride swells along with the music as Eminem finally drives up to a theater where a chorus is singing his song. He turns to the camera with defiant finality: “This is the Motor City, and this is what we do.” The ad is nicely capped off with the “Imported from Detroit” tagline.
3) Audi, “Release the Hounds”
Venables Bell & Partners, San Francisco
Love the bizarre and twisted old-luxury prison theme in this ad for the Audi A8 directed by Bryan Buckley. There are lots of rich visual details, entertaining copy and fast-paced action to keep viewers engrossed. “Release the Hounds” announces the warden as he tries to stop a prison break with a pair of fluffy dogs that look like they’ve been at the puppy salon all day. The spot concluded with a Twitter hashtag, but I doubt the average viewer even noticed. He or she probably did remember one of the best lines of the night: “Hit ’em with the Kenny G.”

4) Chevrolet Silverado, “Tommy”
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Sure there was a bitchin’ Camaro that turned into a Transformer and an informational spot about the Volt, but I liked the simplicity of the humor in this Lassie-themed commercial for the Silverado directed by Speck/Gordon. The truck speeds up to the front of a house and honks to alert Tommy’s parents that he’s in trouble. “Tommy is stuck in a well?” asks the dad, as the truck honks in response and takes him to his son. Tommy gets stuck in increasingly outrageous situations as the father repeatedly saves him with the help of the Chevy. “How did you get trapped in a belly of a whale?”  

5) Coca-Cola, “Siege”
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
While I liked the warm and fuzzy sentiment expressed by two opposing guards connecting over a Coke in “Border Patrol,” I prefer the more plausible “Open Happiness” moment in the animated fantasy spot when a bottle of Coke thwarts the attack of a fire-breathing dragon in the 60-second “Siege.” A Trojan horse trick sends a giant ice dragon to confront the attacker. It melts, revealing the Coca-Cola inside, and peace and fireworks ensue. Nexus produced the spot with directors FX and Mat. Framestore provided CGI and animation.

Adweek’s Five Worst

1) Skechers, Kim Kardashian
Probably the most awkward performance of the evening. A supposedly sexy scene between her and what we later learn is her trainer is tepid at best. Her so-called acting is excruciating to watch. Kardashian should stick to nonspeaking roles, and Skechers should really skip the Super Bowl. Strike two with this one.

2), “Contract”
We are all so over this entire “GoDaddy” girl recurring theme. At least adding Joan Rivers in one spot added some comic relief. But in “Contract,” Danica Patrick and Jillian Michaels express concern about their contractual obligations to do the spot. “We’re here to promote GoDaddy, not to be a part of some crazy stunt,” complains Michaels. The next shot shows the women strutting in heels and the “See More Now” push to watch the unrated Web content. Please, let’s see no more next year.

3) HomeAway, “Test Baby”
Vendor Inc., Austin
Nothing about this campaign makes me laugh. The strategy here is to give hotels a bad name, care of the “Ministry of Detourism.” But the spot, directed by Rocky Morton, does more than fall flat; it elicits audible groans. Set in a hotel-testing facility, the ad shows a test baby hurled at a Plexiglas wall, face smushed as it squeakily slides down the transparent surface. The head of the ministry is gratingly annoying and loud, and no one ever wants to see a baby hurled across the room, even if it’s a fake one.

4) Hyundai Elantra, “Deprogramming”
Innocean Worldwide, Irvine, Calif.
In what may be the worst automotive performance of the evening, Hyundai tries to deprogram typical car buyers in order to get them to deviate from the expected. This is attempted with dizzying kaleidoscopic scenes featuring spinning legs, brains, car seats, gas pumps, whatever. The message: “Snap out of it, man.” Most likely viewer response: “Shove it, man.”

5) Groupon, “Tibet”
Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Boulder, Colo.
It was supposed to be a humorous campaign that led viewers into thinking they were being suckered into another far-flung, cause-related celebrity pitch, but instead were pitched Groupon’s coupon deals. What it turned out to be was an offensive first-time Super Bowl play for the company. Maybe the exaggerated humor needed to be dialed up higher to make it work. But treating serious subjects like the political oppression of Tibetans into a spot starring Timothy Hutton with punch lines proved to be in poor taste for many viewers.