Super Bowl XLIX Ads Left Me Feeling, er, Deflated.

We all know it was a bad year for the NFL PR-wise, from domestic abuse, to catches that weren’t catches, to Deflate Gate. And every step of the way, the league just couldn’t get out of its own way and take control of the message. So as the big game approached, and the teaser spots started to trickle out, I was really hoping that smart brands and their equally smart agencies would rise to the occasion and remind us all how it’s done. Expectations are always ridiculously high for Super Bowl spots. But unfortunately, for the most part, this crop failed to meet them.

The Under-Inflated
As in “Are you even trying?” These half-baked ideas and executions should get someone fired.

Nationwide: “Boy
A dead kid during the Super Bowl? Really? Thanks for killing the mood before the party even kicked in. You could have at least waited until the 4th quarter. Every year some brand tries to go against the tide with a sentimental or serious message (Think “Made in Detroit” or last year’s “God Made a Farmer”) but this missed the mark by a mile and they should have seen it coming.

T-Mobile: “#KimsDataStash
Just plain lazy. Get the most famous “famous person” you can find and do the tried and true Fake-PSA routine. For a much better version of this cliche, see Clay Matthews for Fathead.

Weather Tech: “America at Work
Since you’re already wasting millions on a product no one on earth will remember the next day, let’s just wrap it in the flag.

Lexus: “Make Some Noise
I’m embarrassed to say I used to work on this brand. This felt like a bad version of the Kit Kat musical candy bar spots.

As in “Stop trying so hard.” I know this is the Super Bowl and all, but it’s just a commercial.

McDonald’s: “Pay with Lovin’
I like the new direction McDonald’s is taking with I’m Lovin’ It, but this felt totally forced and unrealistic. After years of practically giving away the food, now I have to perform to get it for free? Not buying it. Someone must have watched BK’s Whopper Freakout from a few years ago, and tried to do the opposite.

Carnival: “Return to the Sea” (tied with Toyota: “How Great I Am”)
Both use the same formula with the same results. Take a famous speech by an iconic and inspirational person, then slap their product all over it and hope to bask in the halo. The problem is, neither brand has earned the right to appropriate those words or those people. Jacques Cousteau might have made sense for Carnival, but a dead president? If you’re Apple or Nike, maybe. But cruise lines and middle-of-the-road sedans? Nope.

Mercedes: “Fable
They had been hyping this race so hard with teasers that they were setting themselves up to fail – and they did. The characters and VFX were underwhelming and juvenile. And you could see the plot “twist” a mile away. Is this the same team that delivered “Sympathy for the Devil” with Willem Dafoe a year ago? What happened? They should have stuck to their “The best or nothing” mantra and done nothing.

Kia: “Unexpected
This is the worst type of conceptual double-cross. Tell me you’re not going to wallow in expected clichés like gun fights and explosions while simultaneously wallowing in expected clichés like gun fights and explosions. Pierce Brosnan’s performance wasn’t bad, but the rest of it was.

Just Right
As in “Thank you sir, may I have another?” These spots delivered the right stuff and lived up to the moment without trying too hard.

Snickers: “Brady Bunch
Absolutely loved this one. They took their existing campaign and dialed it up just the right amount for the Big Game. Simple message, plus pop culture reference, plus two very welcome celebrity cameos equals hilarity.

Skittles: “Settle It
Another effortless spot with a funny visual gag that’s easy to get in the midst of a party setting.

Doritos: “Middle Seat
This one felt fresh and smart, even for a user-generated campaign that’s probably on its last legs. Instead of the usual fart and crotch jokes, they treated us to an awkward moment we can all relate to, and they packed in a series of rapid-fire sight gags that built nicely to an unexpected ending.

Super Cell: “Revenge
While this one felt a bit long, it makes my list for the spot-on, self-deprecating cameo by Liam Neeson (who after this one is officially on the over-exposed list.) This is what the Kia spot could’ve been.

Mophie: “All Powerless
This was not the first time someone created a special effects-laden end of the world scenario, but the ending was so out of left field and understated, I had to laugh. Who knew God worked out of a cramped office with bad fluorescent lighting?

Overall, this was one of the rare years where the game outdid the commercials. In fact, if I had to pick a winner, it would be Newcastle’s Band of Brands campaign, that brilliantly mocked the whole Big Game hype and generated more buzz than most of these put together. I just hope the league doesn’t decide this is “bad for PR” and figure out a way to ban it next year.

View Comments 2
  • Hey Jim – how are you? Hope all is well. To me, the biggest winner? The placement of the Sponge Bob movie spot. My kids watched three minutes and that was “Elsa” singing the National Anthem. It went into the Sponge Bob commercial and guess what? Now they want to see the movie. I think just about every kid in America was watching the anthem because of Frozen.
    What do you think?

  • Wasn’t sure if we were on the same page at Between Downs, but after reading this, I couldn’t agree with you more. I was surprised Mophie and Newcastle didn’t come up at the event. And I was shocked by how bad the Lexus commercial was, especially when they hyped it as the first early released Superbowl ad. I usually hate seeing the ads early, but I did see that one and wondered, WHY???

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Jim Lansbury is Founder, Chief Creative Officer at RP3 Agency. He likes to think and write about ideas that harness new technology to forge deeper connections between brands and consumers.

Jeb Emami is a Marketing Strategist at RP3 Agency with an affinity for building commercial relationships that help organizations realize and capitalize on their product and service differentiators.

The Building Opportunity blog showcases RP3 Agency's ongoing exploration of new ideas, new technologies, and new experiences that propel businesses forward. Don't miss it.