Denver Peacock has a confession about the Super Bowl.
“I go to the bathroom during the game, so that I won’t miss the ads,” the head of The Peacock Group told fellow advertising and media pros two days before the game. “The Super Bowl is the Academy Awards of advertising.”
Nice ads outnumbered good plays in Super Bowl LIII, a record low-scoring affair that left the New England Patriots champions again, 13-3 victors over the Los Angeles Rams.
Peacock’s pregame party was at Cranford Co. on Main Street in Little Rock, where more than two dozen viewers included former Razorback linebacker David Bazzel of KABZ-FM, The Buzz; Pine Bluff Parks & Recreation Director Samuel Glover; and Ghidotti Communications account executive Amanda Seevers. The setting was a warm wood-accented space designed as a rehearsal studio for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
Cranford Co. took over the space after the orchestra balked at an unfortunate mechanical hum and occasional tap-dancing upstairs.
Cantina Laredo tacos and cold beer were the distractions Feb. 1 as Peacock and Jay Cranford served up a review of hall-of-fame Super Bowl spots, then a sampling of pre-released commercials.
This year’s crop had the usual tactics: stars, humor and heartstrings, but Chip Culpepper of Mangan Holcomb Partners had a typical reaction as reviews filtered in from around the industry: The overall bunch “wasn’t particularly memorable or strong … sort of like the game itself.”
Another Chip — Chip Paris of Paris Marketing & Public Relations in Fort Smith — said too many brands “fall into the trap of feeling like they have to run a Super Bowl spot.” TurboTax’s “RoboChild” ad didn’t connect to the brand, he said, and Mike Sells of the Sells Agency wrote if off succinctly: “Creepy robot. Creepy spot. Just weird.”
Winners included the National Football League’s celebration of itself at 100, highlighting current and past stars. It had the kind of production values expected by the game’s vast audience, 100 million live viewers and a record streaming crowd. (CBS sold 30-second spots for $5.25 million.)
Another nearly universally liked ad was Microsoft’s “We All Win.”
“The emotional tug of seeing kids with disabilities transformed and empowered to play along with their friends was beautifully balanced,” Culpepper said. Stone Ward creative directors Danny Koteras and Jay Stanley agreed. “Pulled at the heartstrings but was really fun to watch,” they said in an email.
Other emotional champions were Verizon’s ad on first responders, praised by Peacock, Cranford, Paris and Sells, and Google Translate’s commercial pointing out that “how are you?” “thank you” and “I love you” are its most translated phrases. “Focusing on a brand feature used around the world was brilliant,” Paris said. “Not only was it an emotional spot, but it left viewers confident that if they hadn’t used that feature previously, they would likely use it going forward.”
Opinions differed on nostalgic ads like the Stella Artois spot featuring Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and The Dude (Jeff Bridges) ordering Stella instead of their signature drinks. Pepsi’s “OK” spot with Cardi B, Steve Carell and Lil Jon hit the same middle ground.
“Stella Artois, Pepsi and Amazon got a lot of mixed reviews from our group,” Culpepper said. “Some enjoyed the … star power while others panned the spots as under-utilizing” the stars.
Culpepper, Koteras and Stanley all liked Hyundai’s Jason Bateman as an elevator operator. The “deadpan delivery was used to its fullest potential,” the Stone Ward team said, adding that the ad “pointed out numerous stereotypical pain points consumers experience. But buying a Hyundai is not one of them.”
Bud Light’s “no corn syrup” spots “made a compelling point about something that makes them demonstrably better than their competitors,” Sells said, “while having a funny, Monty Pythonish tone.” He also liked the Amazon Echo ad where Harrison Ford’s dog ran around ordering sausage and dog food. “Well written, acted and entertaining, finishing second behind the NFL 100 ad on USA Today’s ad meter,” Sells said, though he conceded the spot “made no compelling case for me to buy.”
A consensus miss was Burger King’s 1980s footage of Andy Warhol eating a Whopper, “silently, awkwardly, and for a really long time,” as Culpepper put it. “Does their target audience have any idea who Warhol was … or care?” Sells asked. “It’s interesting that they found this 37-year-old footage, but they shouldn’t have made a Super Bowl commercial from it.”