A "great" Super Bowl commercial cuts through the clutter -- and the annual beer-and-money-fueled celebration of American football and excess is nothing but clutter. Every ad must also compete for attention with the game itself, pyrotechnics-filled halftime show, online commentary, and the constant chatter of your loudest know-it-all friend at the party. Given the context, it's not surprising that companies often come off as a little desperate in their increasingly elaborate, celebrity-driven efforts to grab your attention.
Just like we did last year, we're here to help you sort through the mess: We watched every Super Bowl commercial that aired during the Big Game and ranked them all, from the charming ones you'll e-mail to your grandma the next morning to the irritating ones that made you want to demolish your TV. (Note: We left out movie/TV trailers, CBS promos, commercials for the NFL, previously aired spots, anything from the pre-game, and the local advertisements that pop up during the broadcast.) Pull up a bag of leftover corn chips -- hopefully approved by your favorite rapper -- and read on.
Why is this commercial so smug? Ozark star Jason Bateman dons an elevator operator uniform for a mean-spirited commercial with a bunch of hack jokes about going to jury duty, finding a seat on a crowded plane, talking to your kids about sex, and attending a vegan dinner party. All the lines are obvious and the entire "magical elevator" concept makes very little sense. Next floor, please.
The shorter of two WeatherTech commercials that aired during the game is quick and simple. Trying to have a conversation on your phone in the car? Maybe you need a device that helps your phone stand up in a cup holder. The solutions seems potentially useful, but wouldn't you want your phone to be higher than cup level so you could see it? Like, shouldn't the cup be way taller?
49. Turkish Airlines
Listen, I've enjoyed plenty of Ridley Scott movies: Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Prometheus, etc. etc. But I'm not going online in the middle of the Super Bowl to watch a Ridley Scott ad for Turkish Airlines. What is this? Don't make us watch a trailer -- show us the commercial. (Note: The trailer-like commercial that aired during the game does not appear to be online, so we've placed the full-length commercial above.)
Commercials don't always state their creepy ideologies so explicitly. Watching this ad for SimpliSafe, the Boston-based home security company, is like putting on the glasses Roddy Piper wears in They Live. The message is "fear everything" and "be paranoid." Thanks, SimpliSafe.
47. Norwegian Cruise Lines
With its shots of beautiful vistas and families enjoying a cruise, this Norwegian Cruise Lines spot doesn't feel like a Super Bowl commercial. An ad like this could air during prime-time on just about any channel. It looks nice to go on a cruise, but, come on, do something.
46. T-Mobile ("We'll keep this brief...")
No one likes getting long text messages in real life. It turns out it's not very fun to get them on your TV either.
45. T-Mobile ("What's for dinner?")
44. T-Mobile ("We're here for you...")
I'm begging you.
43. T-Mobile ("Dad?!")
This one doesn't leave much of an impression. Despite hyping up the company's "deepest secret," I can't really remember anything from this commercial. Sorry, Persil.
Security company ADT gives us a fairly standard look at all the fancy technology they use to keep their customers safe. Then the Property Brothers show up at the end? That's about all that's going on in this one -- pretty boring.
This was the most unsettling of all the robot ads this year. The way the rubber-looking "RoboChild" face moves when it laughs or cries is truly disturbing. Pure nightmare fuel.
The best part of this commercial is when the dog holds up his paw and it gets the little ID scan, like he's a secret agent pet accessing his headquarters in an early '00s kids movie. (Remember Cats & Dogs?) The rest of this spot, which touts the company's new dog food bowl, is pretty forgettable. This is the Super Bowl: Cute animals only get you so far.
38. Toyota (Supra)
Any insurance expert will tell you that treating your car like a pinball is not an advisable idea. You'd put unnecessary miles on it, do damage to your vehicle, and possibly hurt someone on the road. For a commercial, it's fine -- but we worry about the impressionable young drivers out there, and have to dock this Who-scored Toyota commercial a few points for that reason. Stay safe.
37. Google ("100 Billion Words")
Where Amazon went the humorous, celebrity-driven route this year, our other tech-overlord, Google, decided to go for a more earnest, thoughtful approach. The ad shows off the Google Translate technology, offering a hopeful message about people communicating in different languages all over the globe. It won't make you cry, but it might make you stroke your chin and go, "Hmmm... interesting."
36. Stella Artois
You know that movie and that TV show you really like? What if we brought back the beloved character from that and then had them shill for a beer? Totally epic, right? Right?
Karlie Kloss makes her own website in this strange, oddly inert ad for the development platform. Is there a joke here? Not really -- just a famous person making a website. Cool.
I get that this Pepsi commercial, where Steve Carell makes the case that Pepsi is "more than OK," is attempting to be self-deprecating -- and trying to pack in cameos from Lil Jon and Cardi B -- but the tone is grating. It's an ad where a rich celebrity guy irritates a service industry worker for a minute. The whole commercial feels like someone saying "you're welcome" in a really passive aggressive way.
33. Bud Light ("Trojan Horse Occupants")
This quick one for the beer brand finds the Bud Light knights hiding out in a Trojan Horse. Honestly, it's so short it doesn't really get a chance to get a solid joke off. The knights need time to cook.
32. Bud Light (Game of Thrones crossover)
According to the convoluted rules of this list, a commercial like the one above probably shouldn't even be on here because it's technically for a TV show. But, really, it's more of a Bud Light commercial than a Game of Thrones ad. Either way, it's annoying. Bud Light should team up an HBO show that could potentially benefit from a Super Bowl bump: How about a Bud Light and The Deuce crossover?
Tony Romo brags about his "easy" lifestyle in a low-key, goofy spot for the shoe brand. The part where he hits the golf ball into the big hole is clever, but most of this ad feels like something you'd see during any other sporting event. Don't take it easy during the Super Bowl. Go big or go home!
30. Bud Light ("Medieval Barbers")
Another super-short commercial. At least this one has some bowl-cut humor.
This commercial has the darkly lit, vaguely "cinematic" look that many serious ads chase. (The child's voice-over also gives the spot a nebulous Terrence Malick vibe.) But the actual copy is a oddly confrontational, paying tribute to the hard-working values of a community by striking a forlorn, bleak tone about celebrity culture and fame. It feels defensive instead of celebratory.
28. Michelob Ultra
There were lots of sad robots in commercials this year. (According to these ads, the national anxiety about artificial intelligence and automation is real.) The android in this beer commercial is frustrated because he spends all his time working out and doesn't get to enjoy a beer. We reject this robot propaganda.
We've reached the point where Amazon's Echo is so ubiquitous that completely unrelated products, like snack chip Pringles, now feature unnamed knock-off versions of it in their ads. In a few years, all commercials will just feature Echo's talking to each other back and forth. No humans necessary.
The Budweiser Clydesdales return in this wind-powered ad, which mostly keeps the focus on a dog instead of those majestic horses. It's one of those do-gooder ads that tauts the company's commitment to renewable energy and it features a Bob Dylan song. Depending on your level of cynicism, you'll either smile or retch.
The roll-out of the new Flamin’ Hot Nacho Dorito is the occasion for this remix of the '90s classic "I Want it That Way," which finds Chance the Rapper performing and hamming it up on camera with the original boy band members. (Yep, that's the Backstreet Boys hitting those dance moves.) Like many music-focussed spots, it's all about the cameos, the camera-work, and the jingle. Chance, who has shilled for Kit-Kat's in the past, is a natural pitchman, but the ad doesn't leave much of an impression. We don't really want it either way.
24. Mercedes-Benz USA
A slightly smarmy guy gets Bruce Almighty powers, which he mostly uses for good instead of evil, in this ad for the German car-maker. A trip to the opera provides an opportunity for a Ludacris cameo and an afternoon cartoon viewing session gets interrupted by Wiley E. Coyote himself. It all ends up being a metaphor for the company's new A-Class, which apparently takes voice commands. Ludacris not included.
23. Washington Post
Tom Hanks, who played Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in 2017's The Post, provides the voice-over for this stirring spot for the newspaper. While acknowledging the work of the Post reporters, the ad is more of a general statement about the importance of journalism, particularly in troubled times. Who could be the intended audience for this one? Hmmm...
22. Bud Light ("Special Delivery")
The Bud Light medieval campaign continues with this ad, which takes aim at some of its most prominent rivals. The familiar beer knights find a big tub of corn syrup and have no need for it because, of course, Bud Light doesn't use corn syrup. So they take it to the castles of Miller Lite and Coors Light. As far as "shots fired" commercials go, this isn't as brutal as the Wendy's one that said all its competitors were serving frozen food, but it's in the same spirit.
21. Toyota (RAV4 Hybrid)
Antoinette Harris, a free safety at East Los Angeles College, is the star of this ad from the car giant, which attempts to draw a comparison between her accomplishment of achieving success in a traditionally male-dominated sport and the company's new Rav4 Hybrid car. This certainly isn't the first ad to co-opt an athlete's personal triumph for branding purposes -- and it won't be the last either -- but at least it shines a light on a story some fans might not be aware of and it gives Harris a chance to show off her skills.
Tennis legend Serena Williams has a powerful serve, which apparently makes her the ideal spokesperson for a dating app where women make the first move. At least, that's the logic of this ad, which uses Williams's presence as a way to sell you on the idea that Bumble is more than a dating app. (It's also got services centered around building a career and making friends.) The unanswered question: Does Bumble improve your backswing?
Kraft-Heinz owned food brand Devour went the "edgy" route this year with a commercial about a wife dealing with her husband's "frozen food porn" addiction. (The above version is the "uncensored" one.) Yes, that means he's been eating tubs of food alone in the garage, ogling at plates of gooey cheese on his iPad, and even filming some of his own personal amateur projects. There are a couple decent sight gags here, but the tone of the ad feels a bit like a Deadpool joke: so eager to shock, it forgets to be funny.
Jokes about Alexa are a Super Bowl pastime at this point. Amazon recruits some big names for this one -- Harrison Ford, Forest Whitaker, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, and more make quick appearances -- but the premise of "Alexa is up to no good" was funnier when more people weren't, uh, actively concerned about what Alexa is doing with your data. It's a dystopian ad for a dystopian product. So, a success, I guess?
17. Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer
If your ad reminds me of Aquaman, it gets to be somewhere in the middle of the list. Extra points are also rewarded for talking CG sharks. Points are deducted for being a "spiked seltzer" commercial. These are the rules.
Buffy is back in this Sarah Michelle Gellar starring commercial for the skincare brand. The spot actually finds the actress playing less of a vampire slayer and more of a frightened horror heroine, which she's done in movies before. Not a lot of ads go the genre parody route anymore, so this one popped amongst all the robots and dogs -- even if it wasn't particularly funny or scary.
What the hell is this? Mr. Peanut, the debonair mascot for Planters, keeps his monocle and his top-hat but gets an action movie makeover in this big budget extravaganza, which also features a Charlie Sheen cameo straight out of 2011 and a not-so-subtle dig at Kale Chips. It's all pretty stupid, like a parody of an over-the-top Super Bowl commercial.
14. Verizon ("The Coach Who Wouldn't Be Here")
In this somber, Peter Berg directed commercial, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn meets the first responders who saved his life following a tragic accident years ago. The actual circumstances surrounding the filming of this clip sound a little gross -- is it really worth "emotionally ambushing" a person for a Super Bowl commercial? -- but the clip itself is moving.
13. Google ("Job Search for Veterans")
For its second commercial of the night, Google decided to salute the troops by showing off how the search engine can be an effective job search tool for veterans. It's a nice sentiment and it's executed in a direct, no-frills manner that fits the subject. Plus, they got Jack Ryan himself, John Krasinski, to do the voice-over.
12. Verizon ("The Team That Wouldn't Be Here")
Just like for the other Verizon spot, filmmaker Peter Berg handles the directing duties for this clip that highlights the brave work of first responders. With movies like Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day, Berg has carved out a space as the go-to chronicler of servicemen and women caught high-pressure situations. Unlike in those movies, Mark Wahlberg does not show up here.
Bo still knows commercials. In this quick spot from the telecommunications company, super-athlete Bo Jackson, who starred in a famous Nike campaign some younger viewers might not remember, returns for a bit of meta-winking at the one-upmanship of Super Bowl ad campaigns. As far as parodies go, this one is pretty toothless: The commercial is basically just calling attention to the lack of originality in the ad space, with the robot and the spokesman serving as half-hearted pitchmen, and then replicating those same tired cliches in a slightly ironic manner. (When an ad is set during a "brainstorm session" that often means trouble.) Still, it was fun to see Bo.
Christina Applegate stars as a woman driving a car with some rowdy kids in the backseat. Except, they aren't kids: It's those M&M candy guys and they're fused together in the company's new chocolate bar. Honestly, Danny DeVito should've been in the backseat.
Ever since he popped up in Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, Luke Wilson has excelled at playing well-meaning dimwits. The Idiocracy star is basically called on to play a version of that archetype in this spot for Colgate Total Toothpaste, which finds him "close-talking" and showing off his clean teeth in a crowded office building. Even if the commercial is essentially stealing a decades old Seinfeld premise, the execution is clever and Wilson sells the gag with his easy-going professionalism.
This Audi ad, which opens with a glowing vision of heaven and a reunion with grandpa before crashing back to reality, is more downbeat than most car commercials. The office drone's drab, car-obsessed vision of the afterlife is obviously depressing, but the music cue at the end keeps the clip from ending on a totally shattering note. Should we applaud Audi for acknowledging the bleakness of consumer culture? This commercial basically suggests that your average American's understanding of mortality has been co-opted by the slick, corrosive imagery of ad agencies: Even paradise is just more sponsored content now.
7. Mint Mobile
Is "chunky style milk" taking things too far? Honestly, we're into it. The framing of the fake ad is a bit forced and the Mint Mobile fox mascot is creepy, but the John Waters energy of the chunky milk -- particularly way the texture is shown in close-up -- makes this one of the more memorable ads of the night.
6. Michelob Ultra
ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, gets its big mainstream moment with this ad for Michelob Ultra. As popular as ASMR videos are online, it's possible some viewers were startled by Zoe Kravitz whispering, clanking her fingers against a glass, and pouring beer with achingly slow precision. If you heard it over the hum of your Super Bowl party, maybe this will be your new obsession.
This 2 Chainz starring commercial gets at a fundamental truth: No one likes to save receipts for expense reports. In the clip, the shoot for an opulent video from the Atlanta rapper gets interrupted by actor Adam Scott, playing a record label number-cruncher, and 2 Chainz schools him by talking about Expensify. Then 2 Chainz drives off in his ice car, which will hopefully be commercially available soon.
4. Burger King
Obviously, it's hard to get too outraged over a clip of pop art innovator Andy Warhol eating a burger getting re-contextualized for a Burger King ad decades later. (As Atlas Obscura points out, the scene itself is drawn from the movie 66 Scenes of America by Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth.) As an act of mildly clever ad executive trolling, it works. Plus, the burger made me hungry.
Of the "inspirational ads" that aired during the game, this was the one most likely to leave you misty-eyed. Focussing on the Adaptive Controller for Xbox One, which was designed for gamers with disabilities, the commercial stars a group of enthusiastic kids with disabilities who grew up gaming and have the experience changed by the introduction of the new controller. (The story behind the controller and even its packaging is fascinating.) In a smart move, the relatively simple ad lets the kids tell their own stories in their own words; there aren't any celebrities or special effects here. Like most ads in this particular genre, it's pretty manipulative but the kids are charming and their genuine excitement is infectious.
2. Avocados from Mexico
We have a winner here. Best in Show may have cornered the market on dog pageant comedy, but this commercial, which features Kristin Chenoweth as a biting announcer, finds a new angle on old material by having humans compete for the approval of dog judges. Of all the slightly surreal, "LOL so random" ads from the Super Bowl, this one stood out.
These ads don't have to be complicated. This spot for Bubly, a flavored seltzer sold by Pepsi, hits all the requisite Super Bowl beats: Hire a celebrity, make a joke, repeat the joke, pitch the product, and end on another gag. As a disgruntled version of himself, Michael Bublé is game and the other actors, including stand-up Aparna Nancherla, help sell the premise. I don't know -- it was one of the few genuine laughs during a bleak game! What more do you want?