And the winner of this year’s Super Bowl is… the NFL?
That’s right, while the New England Patriots got to take home the Lombardi Trophy for the sixth time, for marketers and advertisers the real winner is decided not on the gridiron but by USA TODAY’s vaunted Ad Meter.
Who Got Into The End Zone?
The newspaper’s annual run down of all the ads that ran during the big game gave top marks this year to the NFL for its star-studded, comedic salute to itself. “The 100-Year-Game” featured a rowdy reception packed with Pro Bowlers past and present, including the man of the night himself, Tom Brady.
The NFL had the second highest rated spot at last year’s game for a “Dirty Dancing” parody starring Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning. Amazon won top marks that year with “Alexa Loses Her Voice,” featuring celebrities like Gordon Ramsay and Cardi B filling in for the virtual assistant.
The world’s biggest online retailer was hugely successful again this season, coming in second with a cheeky spot called “Not Everything Makes the Cut” where a fresh crop of celebs like Forest Whitaker and Harrison Ford try out some failed applications for Alexa like an electric toothbrush and a talking dog collar.
Microsoft won the third spot on the Ad Meter with “We All Win,” a touching ad promoting the inclusive and accessible design of its XBOX Adaptive Controller, which makes it easier for people with disabilities to play and compete on their video game console.
Korean automaker Hyundai has been investing big in the Super Bowl for a while now, with increasingly positive results. According to Ace Metrix, they landed a top-10 ad in the last seven broadcasts. This year they took home the number four spot on the Ad Meter with “The Elevator,” an amusing metaphor for the pains of car shopping starring Jason Bateman as a snarky elevator operator, which has amassed a staggering 31 million views on YouTube.
In recent years, the big game has become a popular platform for media brands to promote their biggest films. Marvel dropped new trailers for its latest superhero blockbusters. By Monday morning, the trailer for “Avengers: Endgame” had already racked up over seven million views on YouTube and was the #1 trending video. The trailer for “Captain Marvel” hasn’t done quite those numbers, with less than two million views, but scored well on the Ad Meter.
Doritos also lit up the YouTube stats with the introduction of its new Flaming Hot Nacho chips. “#NowItsHot,” a mashup of pop stars from yesteryear and today starring The Backstreet Boys and Chance the Rapper, hit nearly eight million views.
Perhaps the most surprising off-field twist of the night was an unexpected collaboration between Bud Light and HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Budweiser has been having a ton of success with its “Dilly Dilly” themed medieval spoofs, but things got a bit darker in “Joust” as the Bud Light Knight finally met his match.
Pepsi wasn’t quite as serious in two spots promoting its beverages. The mega brand tapped crooner Michael Bublé to help people grasp the name of their new sparkling water product Bubly, as well as actor Steve Carell and rappers Lil Jon and Cardi B to let everyone know that Pepsi is “More Than OK.”
It also has to be mentioned that one of the funniest clips of the night wasn’t actually an ad. It was the intro promo produced by CBS Sports, which aired thirty minutes before game time. Peyton Manning battles with CBS execs over budgetary issues and actor John Malkovich over whether gladiators are cliche. It was a self aware and playful start to the action (even if the action never really arrived in a game that had more punts than touchdowns).
Who Came Up Short?
Not every ad can make people chuckle or tear up or feel a sudden, uncontrollable urge to buy a Pepsi or a Ford F-150, and as usual there were a couple of duds. TurboTax’s “RoboChild” series was going for laughs, but just came off as creepy and unlikely to instill confidence in their product.
Burger King’s fourth quarter ad was actually a throwback to the 80s. “#EatLikeAndy” was nothing more than old documentary footage from 1982 of pop art icon Andy Warhol unpacking and tasting a Whopper. The ad was meant to represent Warhol’s own message about the democratizing effect of pop culture: even the rich and famous can’t get a better Pepsi or Whopper than the rest of us. Unfortunately, Andy doesn’t look all that thrilled eating the burger and the ad scored dead last on the Ad Meter.
T-Mobile ran a series of simple motion-graphic heavy spots called “We’ll Keep This Brief.” The concept was simple enough, two anonymous texters have short and presumably funny conversations, but sadly the execution was lacking. They just didn’t feel that clever or special enough for a Super Bowl ad. They also failed to chart well on the Ad Meter.
Sorry Spongebob, Maybe Next Year
And the award for the strangest viral story to come out of this year’s event was the almost appearance of manic sea dweller Spongebob Squarepants. The show’s beloved creator passed away in November and his fans created a change.org petition to have “Sweet Victory,” a song performed by Spongebob and his pals at the “Bubble Bowl,” played during the real Bowl’s broadcast.
Over a million people signed the petition, and for a brief moment it looked like their wish came true as the intro to the song played before Travis Scott joined Adam Levine onstage for the Pepsi Halftime Show. But alas, it was just a short tease that left fans tweeting and memeing their shocked reactions. The Super Bowl may be the last great, shared experience on traditional media, but that doesn’t mean new media can’t have some fun with it too.
Overall, Super Bowl LIII was a decidedly low scoring and not terribly action-packed affair, but big brands still brought their A-game to what remains the single biggest broadcast of the year.