The Super Bowl really has less to do with football than it is a pagan-ritual celebration of television. Once a year, we Americans gather around the biggest TV we can find, which serves as sort of a ready-made devotional shrine, and watch the premier night of entertainment our corporate overlords can program for us. During this we consume as many calories as a Thanksgiving dinner, but in the form of chips and beer and without the encumbrance of extended family.
The National Football League has dominated TV ratings for years, so it is appropriate that television’s holiest night be built around this last vestige of must-see viewing. But the on-field action is not top billing for all 114 million viewers. If someone at your party says “Wow, don’t they get hurt?” or “Are the stripey guys playing too?” or “Those coaches look sooo much alike and are sooo cute,” chances are they are watching for the commercials. And this is as it should be. Ads are an enormous part of the television experience, and on its most special night, even they are an attraction.
Social media has allowed companies to maximize the huge investment of a Super Bowl ad. An average 30- second spot this year costs $3.8 million, an all-time high, and many commercials go past that in time and cost. This year, companies have released a slew of commercials early to generate buzz.
And I watched all the ones they would let us.
This list is only a preview of the commercials you’ll actually see. Many have not yet been released (Chrysler is looking to repeat last year’s Halftime In America impact by again keeping totally mum) and some have yet to be chosen from among a field. Doritos and Fiat are both previewing five ads, one of which will be aired. I tended to favor humor and sincerity over boobs and budgets.
Among another group of five ads, this one in particular was the only laugh-out-loud moment I had during the whole session. I watched it again to significantly less enjoyment, but that laugh counts for everything in the world of TV commercials.
2) Beck — "No Diggity"
A computer-animated black goldfish raps “No Diggity” to a bottle of Beck’s beer, then swims off. Beautiful.
3) Pizza Hut — Hut
As you see, Super Bowl ads fall apart when they try to be too much: too funny, too grand, too important. This old-fashioned 30-second spot pulls heartstrings in an unobtrusive way. It’s not out to make buzz. It’s out to sell red cardboard honestly, dammit.
4) Axe — Lifeguard
These spots are reliably absurdist reductions of gendered stereotypes and fantasies. This one delivers just fine.
Like the Doritos offerings, these commercials share a theme. In this case, they all play upon the sexy tradition of European ads. They’re not jaw-dropping, but people will at least pay attention.
1) Kia — Space Babies
None of these commercials were glaringly bad, but this was pretty annoying. This is a classic bad Super Bowl ad, overblown and overlong without being gratifying. The cute animals redeem it somewhat, but the truncated and limp sex reference at the end kept it from riding into the sunset.
2) Taco Bell — Viva Young
Elderly people going wild is an age-old commercial device which this commercial expands upon not one iota. Meanwhile, we are put through a weird home-studio Spanish version of “We Are Young”. The real offense, though, is the five frames of old man bulge we get when the guy jumps in the pool.
3) Audi — Prom
Part coming of age, part heartstrings, well-paced: there are going to be some people who think this is a “cute” commercial. I thought it was lame. The Budweiser Clydesdale ad does a better job on all of those.
4) Volkswagen — Get Happy
I think those really offended at this commercial would be hard-pressed to defend their position, but it is a little unseemly watching a Jamaican stereotype so indulged by white people. VW supposedly “consulted 100 Jamaicans” before—wait, they asked 100 Jamaicans? Like, in the same room, or just on the street? They should have anticipated the blowback by the 75th Jamaican they felt the need to ask.
5) Toyota — Wish Granted
The Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco is no stranger to pieces of crap, which this commercial is. There is a genre of Super Bowl ads that are too big and try to squeeze in too much. The results are jarring cuts, zero humor, and happiness when the thing ends.
Enjoy the game, and enjoy the commercials. It’s the patriotic thing to do.