Welcome to the 20th year of Wien’s Irreverent Review of the Super Bowl Commercials. Twenty years ago, I was trying to answer the question, why would anyone spend $2.2 million on 30 seconds, and how does anyone break through the clutter to get noticed or remembered. Humor and sex ruled the day with the top three most popular spots going to Budweiser – Rex having a bad day (Image), Mountain Dew – Bad Cheetah (Direct hit with their key market segment) and Pets.com Singing Puppet (one of the most recognized dot com disasters.) Last night, the humor was mixed (good and very bad,)  the sex was toned down, and there was a greater focus on projecting a positive socially conscious image.  However, I was still left wondering how most of the advertisers could justify now spending $5 million on 30 seconds of air time.

Here is this year’s review, with links to all the commercials in case you were using the commercial breaks as a time to go to the bathroom, fill up your plate with Doritos, or pour another glass of Budweiser.

Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer –   Two mermaids (Bon and Viv) promote their spiked seltzer to real sharks in a Shark Tank parody.  If they did not have the financial and marketing muscle of Budweiser, this commercial would not make any waves.

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M&M’s – Christina Applegate’s role as a carpool mom is dramatically interrupted by slamming on the brakes and delivering the unexpected, M&Ms now come in a bar.  It is not often that hearing a mother threaten to eat her riders alive can be funny.  The switch from the expected to the unexpected, and confrontational to hilarious makes this commercial memorable.

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Bumble – Serena Williams is a great celebrity spokesperson to talk about and demonstrate female empowerment.  This is an appropriate use of a celebrity and on point for Bumble – Make the first move.  Serena effectively puts the Ball in their court.

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Hyundai – Shoppers Assurance is a very enticing way to purchase a car.  Makes the buying process easy.  Too bad getting the message out through all the wrong floors was so difficult.  It brings new meaning to an elevator pitch.

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Olay – It is not very often that a talented actress, Sarah Michelle Gellar, can deliver the product benefit, killer transformation, in her character, in such a compelling way.  Congratulations to the creative team for this vampire slayer.

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Doritos – Chance the Rapper gets some high energy back up from the Back Street Boys to introduce a line extension to Nacho Cheese Doritos – Flaming Hot Nacho.  Effective way to reach their target of young people who want to see smoke come out of their ears when they eat snacks.   Disclosure –  Mike started his career in the 1970’s working on Nacho Cheese Doritos.

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Weather Tech – Weather Tech leverages its brand name and produced by American workers image to launch a line extension – Pet Comfort.  Quality, comfort, and safety will play well with the pet pampering owners.

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Bud Light  –  Bud Light continues to build on the success of Bud Knight.  This 60-second episode does a great job promoting the fact that Bud Light’s two biggest competitors (Miller and Coors) use corn syrup to brew their beer and Bud Light does not.  AB InBev runs two more 30-second commercials (Barbershop and Trojan Horse) in the second half to further drive home this point.  Very creative execution to support this difference, but the real question is…..does the target audience really care about corn syrup?

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Expensify – This company has revolutionized the archaic expense reimbursement process and brought it into the world of cyberspace.  I personally know how terrific the Expensify software is because I use it all the time for reimbursements for expenses associated with a board I am on.  I am not sure if this creative speaks to the conservative accountants in an organization who have the fiscal responsibility for making the switch to Expensify.  In addition, I guess the creative team did not get the memo about the use of sex in Super Bowl commercials has become passé.

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Simply Safe –  Here is a new piece of technology that addresses the concern that “Fear is Everywhere.” This may be true, but on Super Bowl Sunday, we leave our fears behind and enjoy the game.  This product will also be left behind.  What are they selling anyway?

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T Mobile –  A series of ads that featured creative and entertaining text messages made me laugh.  However, you have to be staring at the screen and read fast to get each one.  I am not sure that is realistic on Super Bowl Sunday.  So while they made me laugh, the impact will probably make the T Mobile team cry.

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Audi E-tron –  The advertiser who can capture the audience with emotion relevant to the product will have a sure winner.  The advertiser who interrupts that emotional connection in the middle of the commercial with a joke should be charged with reckless endangerment.

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Bud Light Game of Thrones – Great promotion for Game of Thrones, but I have mixed emotions when our super hero loses in a jousting contest and then gets fried alive by the dragon who hijacks the commercial for the Game of Thrones.  Yes, I appreciate the positive association with a hit HBO show, but at what cost?

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Avocados from Mexico – Humor is a funny thing.  When the story line gets too convoluted, it can lose the impact.  When it has nothing to do with the product, it loses the spice and flavor.

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Pringles –  This stackable chip has found its niche in flavored snacks and this commercial highlights all the possibilities.  The unexpected Alexa-like response will help this ad stack up against the others.

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Google – Google demonstrates how they translate 100 billion words every day to bring people and cultures together.  Yes, some are for bad purposes, but fortunately, most for good as the three most translated phrases are, “How are you?,” “Thank you,” and “I Love You?”.   Gracias, Je Vous Remercie, Vielen Dank, Grazie Google.

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Mercedes- Benz – If Mercedes is trying to reach a younger audience, I think they found the right ticket.  Ludacris staring in a commercial focusing on voice controls for a Mercedes starting at $32,500 will reach the new audience because the commercial is ….well, ludicrous.

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Persil –  Another elevator message, this time about deep cleaning.  Give them credit for trying to communicate a product benefit, but the questionable sexual dialogue between the spokesperson and the lady riding the elevator detracts from the boring message.

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Toyota  RAV4  – Tony Harris is a great role model for women with big dreams.   It is a great image ad for Toyota, but in these competitive times, image not connected to the product may not be enough.

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Planters –   Mr. Peanut goes to great lengths to save Alex Rodriguez when a craving strikes.  The only good line in the 30 seconds was Charlie Sheen’s cameo appearance saying, “and people think I am nuts.”  No, I think the people who approved this commercial were nuts.

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Mint Mobile –  It is impossible to hear the message when the visuals make you want to throw up.  Bad humor can kill a message, no matter how good the reviews are or how cheap the product is.  We can’t hear you.

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Norwegian Cruise Lines – Six special free offers on a cruise ship has widespread appeal.  However, the target audience in this commercial is also widespread, focusing on couples, and families with kids.  When an advertiser tries to speak to everyone, they end up speaking to no one and this ship won’t sail.

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Turbo Tax – When your major competitor is either a data entry specialist or a software program, and you offer a real person with some emotional intelligence, being human is a Specific Edge.

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Stella – Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges team up for Stella to encourage drinkers to “Change up the usual.”  This should resonate with Sex in the City and The Big Lebowski fans, but I am afraid anyone else will get lost in the humor.  Special credit to my baby sister Alison for explaining the connection.

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Sprint  –  Here is a commercial that throws a lot of craziness into 30 seconds to break through the clutter and make it memorable.  But overwhelming the viewer with silliness makes this one confusing and forgettable.

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Pepsi – If one superstar makes a good commercial, does three superstars make a great commercial?  Pepsi asks Cardi B,  Steve Carell, and Lil Jon to help solve the problem of people using Coke as the generic name to order a Cola.  The celebrities add excitement and plenty of personality to an internal issue, but it is not consumer-focused, so it is not OK.  Disclosure – Mike was a marketing director at Pepsi in the 1980s.

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Yellow Tail Wine – Tastes like happy.  When an advertiser does the expected in a commercial, it does not stand out or get noticed.  It blends in with the background noise and there is plenty of noise on Super Bowl Sunday.  Yes, the wine tastes like happy, but that won’t make the creative team happy when they get overlooked.

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Kia Telluride – Here is to the great unknown. Great concept promoting the Korean Car Maker’s proud employees building cars 84 miles from Atlanta.  However, the depressing tone of the narration and the drawn-out message will make this commercial another great unknown.

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Bubly – PepsiCo’s newly acquired brand uses a celebrity, Michael Buble, in a cute way to build awareness in an already crowded sparkling water category.  His self-effacing humor should put the brand on the map.

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Wix – Finally, a website host focuses on their benefit.  Karlie Kloss does a nice job demonstrating how Wix makes creating attractive websites fast and easy.

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Michelob Ultra Robot – Yes, robots have been developed to be superior to man in many aspects.  But, the surprise at the end is a great difference – It is only worth it if you can enjoy it.  I don’t expect to see robots enjoying a beer with friends in my lifetime.

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Devour  – With 60+ advertisers paying $5 million a pop, the creative needs to be pretty outrageous to get noticed on Super Bowl Sunday.  Is it possible for a company to go too far?   When the humor is around pornography and addiction in today’s environment, I believe the people at Kraft-Heinz’s, the makers of Devour just demonstrated it is very possible.

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Google Codes -Here is another great commercial that focuses on the power of Google’s search engine in helping our war heroes

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Colgate –   Luke Wilson is an in your face kind of guy, so it is a good thing he brushes his teeth for a fresh breath.  But he will need more than Colgate to not be viewed as obnoxious and that just does not give me a good taste about the brand.

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Skechers – Here is a rare commercial in the Super Bowl line up that actually tries to focus on product benefits.  Retired quarterback and NFL announcer Tony Romo shows off the outrageous ways he tries to make his life easy, including wearing Skechers slip-on shoes.

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Microsoft –  When one wins, we all win.  To break through the clutter on Super Bowl Sunday and get noticed, the advertiser has to either deliver a Wow! or take my Breath away.  Microsoft did both by focusing on physically challenged children who have accepted their limitations and love just being able to play on a level playing field.  Thank you, Microsoft.

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Verizon First Responders  –  Nothing is more important for a call going through when it revolves around a life-threatening accident.  Verizon drives home the point of reliability along with recognizing our first responders in a heartfelt commercial.  It may not score well in the popularity contest, but it will score well in building the brand.

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Burger King – What am I missing here? How many people in Burger King’s target audience know Andy Warhol?  This may be classic footage, but he took all the fun, color, flavor and experience out of the Burger King brand in 45 seconds.

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Budweiser – Bright minds at AB InBev finally came to their senses and brought back the Clydesdales, a perennial favorite at the Super Bowl since 1986.  Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind and April’s ears (the Dalmatian) are nice accessories to the message, “Now brewed with wind power for a better tomorrow.”  I love the Clydesdales, but I am concerned that this message was crafted for the wrong target audience.

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Amazon – Not everything makes the cut.  Last year’s Amazon commercial was brilliant because it drove awareness for all the creative ways people can use Alexa.  This year, they focused on all the things that scare people about using Alexa.  That might have been funny in the Amazon offices, but it should not have made the cut.

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Michelob Ultra –  I am not sure organic is a compelling enough reason to purchase a specific brand of beer, especially when the message is whispered during the Super Bowl.

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The Washington Post – Here is a tribute to the heroes in newsrooms that make great personal sacrifices to bring people the news.  The message is worth repeating.  Knowing empowers us.  Knowing helps us decide.  Knowing keeps us free.  Democracy Dies in Darkness.  Katherine Graham would be very proud of this commercial.

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About Mike Wien – As a former corporate marketing leader, Wien held senior marketing and sales positions with Frito-Lay, Pepsi, Omni Hotels, CitiBank, and Deloitte.  He recently retired as an adjunct professor of marketing and franchising at the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality at Georgia State University and moved to Boulder, Colorado.  He delivers keynote speeches primarily to franchise organizations on gaining a competitive advantage or Specific Edge and still actively trains for triathlon world championships in his age group.

New Address:
Mike Wien
The Specific Edge Institute
345 Erie Drive
Boulder, Colorado  80303