There was a short period in my life when I dabbled into advertising and even did a few internships at some ad agencies (including the one that does the GEICO ads), so for a little bit I thought I’d be designing commercials for a living. That did not come to pass, but I’m still drawn to the “Commercials Super Bowl” each year, and I love to see the best work of the ad agencies and the companies they are representing. It’s also fun to think about how much money each company spent for a commercial slot, and the accompanying pressure to get it right. Always enjoyable watching which companies just burned millions of dollars (or even lost brand power) vs. the companies who put that money to good use.
To determine the top 10, each commercial was ranked on a scale of 0-30, with points coming from the following criteria:
Have I seen this idea done before? Is it the same old thing, or a whole new spin on what a commercial can be?
Emotion & Effectiveness (1-10)
Whatever this commercial is trying to do (make me laugh, make me cry, make me stop and think), how well does it do it?
Brand Tie-in (1-10)
In a year from now will I remember which brand this commercial was for (even if it scored highly in the other two categories)? Did it make sense for the brand’s current position or desired direction?
Additionally, the commercial must air between the National Anthem and the final set of commercials after the clock runs out. These days companies create “Super Bowl” commercials for YouTube without actually airing them during the game on TV, and those do not count 🙂 It should also be noted that some of your favorites may not have made my top 10, simply because something about my personal background and biases gave certain commercials legs up.
Without further ado, here are the winners!
I liked this year! The typically sickening number of “celebrity mini-skit montages” was relatively low (good thing), some surprising newcomer brands really showed up, and there were very few commercial breaks that didn’t have at least one thing to enjoy.
Nerds Gummy Clusters, Dr. Umstick, Hellman’s Mayo cat. None of these ads really said anything, which kept them out of my top 10, but they were some of my favorite easy watches. That nerd blob dancing and getting showered with nerds, Dr. Umstick’s “I’m not a body doctor” line, and that Kate McKinnon look of “yeah that just happened” at the end of the mayo cat commercial were all a treat 🙂
Popeyes “The Wait is Over”. This was a bit too “celebrity mini-skit montage” (the most over-used Super Bowl commercial format) for my taste to crack the top 10, but it was funny, and did make me salivate for some wings.
Kennedy Throwback campaign ad. As far as political ads go, this one was actually pretty cool. No mud-slinging or heaviness to it, but a super cool retro connection to the Kennedys of past.
DunKings. Along those same lines of a commercial not really saying anything, but just being really funny and original, I present to you the DunKings!
And my top 10!
10. Reese’s Yes! Caramel flavor. I loved the Yes/No flip-flopping, it got to showcase its star (the Reese Cup) big and beautiful, and it had a nice call to action (go get the limited time caramel cup!).
9. Doordash All the Ads promo code. Commercials that can deliver a surprising moment or two tend to score high with me. Loved when the “dash” kept going and going, while it effectively emphasized that you can get anything with Doordash (everything in all the ads!)
8. Squarespace Aliens. The story of the ad could have been a bit more clear, but the idea was good (we’re all glued to our phones), and that idea of “a website makes it real” brought it all together nicely.
7. NFL Sunday Ticket Bird Migration. The NFL has cracked my top 10 several times now, perhaps unfairly because of their “home-field advantage.” But the players as birds was funny, and had the nice tie-in of football leaving for now but returning soon.
6. CoPilot AI App. The “they said I’d never make it” cliche made me puke a little bit, but by the end they did a great job showing what the app could do, how I could get it, and how it could improve my life. I bet they get a lot of downloads from this ad and the investment pays off big time. I was a little surprised how few “AI” commercials there were this year.
5. Etsy Gift Mode Statue of Liberty. Everyone knows the pain of “shoot, what do I gift them?” and this was a clever way to highlight the Etsy gift mode. Cheese board!
4. Volkswagen in America. Well-constructed ad highlighting just how cultural the VW brand has become in America, even as an imported brand (the car coming off of the boat at the beginning and the end was cool). Got me excited for the “next big thing” with the upcoming VW bus.
3. Pfizer Here’s to Science. This one got me good with the singing scientists of the past. Had the whole room laughing, and then when they made that last-second mood shift to beating cancer it had some of us choking up. Brand tie-in wasn’t perfect (felt a little presumptuous for Pfizer to take credit for all “science”) but it was a fun ad with an enjoyable coaster of feels.
2. Pluto TV Raising Couch Potatoes. Loved this one! It felt like an obvious response to my winner from last year, the “Tubi Rabbit Holes“. That field of couch potatoes was too good! Made it clear what the product was (free TV that will get you hooked) and was so much fun.
1. Poppi The Future of Soda. “This will be the last time you ever think of soda as a dirty word. As being bad for you.” That was a huge claim, along with saying that our kids and grandkids would equate “Poppi” and “soda”. But the ad had just enough hook and weight to make me feel that it could be backed up. They did cause a bit of a mental shift for me about soda, and for that they took the number 1 spot.
A pretty good year for commercials! Not many that were head and shoulders above the others, but a really solid chunk in the middle. Without further ado:
Amazon Saving Sawyer. This was actually one of my favorite commercials to watch because of the double twist – one that the lovable dog is actually the worst, and then that they actually aren’t locking him up. BUT, Amazon has a problem. You can buy anything and everything on Amazon, so their commercials are often about nothing. The commercial boils down to, hey you can buy this kennel on Amazon, which isn’t saying anything at all.
Crown Royal Thank you Canada. Wasn’t anything fancy, and the brand tie-in was low (they literally could have been selling anything with Canada roots), but it did make me appreciate our friends up north for a minute!
Workday Rockstars. Loved the rockstar cameos and angst at the theft of their rockstar word. But ultimately felt a bit too “montage-y”.
10. Pepsi Zero Sugar Ben Stiller “Or was I just acting?”. All the Ben Stiller references were fun, and the clever hook at the end got this into the top 10. Was he acting? Or does he actually like Pepsi Zero Sugar? Made me want to try it.
9. GM / Netflix “Why Not an EV?”. When a dual-brand ad goes well it’s always a lot of fun and feels like an “Avengers” crossover moment. I loved all the Netflix show references. GM itself was a little forgettable in that I could have just subbed any car company into the ad and it would have been the exact same. Win for Netflix, “meh” for GM.
8. M&M Ma&Ya Clam Bites. I’m not super familiar with the context of the M&M spokescandies getting the boot, but then PSYCH not getting the boot. But this was a funny commercial. I didn’t see clam-flavored Ma&Ya’s coming and I love all the reactions and Maya’s “You’re spose’d to say yes!” at the end. This one seemed to get conversation going around the brand, which ultimately feels like a win.
7. Ram Premature Electrification. Funny “I see what you did there” commercial. I think they tapped into real feelings many of us have towards electric vehicles. Am I ready?? I liked the commercial a lot, but ultimately I probably won’t remember that it was for Ram specifically.
6. Squarespace The Singularity An early favorite of mine. So chic, and Adam Driver is the best. The message was simple but memorable: A Website that makes websites! Tapped into the AI/Robot trends pretty well.
5. NFL Flag Football. The NFL always seems to do a great job with their recent ads full of cameos and chases and lots of fun. Definitely piqued my interest in flag football and how it can tie-in with and partner with the NFL in the future.
4. Pixel 7 Magic Eraser. I did not see those edits coming! I liked the meaningful intro and then the playful swap into all the cool things the camera can do. If I weren’t see addicted to Apple everything then this ad would make me consider checking out a Pixel 7.
3. The Farmer’s Dog Love you Forever. Perhaps the most moving ad of the day. Loved when the perspective swapped to the dog’s memories. I’ve never owned a dog, so perhaps to me this sold the idea of owning a dog more than the specific dog food, but overall well done!
2. Breaking Bad PopCorners. I’m not sure how it played for people who haven’t seen Breaking Bad, but for Breaking Bad fans this was a treat. The actors were perfectly in character, and it worked with emphasizing the ingredients, flavors, and cool-factor of PopCorners.
1. Tubi Rabbit Holes. Ok for me Tubi won the super bowl. Those creepy rabbits had me hooked, and the moment you put together that they are throwing people down rabbit holes was just delightful. Loved that the Tubi rabbit showed up later, and the clever Tubi screen takeover that had many questioning if their kid had stolen the remote.
A decent year, but certainly not the best. Still a few too many “funny but that’s it” commercials, and it seemed that companies were still shying away from making anything too heavy (since there’s still a little too much heaviness in the world). Anyways, here goes!
Close but no Cigar:
Salesforce “The New Frontier”. I liked this one, but it’s issues were that it was played too much before the Super Bowl (and lost some of its effect), and it has nothing to do with Salesforce. Really cool message though to focus on the problems we have at home.
Stuck in a Pringle Can. This was funny and clever, because who hasn’t gotten their arm stuck in a Pringle Can? Good self-awareness. Ultimately it felt a little too one-dimensional to break into my top 10.
Sally Sells Squarespace. You can’t not like Zendaya, and twisting up the old tongue-twister was clever. Liked the setting and colors and everything. Felt like it needed a tad more brand tie in to make it really work though.
10. Zeus BMW Electric Car. Arnold is always fun, and the tie of “powerful” Zeus to a “weak” electric car was a really smart choice by BMW. Some funny little scenes of Zeus in retirement as well.
9. Turkish Airlines Pangea. I liked the idea and the effects of the continents crashing together and becoming one again. Great tie in to an airline claiming to make the world a smaller place. Good look and feel to this one.
8. Google Pixel True Tone. Capturing true skin tone on camera is something that I’ve never had to think about, so this was an eye-opening commercial that effectively showed a new (and important) feature of the pixel phones. Well done!
7. Carvana Oversharing Mom. The whole commercial is just a mom talking about Carvana and sharing everything about it, which in theory should suck. But it worked! The situations and the way they were presented were entertaining, and I could imagine people in my life talking just like this. Funny and effective!
6. Uber Don’t Eats. The message was simple: Uber Eats delivers anything now. And the delivery was great! A bunch of funny people eating non-edible things. You can’t look away!
5. Rocket Homes Barbie Dreamhouse. Anna Kendrick is always a good choice, and the classic Barbie/dream house was a great way to tap into the crazy housing market and showing clearly how Rocket Mortgage would help.
4. Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus TMobile “Do It For the Phones”. Shots fired! A direct attack against their rivals and making a whole pity party, “We Are the World” charity song and all, was a sly move by TMobile. Dolly and Miley are always a great pairing, and the music video made by Miley’s crew actually wasn’t bad!
3. Coinbase QR Code. A QR code shows up and starts bouncing around the screen for a full minute and what does it make me do? Scan the QR code! They got so many people to scan the thing that the website crashed! Someone also pointed out that the people they want using Coinbase are the people who would know what to do with a QR code in the first place, showing that they are forward-thinking. Great use of their advertising dollars (and definitely the cheapest commercial to make!)
2. FTX Larry David is Never Wrong. One upping Coinbase by just a bit, FTX hit a home run. Larry David was hilarious and the whole ad I was waiting to see what “thing” he was going to be wrong about. The wheel, the fork, the lightbulb, and….the FTX app! It was quite a claim, but one that made me look closer into the company.
1. Meta Quest Old “Chuck e Cheese” Friends. Loved the story behind this one. Everyone loves the animatronic band from their childhood and the nostalgia of “where are they now” really worked. Loved seeing them get back together in the metaverse. This was a cool intro to the product and a really fun commercial that hit the hardest for me.
This year’s commercials were focused on the funny and the feel-good, and it worked. 2020 was heavy, so the few heavy commercials that did air didn’t seem to hit the notes that they usually do. Because of that, I think the funny commercials of the year hit home more than usual, and I had a hard time narrowing down the list. Without further ado, here are the winners!
Close but no Cigar:
M&M’s “I’m Sorry”. This was light and easy, which fits the product, and had some really funny scenes packed into 30 seconds. The mansplaining and the Karen scene were excellent, and the visual of handing over a pack of M&Ms to make things right worked for me.
Bud Light Legends. The commercial itself was just ok, but the Avengers nod and the sheer number of references and characters from past campaigns was very impressive. Made me want to watch it again to revisit some of the best Bud Light commercials of yesteryear.
Bud Light’s Last Year’s Lemons. A little too montage-y and unoriginal in terms of format, but good tie in to the lemonade product and full of hilarious moments and scenes. What’s not to love about pelting 2020 with lemons?
Rocket Mortgage Certain is Better. Again, a little too unoriginal in terms of the montage format, but good brand tie in with wanting to be certain about an important thing like a mortgage, and some fun scenes. Tracy Morgan was great, especially his face when the car is about to smash into the bridge.
10. Will Ferrell vs Norway. I’m not a big fan of Will Ferrell’s humor, but this commercial was actually funny and it conveyed its message well: “The US is being outclassed by a tiny remote country and we need to get our act together, and GM is here to help.” It made the idea of owning an electric car seem attainable and upcoming.
9. Michelob Ultra “All Star Cast”. I’ve never seen something like this done before where they totally fake out the audience, including with the narrator of the whole spot. So that cool moment of realization, and the tie in to the message of “our product is not a fake” put it into the top 10.
8. Paramount + Ascending the Mountain. It seems that every year there is one brand that “takes over” with a multitude of spots. This one could have done better at times, and because it’s a CBS product it felt a little like we were being held hostage by the host network, but it was still well done and enjoyable. Fun seeing all the different characters, cartoon and real, that showed up throughout and let their personalities come through. And it made me intrigued in the service, so mission accomplished.
7. TurboTax The Experts Are Coming. Loved the retro vibe of this with the quirky and almost alien-invasion-like movement of desks across the land distributing their tax advice. The interesting loopholes they pointed out made me thing, “huh, maybe I should hire one of them” and that is obviously doing its job.
6. Anheiser Busch Let’s Grab a Beer. Some really human moments and situations here. A great example of showing a product and conveying an idea without focusing on it too directly. The switch to black and white for the last scene felt like a strange choice, but overall I liked it.
5. Verizon 5G Can’t Blame the Lag. Felt very original. Loved the “Pride Rock” epicness and the fun nods to video game characters and culture (and the Juju scene). Loved how it addressed the specific “lag excuse” and had some good humor throughout.
4. Huggies Welcome to the World, Baby. Clever angle talking directly to the babies with a “we got your back” tutorial of the world. Fun touch showing babies who had literally just been born yesterday. Awesome tie-in, and cleverly written. And who doesn’t love babies!
3. Alexa’s Body with Michael B Jordan. Hilarious. The husband getting jealous of “Alexa” was just great. Had me laughing out loud, and at the same time had good brand tie-in showing some of the things that Alexa can do and emphasizing that it looks good doing it.
2. Doritos 3D Flat Matthew. This one nearly reached #1 for me, because it was the only commercial that made me straight up cry from laughing. Loved the sequences of flat Matt living in the world and the wistfulness in his face. Then when he gets into the vending machine you can’t help but anticipate what is coming. Then that moment that his face smashes against the glass is pure gold. Once again, Doritos does not disappoint! Tied into the 3D vs Flat Doritos message very well.
1. Door Dash Sesame Street This one had it all. A relevant and like-able star (from Hamilton no-less!), the nostalgic pull of Sesame Street, and a perfect brand tie in. It made me want to get out and save my neighborhood’s small businesses, and to think of them as people trying to survive in this Covid era of customers getting out less. The song and visuals were great, and this turned into a well-deserved #1.
This was one of the best commercial years we’ve had in a while, in my opinion. I actually had a really hard time picking my top 10 so I cheated and added some special mentions below as well.
10. Dashlane Password Paradise. It could have been delivered/acted a little better, but they hit on the pain point of passwords and security questions really well. Fun skit with great brand tie-in and obvious message.
9. Hyundai Smaht Pahk. The cast (and their commitment to the Boston accent) was too charming for me to say no. They did a great job showing the new auto-park in action and demonstrating its appeal to city-dwellers.
8. McDonald’s Famous Orders. Fun idea to show the orders of famous people, players, and fictional characters. Something I haven’t seen done before and it kept me interested the whole time. Did a good job showing how much McDonalds has integrated its way into our culture. Everyone has their order.
7. Jeep Groundhogs Day. That final message of “no day is the same if you own a Jeep” was brilliant. Great brand tie in, entertaining, nostalgic. And surprisingly these are the only guys that took advantage of the Super Bowl being on Groundhogs Day!
6. Tom Brady Fake Retirement Hulu Announcement. I actually didn’t love this one in the moment (you could smell a fake from a million miles away), but the buzz it generated beforehand with Tom’s cryptic pic and the reactions to the commercial afterwards were what won me over. Hulu worked it’s way into Tom Brady’s career/retirement narrative, which will be talked about for a long time. And therefore, Hulu will remain in that conversation.
5. Pringle Rick and Morty Cartoon. I’m not even familiar with Rick and Morty and the commercial didn’t even have a product announcement or grand message, but I just thought it was hilarious. Totally original and one of the only (if not the only?) animated commercials. And you know what, it made me want to go buy a bunch of Pringles and combo them to make new flavors.
4. Before Alexa. Obvious tie-in to the product reminding us of everything we use Voice Assistants for. Loved all the settings and meeting the different “Alexas” from history. One challenge that Alexa faces is that the commercial could have just as easily been for a Google Home or Siri, etc. Didn’t really show what is special about Alexa specifically. But still, well done and enjoyable!
3. Tide Later. They tried to take over the Super Bowl again. It wasn’t nearly as effective or funny as their 2018 “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign, but they told their message (stains can wait for later) and I loved when they surprised me and showed up during the Masked Singer ad and the Wonder Woman commercial.
2. Heinz 4-in-one. High points in originality for doing 4 commercials in one. Loved the message that no matter the situation or the trouble you find yourself in, Heinz will be there on the table and make you feel a little more at home. Good brand tie-in and loved the look and symmetry of each of the 4 stories.
1. Snickers Hole. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure putting this at 1, but this is the only commercial of the night that had me and Holly literally laughing out loud in tears. When they sing “we have a dumb idea” and then drop a massive snickers into a giant hole we just lost it. The visual of feeding the earth to make it less bad is just genius. And then when the selfie people fall in to top it off. Great tie-in with their past campaigns of eating Snickers to be less angry/grumpy/whatever. Well done!
Close but no Cigar:
Rocket Mortgage: This was one of the funniest commercials and I really thought it would be in my top 10, but then afterwards for the life of me I couldn’t remember which company it was for. That diminishes the commercial’s benefit by a lot and it lost most points in brand tie-in. Watching it again I realize that he’s at home and Rocket Mortgage helps you buy a home, but the tie-in needed to go deeper.
Walmart Famous Visitors. This one wasn’t super creative, but the sheer number of movie references and cameos gives it special mention. It also did a good job of tying in the product they are trying to promote (picking things up at the curb, regardless of who you are).
Turkish Airlines Step on Earth: Love the idea of “we’ve been to the moon, but most of us haven’t left the country” idea, but it just felt a little underdeveloped. Right when this one started I was rooting for it, but then it didn’t really deliver.
Funny but too familiar: There’s a commercial that keeps showing up every year that includes a series of funny yet somewhat product-unrelated situations/phrases/sketches. And for some reason they each tend to involve a cubicled office? This year those commercials included the Cheetoh’s Can’t Touch This, Little Ceasar’s Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, and the Reese’s Take-5. All fun solid commercials, but low marks on brand tie-in and originality. I felt like I’d seen them all before.
10. Expensify rap video. Just hard to pass up Ben Wyatt in his accounting role from Parks and Rec asking for expense receipts and reports. Good job conveying what the product does and I loved the tagline at the end that says “You weren’t born to do expenses,” so you should focus on your core business.
9. Spiked Seltzer shark tank pitch. People love shark tank. It’s fun to meet the founders, hear about something too good to be true, and then see the sharks’ reactions. Clever way to pull all of that in and make us watch their shark tank pitch without even realizing it. Solid!
8. Michelob Ultra sounds and nature. The sound engineering on this was cool. Not a whole lot to the commercial, but the silence and the sounds they achieved caught my interest. Drove their point home well about Pure Gold being different from others and being more pure in some way.
7. Washington Post democracy dies in darkness. Certainly one of the heaviest commercials, but well done and felt important. Loved the shout-outs to the journalists who have died gathering the stories.
6. SimpliSafe world of fear. Really hit home with how we’re conditioned to be afraid of everything, and how there’s always some new thing to be “worried” about, like wheat bread. Tied in well with the brand. Only issue is that the commercial is telling me that there are so many things that I shouldn’t actually be worried about since we’re overreacting, but then it tries to sell me on a security system. Something was missing a little bit there on the end effect, but I still really enjoyed this one.
5. Google translate. Lots of warm fuzzies while Google still recognized that sometimes their tools are used for evil. I liked that they were just showing Google Translate and not Google as a whole. Good to narrow in on a cool feature like that.
4. Audi cashew near-death. What is heaven? Awesome electric cars. Message received. The look on the guys face that says “man, I wish I could stay dead and be with grandpa and that car” did it for me.
3. Hyundai elevator of misery. Loved how they conveyed that car shopping is even worse than root canals, the talk, jury duty, vegan dinner parties, etc. Made a lot of sense, great tie in to the new sales method they’re using. Solid!
2. Bud Light corn syrup delivery. Well done, super funny, and obviously got the message across that they don’t use Corn Syrup 🙂 I loved at the end when the enemy guy was like, “and just in case you missed it somehow, we use corn syrup!” Also, props for the Game of Thrones tie-in commercial. Love that they let the Bud Light knight get owned like that.
1. NFL 100 Year Anniversary banquet. Just too many legendary and current players to deny that that was an awesome commercial. Obvious brand tie-in, and would probably get anybody watching excited about year 100 of the NFL.
10. Avocados people freaking out about not having chips. Fun!
9. Verizon thanking first responders. Not great brand tie-in, but a really cool emotional idea of the rescued people calling their rescuers.
8. Sprint robots laughing at guy for using Verizon. They’ve been hammering this same “why pay double for 1% thing” for a while, but I thought they presented it well with the genius robots calling the guy out on it.
7. Kia Steven Tyler driving back in time. Not great brand tie in to Kia specifically, but a fun emotional moment when he steps out of the car and is young again.
6. Budweiser factory delivering water. Great emotional commercial tying into all the tragedies of the past year.
5. Jeep Wrangler driving through the river and up the waterfall. Just straight up cool seeing the car own the waterfall and not have anything else flashy or silly going on. Message received!
4. Michelob Ultra Chris Pratt as an extra. Comical, and I thought did a good job portraying the message that they wanted – that Ultra is for everyone. And come on, Chris Pratt is the best!
3. Rocket Mortgage guy translating everything for people and then handing a couple the Rocket Mortgage app. Had some really funny moments and really brought home the idea that the app will translate all the housing lingo for you. Nicely done.
2. Australia tourism fake movie preview. They got me! I totally thought the thing was a movie promo and then turns out they tricked me into wanting to go to Australia. Full marks for originality and good marks on effectiveness and brand tie in.
1. Tide, of course. They DOMINATED the super bowl ads this year. They spoofed every commercial imaginable and pretty soon I found myself thinking about Tide on most of the commercials. I felt so bad for the other detergent commerical (for Persil) came on, because right away I was like, “it’s a Tide ad!” Original, great brand tie in, great humor.