Super Bowls used to mean Tom Brady hoisting another trophy along with ads of polar bears drinking Coke on not-yet-melting polar ice caps, that and the Budweiser Clydesdales. Now the most memorable – sorry, memorably good – commercials are cars and tech. Car ads have always been part of the 54 Super Bowls, but in the dotcom boom years “tech ad” meant money frittered away. Remember Pets.com? Agillon? Epidemic.com? All goners. Maybe automakers did a better job because there really are differences among cars. And the tech guys have learned from the money-wasting days at the turn of the century.
Here are the best car and tech ads of Super Bowl 54 (that’s LIV for traditionalists) along with some that didn’t click quite as well, and the best non-tech ad. We’re linking to ads from places (mostly, automaker sites on YouTube) that don’t have ads in front of them because why should you pay (with your time) to see an advertisement in order to see an ad?
The Best Ads: Hyundai Sonata, Jeep Gladiator
Hyundai Sonata Smaht Pahk. Two car ads stood out. The Hyundai Sonata spot for Smaht Pahk was the winner because it was funny, it made fun of a socio-economic group you can always make fun (people from Boston, especially since New England departed the playoffs early), and most of all because it is going to sell Hyundai Sonatas. The Sonata is the most important new car of 2020 (see our review), it is the Extreme Tech Car of the Year, and it’s loaded with standard safety features, virtually all of which are on the base, $26,000 Sonata SE. The top-line Sonata Limited, $34,000, includes Remote Smart Parking Assist, now being called Smart Park. Hop out, press the keyfob, and the Sonata pahks itself at Hahvahd Yahd, and backs out when you return. If you have a narrow garage in Back Bay or Chahlston, you don’t have to squeeze in and out inside the garage.
Too many Super Bowl commercials are ad agency spitting matches using client money to prove who’s more clever, with less thought given to whether the ad sells the product. The “Smaht Pahk” ad will do just that: Get customers to consider Sonata, and realize a mainstream car includes important new technology.
Jeep / Groundhog Day. This is the other spot that rose above the rest. Bill Murray reprised the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, this time in a Jeep Gladiator, the truck of the year in several autowriter / magazine competitions. It’s funny, it’s nostalgic, and if you don’t know Jeep makes a pickup truck in Punk’n Metallic orange paint and the doors and top come off (you do it yourself), now you do.
The concept of Groundhog Day the movie is weatherman Bill Murray is caught in an endless time loop that restarts each day when he wakes at 6 am to Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe, and has to again cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It’s faithfully recreated in the ad, except no Andie McDowell this time. And to Jeep’s good fortune, the 2020 Super Bowl was played on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. Appreciating this spot probably helped if you’re old enough to remember the movie from when it was in theaters. But if not, you should, since it’s in the National Film Registry for being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Amazon Before Alexa. Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi ponder what life was like before Amazon Alexa. The spot borders on slapstick: An 1800s upper-class woman in the parlor tells the maid, “Alexxa, turn the temperature down, two degrees,” the maid takes a log off the fire, tosses it through the window to the sound of shattering glass and a man’s muffled scream. A man in an 1800s city asks the newsboy, “Alex, what’s today’s news?” and he responds, “It doesn’t matter. It’s all fake.” Then in a 1970s Oval Office scene, a Nixon-esque voice commands, “Alicia, remind me to delete those tapes.” In the next room, an admin says loudly, “Yes, Mister President,” then softly, “I ain’t deletin’ …”
Conservatives are probably fuming if they conclude the “fake news” line makes fun of rather than echoes the current administration (hmm, who runs Amazon?), and liberals find it fair recompense for sitting through a patriotism-heavy, pre-game show that did conclude with a touching moment when four 100-year-old World War II veterans took part in the pre-game coin toss, led by Charles McGee, a pilot with the Tuskegee Airman that battled both the Germans and racism.
Google / Loretta. An old man reminisces about his life with Loretta through old pictures Google calls up, along with a clip from their favorite movie, Casablanca. If there’s a “when they cry, they buy” ad, this is it. It’s going to make everybody wish their parents scanned or at least saved and ID’d their favorite photos for you to scan. Not in the commercial but important to know is that face recognition is getting so good – too good, in China – that the thing that used to hard to do, figuring out who that is in a 50-year-old photo, can now be done automagically.
Old Luxury (Going Away Party) / Genesis. Hyundai’s Genesis division rolled out its first SUV, the GV80, using young and hip Chrissy Teigen and John Legend as they make their escape from old people, oddly shaped dogs, and an old-world mansion into the GV80. From the staircase, she looks down and says, “To old luxury: You had a good run but now it’s time to choose you up a little bit … I give you young luxury.” Teigen then gestures to the open courtyard doors and points to the GV80 that – oops – hasn’t yet pulled up (“Where were you?” she asks driver Legend. “It was supposed to be a thing and you made it not a thing.”)
Never mind that Audi did essentially the same ad – “Old Luxury” (even the same name) – in a 2011 Super Bowl commercial. In this case, yuppie inmates inhabit a faux luxury prison (a mansion in LA) filled with affluent Boomers / Millennials. They unlock the cell bars and make their way toward a waiting car. A guard releases the dogs (showy hounds). When that doesn’t work, he’s ordered, “Hit ’em with the Kenny G,” and as Songbird plays, some refuse to leave while others do. Two escapees make it the courtyard, a Mercedes pulls up (you see the tri-star hood emblem) and one says, “Lancaster, no, it’s a trap,” and Lancaster replies, “Nonsense, my father owned one.”
But the theme works, and has for ages, going back at least to 1988 and “Not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Actually, it doesn’t always work. America’s oldest car brand, the brainchild of Barney Olds, was killed off in 2004.
The Other Car / Tech Ads
Porsche did a creditable job with “The Heist”: The Porsche Taycan EV sports car is spirited out of the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. Once the heist is discovered, the guards argue / squabble over who drives which museum Porsche to track down the Taycan. That gives the viewer a chance to appreciate Porsche’s storied history and possibly begin to realize the Taycan is a continuation of Porsche history, not a bunch of greenies gone mad. The voices were a bit muffled, especially if you were watching the game with noisy friends, and works much better played on a PC with closed captions running.
A Toyota Highlander ad showed the car does indeed have a lot of room as the driver – 20 years ago this would have been a soccer mom commercial – picks up various people in comic distress from various scenes, ending with her son.
A third Hyundai group (Hyundai, Genesis, Kia) ad was for the upcoming Kia Seltos but more about the inspirational story of Oakland Raiders rookie Josh Jacobs and hard times growing up. It left some people wonder what Seltos is. Answer: The same platform as the subcompact and well-established Hyundai Kona, a bit roomier inside, and shipping this quarter.
T-Mobile and Verizon touted 5G service, which is still a ways off. T-Mobile used Anthony Anderson’s real-life, sassy, talky mom. Verizon essentially said that without 5G, emergency responders won’t get their job done as well.
Microsoft, whose Surface tablets are universally used (mandated) by the NFL, told the story of Katie Sowers, an assistant coach of the San Francisco 49ers. It’s a true story of perseverance and success, but the story was already being told in the two-week run-up to the Big Game.
Audi had an eTron Sportback spot run late in the evening after the kids were in bed, so they missed Maisie Williams singing “Let It Go” from Frozen.
GMC touted the rebirth of the Hummer as an EV in an ad with LeBron James. The Hummer is a ways off, so maybe it was okay to be low-key and laid back. This was not a call to action for hand-raisers.
Scout, the golden retriever owned by Weathertech founder David MacNeil, had his cancer cured at the University of Wisconsin vet school. MacNeil took a 30-second spot lauding the Badger vets and encouraging donations. Wisconsin hasn’t gotten this much PR since this mentions by Wisconsin alum / Wall Street Journal sportswriter Jason Gay in his column. Nice touch – who doesn’t like retreivers? – and if MacNeil wants to spend six mil in hopes of getting at least that much in donations to Wisconsin, more power to him. Pets cure a lot of human ailments by being there for you.
Tom Brady made it to the Super Bowl (as one of the game’s 100 best players of the NFL’s 100 years) and also was a spokesmodel for a Hulu spot. Amazon promoted its drama Hunters. Quibi pushed its short video service that launches this spring (nothing more challenging than 10 minutes) and hopes you’ll start saying “I’ll be there in a Quibi.”
Best in Show (Non-Tech): Lil Nas X
The hands-down winner among non-tech or car ads was the Wild West dance moves showdown between Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott with Old Town Road playing in the background. (The guy strumming the guitar at the end was Billy Ray Cyrus.) Doritos footed the bill and reaped the rewards, as long as remembers remember it was Doritos and not Bud Light or Axe body wash. And yes, when Lil Nas rides off on a horse with cascading speakers, it pays homage to Sheriff Cleavon Little and the Gucci saddlebags in Blazing Saddles.
There also were ads that continued through the show, especially Tide Pods, the claim being that if you get a stain on your shirt before the game starts, you can much later wash – remember, wash, not eat detergent pods – and the stain comes out, at which point in the last ad, the guy gets his now-clean shirt stained again. There were plenty of ads for upcoming movies – Fast & Furious 9 (photo), Minions, Black Widow, No Time to Die – and the trailers’ special effects made people glad, or annoyed, they have surround sound speakers.
Fox ran a lot of promos for future programming, including one for the Daytona 500 where stock cars appeared to come onto and arc across the field. Conspiracy theorists will see hidden hands at work when a Super Bowl broadcast on Fox News (actually, Fox Sports, but don’t let facts get in the way) runs the Donald Trump commercial midway through the first period when everyone is watching and the Michael Bloomberg spot didn’t get airplay until late in the extended halftime. Fortunately, Kansas City and San Francisco made it close until the final minutes; three late Kansas City scores made for a 31-20 win. So most viewers stuck around all three hours of the game and J Lo / Shakira halftime.
A few ads got remade at the last minute to downplay or factor out death or helicopters (RIP, Kobe). So the death-and-resurrection of Mr. Peanut spot was pretty bland.
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