Brands tried all sorts of approaches in their Super Bowl commercials this year—uplifting, amusing, awe-inspiring and yes, even horrifying. But only a handful of the ads truly hit that sweet spot where brilliant idea meets flawless execution.
Notably, it was a night when many advertisers tried to be not just entertaining but edifying—in particular, socially conscious. But as both the Coca-Cola and McDonald's ads proved, it can be tough to make a great commercial with a noble message.
Coke's commitment to anti-bullying is admirable and important, and the broader campaign may well prove to be a creative success. But the metaphor of the spilled Coke on the server fell flat. Likewise, McDonald's lovin'-as-payment idea was well-intentioned but produced a spot that actually got less interesting as it went along. (McDonald's did have a great night on Twitter, though.) And then, of course, there was Nationwide—which tried to impart its own serious message about child accidents, with disastrous results.
Procter & Gamble's Always brand, though, reminded us yet again that you can make a brilliant ad with a social message as long as you have a clever creative concept. The "Like a Girl" ad was the game's creative high point—perhaps not surprisingly, since it was a repackaged version of a 2014 spot. (And in fact, it was among several ads repurposed from 2014 virals—Fiat, Dodge and Dove Men were among the others. That approach is a bit deflating for those who want to see all-new creative on the game, but it's hard to begrudge them for going with something already proven.)
As far as the two archetypal Super Bowl approaches—comedy and spectacle—it was a mixed bag. Snickers, Loctite and Avocados from Mexico had the funniest ads, with BMW close behind. Mophie and Kia delivered the most entertaining extravaganzas (though the 60-second Mophie ad, which we were expecting, is much better than the :30 that aired). The Carnival and Jeep ads were beautifully shot, but in the end felt derivative (of RAM "Farmer" and a North Face ad, respectively).
Sentimental ads did fairly well on Sunday, too, with Budweiser's "Lost Dog" prompting the predictable tears nationwide (though 2014's "Puppy Love" was way better). Dads also got lots of love in poignant spots for Dove Men, Toyota and Nissan. Dove Men was a safe bet, having gone viral online last June. And Toyota's :60 felt real and immediate. But Nissan's :90 suffered from weaker storytelling than it deserved—I wanted to like it more.
It was also a hit-and-miss night for celebrities, and there was no shortage of them. Among the winners were Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi (for Snickers), Pierce Brosnan (for Kia), Liam Neeson (for Clash of Clans), Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel (for BMW), and Mindy Kaling and Matt Damon (for Nationwide, which should have quit while it was ahead). It was also fun to see Bryan Cranston as Walter White again (for Esurance), even if the spot was convoluted. (Esurance also had Lindsay Lohan in a spot right before kickoff.)
The Jeff Bridges ad for Squarespace was intriguing, but perhaps too esoteric. And T-Mobile, after a very strong 2014 game, just didn't quite bring it this year with Kim Kardashian and the promising but ultimately disappointing duo of Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman.
But enough of the preamble. Below are my picks for the night's five best ads. Feel free to berate me in the comments. And click here to see every commercial again, along with Adweek's instant reviews of each one from Sunday night.
UPDATE: And if you can stomach it, here are the five worst ads of Super Bowl XLIX.