The Obligatory Super Hole XI

by Feb 1, 2017

After a decade of reviewing Super Bowl commercials, I considered changing the format for Super Hole XI. Then I considered getting some nachos. The nachos won. Therefore, the rules remain the same: I only review ads shown during the four quarters of the game, so no pre- or post-game spots (unless they were released early and I didn’t know any better, or I just feel like it). And no movie trailers, TV show promos, or local/regional ads unless they move me to rewind the Tivo. Also, no pharmaceuticals because, come on. Really.

As always, spots are arranged in alphabetical order according to brand. I do not guarantee that this is the definitive list of Super Bowl LI spots, but I get paid the same whether I am accurate or not. Which is bupkis.

Once again, my pre-apologies are extended to anyone who worked on any of the spots to which I give low marks. I’ll assume nefarious internal politics were the cause. Besides, you got to do a Super Bowl spot. I got queso-free nachos because I’m a lactose bigot.

Finally, I plead with advertisers to actually name their spots. Tolkien didn’t call his opus “The Big Book Story Featuring Tiny Hominids with Hairy Feet.” Show some respect for your own work.

84 Lumber, “The Journey Begins” – Another beautifully shot spot that just leaves me thinking, “What?” Seriously. Does lumber need to be controversial? Do most brands? No. The answer is no. Stop it. And for the record, while there are no doubt more than a few trolls who are actually anti-immigrant, most people concerned with illegal immigration are concerned with the illegal part, not the people part. I’m glad folks still want to come to the USA. But do it the right way. And if we, the American people, think the right way is too difficult, then let’s change that. Nothing like starting my reviews with a political rant. Sadly, it won’t be the last. C

Airbnb, “We Accept” – I don’t accept the faulty premise that if your politics don’t align with the founder of Airbnb you must hate everyone else. No. A thousand times no. D

Alfa Romeo Giulia, “Dear Predictable” and “Mozzafiato” – Grouping these together because, unfortunately the first spot’s title is all too apt. Sweet ride, though. If I had the means, I would gladly pick one up. C


Alfa Romeo, “Riding Dragons” – I love Alfas. I would give my pancreas (granted, it’s broken) for the Giulia Quadrifoglio featured at the end. But this is just another montage anthem that means a lot to the company and little to those outside. Pity. Something so Italian should show a lot more passion.C

Amazon Echo, “My Girl” – I’m only posting one of Amazon’s 15-second spots for their Echo device because I’m a touch lazy this late in the game. But all the spots did what Google’s spot failed to do – be interesting and entertaining. B+

American Petroleum Institute, “Power Past Impossible” – I’m a gearhead. A car guy. Someone who enjoys the smell of burning hydrocarbons regardless of how inconvenient some may find that. But I don’t know what the point of this was. Some nice shots, though. C

Audi, “Daughter” – I know this spot will get a lot of love from certain segments. And it is definitely a well-produced spot. But a couple of things really bug me about it. (And I write this as the owner of a VW, Audi’s corporate cousin.) First, if you’re going to “take a stand” on a political issue – and, unfortunately, equal pay has become political due to the way differing people define it – why are you doing it during the Super Bowl? This game is one of the few times each year that we can all reunite as a nation and root against Bill Belichick. Don’t re-divide us in that moment. Second, don’t pretend that equal pay laws don’t already exist. Are they not good enough? I don’t know, but if not, work to fix them instead of hectoring me as you get into your $60,000 sedan. Third, why is that dad judging his daughter’s worth solely by how much she’s paid? Is that all any of us are worth? The net sum of our salaries? I certainly don’t want folks getting hosed on their earnings because some jackwagon thinks he can pay a woman or minority less, but that doesn’t make any individual actually worth less. My wife left the corporate world nine years ago when our twins were born. Now she teaches piano. But if she ever decides to re-enter the corporate Thunderdome, she knows she’ll make less now than if she’d never stepped away. Because that’s how skills and experience work. And you know what? She’s fine that. And I’m fine with that. Because what our family has given up in cash doesn’t amount to jack squat in what it’s gained from having mom around. That was our choice. Your choice might be different. Cool. Go nuts. I wish you good fortune along the way. As for my own daughter, I don’t struggle with what to tell her regarding her inherent worth. She’s priceless. C

Avocados From Mexico, “Secret Society” – The only thing that could have made this spot better would’ve been a repeat of last year’s cameo by Scott Baio. Writing, acting, editing. That’s how you do comedy. A

Bai, “Justin Timberlake & Christopher Walken” – Walken quoting N*Sync is fun. But just for a pun? Which he did last year? Meh.C

Budweiser, “Born the Hard Way” – Really wanted to like this spot. It’s gorgeous and has an actual idea behind it. But I never felt a real sense of dramatic tension as we followed young Adolphus Busch’s travels from Germany to St. Louis. And if the meet-cute between Busch and future partner and father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser that bookends this spot feels a little too convenient, it appears that it is. B-

Bud Light, “Ghost Spuds” – I’ll admit to really, really, really liking the original Spuds MacKenzie campaign. When I was 14. So, I was decently excited to see the partying bull terrier rise from the grave for a shot at Super Bowl ad glory. Using Spuds as a “ghost of parties past” is clever enough way of not letting a dead dog lie, but it should have been funnier. I think a 30- or 60-second version would have helped as there are some good lines spread around. Bonus points for bringing back Robin Leach, as well. B-

Buick, “Big Game Commercial Featuring Cam Newton and Miranda Kerr” – If you don’t want to be seen as an old-fashioned brand, don’t use old-fashioned commercial setups. D-

Busch, “BUSCHHHHH” – Hey, look, an old-school American (well, before the Belgians bought it) beer that isn’t trying to appeal to hipsters. It takes a person of a certain to remember the brand decades-long use of the “BUSCHHHHH” mnemonic (not to mention the “Wonderful World of Disney” styled shots of animals perking up at the sound). Sure, it’s used to humorous effect here, but trying to resurrect it would only amount to self-parody. So, a win for brand affinity. But I’m still not sure how AB regains marketing share with products that never change. B+

Febreze, “Halftime Bathroom Break” – Though rooted in truth, I think the montage wasn’t the right choice for this spot. There are some mental pictures I really don’t want painted. I would have suggested a VO detailing the impending doom, as it were, while showing B-roll of empty bathrooms juxtaposed against people watching the game. I could go on, but you don’t care. I do like the spot, though. Just think it could have been better. – B

Fiji Water, “Nature’s Gift” – Aside from the clumsy copy that, once deciphered, makes no sense to anyone with half a brain (even Eric the ’alf a bee), this is technically a TV commercial. D

Ford, “Go Further” – A great spot for a flawed strategy, which is what lets it down in the end. Yes, it’s a montage – which usually indicates doom – but it’s an entertaining one feature folks who are humorously (to us) stuck. The best one is the big wheel-riding kid who can’t get up because his motorcycle-style helmet is too heavy. The payoff, however, is weak. I get it. Ford wants to position itself as a provider of mobility instead of just cars. But that’s a move your make over time, not over the course of 90 seconds. But hey, if they can keep making engines like the V8 in the GT350, they can call themselves whatever they want. B+

GoDaddy, “The Internet Wants You” – This spot would be a lot stronger if we hadn’t seen similar meme-centric ads from other web service providers. And this 30-second version feels rushed, like a 60 that was cut down in haste (or without enough alternate takes). Still, glad to see GoDaddy not going back to its bosom-centric exploits of yore. B-

Google, “Home” – “Hmmm. If we make a really innocuous montage spot, maybe people won’t realize we’re asking them to let another behavior tracking device into their homes.” C-

H&R Block, “Future” – After all the funny “Taxes Won” spots they’ve done with Jon Hamm recently, this is what they put on the Super Bowl? I would’ve thought Watson would’ve advised them not to. C

Honda, “Yearbooks” – I’m torn on this one. It’s the most inventive choddy (a montage of people talking to camera sharing the same basic script) ever. It’s fun to watch. I remember both the spot and that it’s for the Honda CR-V. I just have no idea what it has to do with the CR-V. Still, better to enjoy a spot and like a brand a little more than feel lectured to. B

Hyundai, “A Better Super Bowl” – I’m making an exception for this spot, which technically aired after the game. Why? Because it was shot during the game itself. And it was worth the wait. A-

Intel, “Brady Everyday” – Intel released the spot a week before Tom Brady and his Patriots clinched yet another Super Bowl berth. Lucky? Not really, given New England’s annoying (to the rest of the country) habit of showing up in games with Roman numerals. The spot itself, for Intel’s 360-degree replay technology, is pretty fun. Although I kept wondering why Tom woke up with his dog and not his supermodel wife. I mean, I understand Gisele’s fee would’ve been twice as much, but maybe don’t start the spot with that setup if that’s the case. Also, the ending where Tom finally speaks to the camera is a bit on the nose. B-

It’s a 10 Haircare, “Super Bowl Commercial” – I’m all for a little good-natured hair humor. But I’m sure how you tell folks it’s up to them to keep America’s hair game strong while showing examples some really odd ’dos. C+

KFC, “Colonel vs. Colonel” – You either love KFC’s rotating celebrity Colonels campaign or you are wrong. Best use of “Dang!” since “Napoleon Dynamite.” Now if only KFC would return their biscuits to their 1980s girth. A-

Kia, “Hero’s Journey” – This is how you use a comedian in a spot. You don’t just assume his or her mere presence will elevate mediocre material to comic gold. No, you craft the jokes, the sight gags and set pieces so, in this case, Melissa McCarthy can play off them to hilarious effect. I also like that this spot basically sells virtue signaling as being a-ok. Docking a half grade for using the “X is hard, X shouldn’t have to be” trope. A-

King’s Hawaiian, “False Cabinet” – This spot’s premise has been used before, which wouldn’t be a big deal if they’d put a new twist on it. But they didn’t. Which is a shame, because I do love me some King’s Hawaiian rolls. Spot is partially redeemed by the last 20 frames. Good screaming, kids. C-

Lexus, “Man and Machine” – Looks cools, says little. But in this case, it needed to say something. Dig the car, though. C

LIFEWTR, “Inspiration Drop” – Another gorgeous spot that says little about the brand. C

Mercedes-AMG, “Easy Driver” – This spot, shot by Joel and Ethan Coen, could be subtitled “Clichéd and Loving It.” But in a good way. The immediate use of “Born to Be Wild” was a very good misdirect, although it bordered on sending me directly to the porcelain office instead of sticking around to see what happens next. I do hope they intended to make the ironic statement that old hippies grow up to sell out for Ulee’s gold. Fonda’s hair could’ve used a dab of Dapper Dan. Excellent use of character actress Dale Dickey, because how could you possibly make this spot without her? B+

Michelin, “I Need You” – As I have (albeit tenuous) connections to TBWA\Chiat\Day who created this spot, I will refrain from comment. n/a

Michelob Ultra, “Our Bar” – I have long since given up understanding Michelob Ultra’s “drink a beer after working out” strategy. The only thing I want to do after working out is figure out a way to never work out again. And eat donuts. Or bacon, egg and cheese biscuits. Okay, maybe I do understand the strategy a little. But I also know I’m not the target market for this campaign, so I’ll attempt to judge it as if my life revolved around WODs. Were I prone to flipping tractor tires for fun, I’d probably appreciate this spot quite a bit. The people in the spot don’t come off as caricatures, which is harder to do than one might think. I did keep waiting for Cliff and Norm to walk by and shake their heads in confusion. Also, this spot made me want to puke, but in a good way. Wait. Whatever. B-

Mobile Strike, “Arnold’s One-Liners” – Perhaps Arnold shouldn’t have been back. Get it? Huh? Huh? Exactly. C

Mr. Clean, “Cleaner of Your Dreams” – Would’ve been funnier if the husband had turned about to be Channing Tatum. C

NFL, “Super Bowl Baby Legends” – I gave up trying to figure out what this spot is supposed to be about. But baby Ditka is awesome. C+

National Geographic, “Genius” – It’s rare when I’d like to see more information in a commercial, but I could’ve used a couple of key tidbits in this one. First, “Genius” is NatGeo’s first scripted series. Second, Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) is playing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” as an ode to his own history of failed relationships. I learned both of these facts from an article about the spot instead of from the spot itself. I can excuse the latter given the spot’s placement after Gaga’s halftime show, but the former seems like a key bit of info that could’ve been solved on the ending title card. B-

Nintendo, “Switch” – Works as product demo, but weak on storytelling. Should’ve pulled a Sprint and gotten Jerry Lambert of Playstation “Kevin Butler” fame to discuss switching. B-

Persil, “Science of Clean” – A bit of throwback spot in both style, setup and tone, but it scored points for standing out in a sea of self-righteousness. B-

Skittles, “Romance” – Skittles has a strong ad rep for good reason. Is this the best they’ve ever done? Not quite. But it’s still fun, still memorable and still on brand. But strangely muted on the absurdist front for a Skittles ad. B+

Snickers, “Live Commercial” – I’m not sure why they needed to do this spot live, but it was still funny. Not Betty White/Abe Vigoda funny, but better than that creepy Wilem Dafoe/Marilyn Monroe spot from last year. B+

Sprint, “Extreme Measures” – I don’t envy the folks at Droga5 tasked with shoehorning in so much offer copy into a Super Bowl spot. No, wait, I totally envy them. Duh. Anyway, they manage to prove what strong writing can do for a fairly weak premise. Which is, make it fun. Less Verizon guy, though. We get it. And I’m a Sprint customer. B

Sprite, “As Seen on TV” – “What if we get LeBron James?” “And?” “And what?” C

Squarespace, “Who is” – A pre-game spot that made the cut on the strength of Malkovich and his unimpressed colleague’s acting, along with great direction and writing. Hmmm, the things that usually win the day for TV spots. Sorry, filmed content. Best line: “Sure. Why not?” A

Squarespace, “Calling” – This is the 30-second, in-game follow-up to the previous spot. The awesome continues. A

T-Mobile, “Bag of Unlimited” – Cute. But felt very 2009. Could use one of the phone sweaters, though. B-

T-Mobile, “NSFWireless” – Glad I already tucked my kids into bed. Jeezo. D+

T-Mobile, “Punished” – I guess it’s good that they waited until the end of the third quarter to run this “50 Shades” takeoff? No? Yeah, no. C-

T-Mobile, “Unlimited Moves” – A decent spot that would’ve worked better as a 30 (too much exposition in the 60-second version). Needed more goofiness and more of that dancing girl. Surprisingly competent work by the Beebs. B-

Tide, “Terry Bradshaw’s Stain” and “Stain Continued” – Fun. Excellent use of Tambor. A little Segway-riding GOB in the background wouldn’t have hurt. B


Tiffany & Co., “Lady Gaga” – Because nothing sticks it to the Man like designing a line of jewelry for Tiffany. C-

Top Games USA, “The Battle of Evony BIG GAME Commercial” – I’ve got twenty bucks for the first person to find a narrative in this spot. C-

TurboTax, “Humpty Dumpty” – I like this ad both as a consumer (which matters) and as an ad guy (meh). From the consumer perspective, it’s highly entertaining, well-made and gets its message across in a memorable way. Its absurdist qualities are played straight, as they should be. As an ad guy, I like how they took what was probably the impossible-to-solve strategic question of “Why would anyone want to do their taxes on a mobile device?” and went with it as their messaging foundation. Hope Humpty’s refund covers his deductible, though. A-

WeatherTech, “Tech Team” – As someone who has used WeatherTech products since at least 5 B.C. (before kids), I root for this brand. Especially since they’re a Midwestern manufacturer. And this spot is better than their previous two Super Bowl efforts. But if you’re going to build a spot of a tried-and-usually-tired premise of “how far will we go to serve your personal needs,” you should probably go the comedic route. Besides, if the company could really stop time, as the spot implies, our minivan would be a lot cleaner. A lot. Seriously. B-

Wendy’s, “Cold as Ice” – The spot itself is okay, but it’s what awaits folks at that’s truly funny. Personally, I would’ve cut a 30 or 60 from the “Freezy Diskz” video on that site. But then I’d be sitting here complaining that they didn’t produce something special for the Super Bowl. I’m such a jerk. B, “Big Game Ad with Jason Statham & Gal Gadot” – I hope the producers of “Wonder Woman” helped foot the bill for this production since it’s a great ad for Gal Gadot. For DIY website builder Wix, it’s better than last year’s spot. The story itself is a little weak, but at least it’s entertaining. Which is something too many ads across the globe forget to be. Wonder if Statham got paid less for not speaking. B

Wonderful Pistachios, “Ernie Gets Physical” – Not a bad spot, considering I remember the one message (yes, only one, huzzah) they were trying to get across, but not exactly Super Bowl-caliber, either. Not sure what the point was of having John Cena do the voice work. You get Cena to be Cena. Not Dumbo’s clumsy cousin. B-

World of Tanks, “Real Awful Moms” and “Teensy House Buyers” – I’m putting these two 15-second spots together because they both fail for the same reason: Good parody requires more than one joke. If World of Tanks had picked one concept and delivered stronger jokes, this could have worked. Although probably not with the bro-tacular announcer and cheesy fireball at the end. Also, no tiny house parody will ever top this spot from Geico. C-


Yellow Tail, “Gold” – What happens what the illegitimate song of The Man in the Yellow Hat hooks up with an animatronic kangaroo scavenged from the last world’s last Showbiz Pizza. D-