One big question going into Super Bowl LI was whether advertisers would offer viewers a release from the suffocating political tension of the times, or try to address the issue of the country’s divisiveness head on.
In the end, they did both.
There were a number of strong comic spots in Sunday’s telecast on Fox, and three of them make our list below of the game’s five best ads. And there was more where that came from—brands with very funny ads that didn’t make the the top five included strong contenders Bai (with its great use of Christopher Walken and Justin Timberlake) and Kia (whose slapstick comedy with Melissa McCarthy also had something of a political undercurrent, if a cartoony one).
Meanwhile, there were several concerted efforts to address the elephant in the room, with several brands either encouraging unity in the country or straight-up advocating for acceptance and diversity in the face of incoming political leadership that is seen by many as a threat to both.
Audi and 84 Lumber’s top-notch efforts in this regard earned them spots in the top five. Airbnb was also a contender with its re-airing of an evocative post-election spot about acceptance. The NFL also aired a welcome ad about unity in America, while Budweiser’s own nod to immigration was more subtly inclusive.
Below, check out our picks for the five best ads of the game.
5. Mr. Clean – Cleaner of Your Dreams
The Procter & Gamble brand’s CGI mascot got down and dirty in this amusingly uncomfortable spot from Leo Burnett Toronto. The ad has been flying around the Internet all week, and no wonder—it’s a perfectly bizarre, shareable, Super Bowl-worthy twist on the iconic character.
4. T-Mobile – #NSFWireless
This marketer made a mess of things early in the game with its Justin Bieber spot, but made up for it with two hilarious ads starring Kristen Schaal as a Verizon customer addicted to the pain of her carrier’s crappy service. The phone spot, by agency Laundry Service, was the better of the two, with Schaal perfectly icky as she chats up the service rep.
3. Audi – Daughter
This automaker has done a wonderful job over the past year of storytelling in service of its vehicles. For this Super Bowl, it went beyond that—advocating for equal pay for women in a beautifully made :60 from Venables Bell & Partners. The political stance has brought out plenty of haters, but the brand has also been feeling the love from spending its budget on a message bigger than itself.
2. It’s a 10 – Four Years
The game’s biggest surprise—and one of its funniest, too. Nothing in this brand’s history would have hinted at the hilarious charm of this :30 from Havas Edge, which blended politics and humor. “America, we are in for at least four years of awful hair,” the voiceover says. “So it’s up to you to do your part by making up for it with great hair. Your own style of hair. Hair you love. Perfectly imperfect hair. It’s A 10 hair.” Paired with the great visuals of people with goofy ‘dos, this was the sleeper hit of the evening.
1. 84 Lumber – Journey
This marketer’s story, which we told earlier tonight, is the most fascinating of this year’s Super Bowl—and its finished spot also the most compelling. A company that has never spent much on advertising springs for a :90 on the biggest stage, has a pro-immigration script rejected by Fox, and so splits the film in two—showing half during the game, and half online. And what a spot it is from Brunner—a yearning, poetic meditation on the American dream as seen from the other side of the Mexican border. As an employee recruitment tactic, it’s remarkably on point. As a piece of film, it’s deeply moving. “The will to succeed is always welcome here,” says the copy line at the end. The beauty and defiance of that line, following all that’s come before it, make you desperately want to believe it’s true.