The Brand Bowl: 2019’s Best and Worst S*per B*wl Ads.

Barrett Macgowan

Barrett Macgowan


Regardless of what happens between the Boston Bradys and the LA Refs in their little match, the nation will still get a new champion we can all agree on: the best ad of the year.

What’s this? No one ever agrees on this stuff, and it’s only debate fodder for culture connoisseurs and the obsessively marketing-minded?

So be it.

But for those of us who do care about such things, the, ahem, “Superb Owl” is captivating high-stakes brand poker. This is our chance to see cultural trends evolve from tadpole to biped right before our eyes. And with each brand paying $5 Million just for 30 seconds of airtime, even the misses are epic.

We couldn’t wait until Sunday to watch – and more importantly, judge – the ads, so we got together and watched 13 of the spots that had been pre-released.

The ads we watched:

Michelob Ultra: Robots

Devour: Frozen Food Porn

Pepsi: More than OK

Bubly: Buble vs Bubly

Olay: Killer Skin

Stella Artois: Change up the Usual

Pringles: Sad Device

Amazon: Not Everything Makes the Cut

Avocados from Mexico: Best in Show

M&M’s: Bad Passengers

Sprint: Best of Both Worlds

Planters: Mr. Peanut is Always in Crunch Time

Doritos: Now It’s Hot

What we thought:

Most Liked: Pringles
With 92% of our viewers either agreeing or strongly agreeing to the statement “I liked this ad,” Pringles gave us the most likable spot. And that makes sense, right? It was funny, relevant, and didn’t take itself too seriously. “Cool, play Funky Town” was the best punchline of the bunch.

Most Memorable: Devour
Ok, we have to talk about the food porn spot. Love it or hate it, you’re not forgetting this one. Even if you try. (If you do succeed at forgetting this ad, please share your ways with me: @peteramayer). Some people laughed, some people cringed, some gagged, but overall, the group did feel it would inspire purchase. Personally, I’d bet the house against an ad being effective at using gross out humor to make people eat their food, but we may never know.

Most Meh: That beer robot and the phone one, too
Michelob’s fitness robot landed a lot of neutrals from our audience. And with that price tag, “meh” is a disaster. This may be a case of a bad brief. This spot seemed to be aimed at people who exercise a lot and don’t drink. You’re paying a fortune to reach an absolutely massive audience, and you target a niche like that?

And Sprint’s ad with Bo Jackson, a mermaid(?), robots, and a horse proves that making a great ad is more complicated than combining successful ingredients like celebs and cute animals. Mountain Dew’s 2016 PuppyMonkeyBaby Big Game spot was miles ahead of this because they went all in on a weird combo of commercial tropes. You can’t play the same gag 3 years later with less guts and expect good results.

Most Celebtacular: Pepsi, Stella Artois, and Planters
Pepsi scored well. Is it because the brand bought the immense likability of Steve Carell and Cardi B? Probably. This was a case of “your brief is showing,” and the brief in this case was deeply flawed. You’re going to try to win over the people who hate being asked “Is Pepsi Ok?” with a commercial? Hard pass. Why not celebrate the people who do like Pepsi as being more unique than Coke drinkers and win over some swing voters along the way?

Stella was another brand that underperformed with megastars. This spot felt clever but also timid. Its results from our watch group echo this – no one hated it, but no one loved it either. The spot did make it seem fun to say “Stella Ar-tose,” like The Dude, and creating those kinds of moments can pay off at the register.

Planters also fell into the cardinal sin of Big Game ads: throwing big celebs at a small idea.
Man reaches for bad (healthy) snack, Planters saves the day with their product? Yawn.
But what if that man was A-Rod?! Gadzooks!

The Rest: Bubly, M&Ms, Amazon, Olay, and Doritos
Buble vs Bubly was a fun spot that was very smart for a few reasons. First, they used their Big Game spot for what it’s best at: Awareness. You’re buying the attention of 100 Million+ people. You can go from unknown to a national name in 30 seconds if you do it right. They got a celeb that made total sense, tied right into the concept, and it led them to high marks for likelihood of connecting with target audience, likelihood of inspiring purchase, and memorability in our group.

M&M’s also did well. Christina Applegate is likable, and the candy bar looked tasty. But if you forgot about this ad tomorrow, who could be surprised?

Amazon’s Not Everything Makes the Cut was a bit of a head scratcher. Self-deprecating is a good approach for tech giants right now and Harrison Ford’s relationship with his terrier was a laugh out loud moment, but the message was odd. “Hey, sometimes our stuff doesn’t work. Shrug.” It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the weeks following the game. If they don’t get a good bump in brand likability from this, it was a miss.

Olay. Ok. Sarah Michelle Gellar stars in the spot that made us say “Wow, they’re going heavy on ’90s stars this year” and pretty much nothing else.

Did Doritos make it hot? They went big on the stars, hammered a simple idea well, and will probably see good sales from their spot, so it’s hard to call this one underwhelming. Actually, no, it’s not. Was BSB’s timeless classic “I Want It That Way” not hot? Did Chicago’s Chance the Rapper really improve it by doing a New Orleans Bounce remix with significant authenticity problems? This will be fun to watch play out across social media after the game.

What’s the cultural takeaway?
Peter Mayer’s cultural laureate, Michelle Edelman, weighs in:

From a cultural perspective, last year’s spots were much more in line with the country’s zeitgeist of “there’s so much wrong, won’t brands say something or fix it?” So, there was a lot of very serious and anthemic, purposeful work last year. This year there is some of that nature, but largely the ads are very hyperbolic in their humor—a pendulum swings the completely other direction. We’re sick of being sick of things—but it also takes a lot more to get a laugh out of us. The ads as a body are a reflection of our over-it culture where we care about everything and feel like we’re accomplishing nothing.

Post-Game Wrap-Up
It was hard not to be a little disappointed in the spots we watched. How do you bring back The Dude, Bo Jackson, The Backstreet Boys, and Steve Carell and not make more of an impact? Much like the game itself (yes, we’re still salty about that down here), this year’s Big Game spots pale in comparison to what we’ve come to expect.



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