This year, the Super Bowl SUCKED. Not only did the Patriots win (and when the Patriots win, America loses), but a lot of the ads were incredibly mediocre. I grew up a football a fan, so the big game has always been meaningful to me in and of itself, but this year I felt particularly indifferent about the teams, so I decided to do what most non-football fans do when they feel pressured to watch the game: watch the game for the commercials.
Super Bowl commercials are a perfect of American consumerism. Companies will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a 30-second ad space, and make a commercial specifically for those 30 seconds, and nothing else. Companies like M&Ms or Pepsi will often use celebrity appearances and humor to sell their product, but occasionally, they convey a deeper message.
Three ads in particular stand out in my mind. Last year, Budweiser made an inspiring commercial, showcasing the relief it provided to families in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. In 2011 and 2012, Chrysler put out two amazing ads about the resilience of the city of Detroit. The first one features Detroit-native Eminem; the second one is narrated by Clint Eastwood who concludes with the message, “It’s halftime America, and our second half is about to begin.”
However, few commercials this year lived up to such a legacy. I feel like a majority of the ads were made before the Super Bowl, and the company just bought the ad space, without making a commercial specifically about the event. Notable absences were Coca-Cola, Tide and Eli Manning. (For those of you who are unaware, whenever the Giants appear in the Super Bowl, the Patriots lose. Manning beat New England on the field in 2008 and 2012 and last year appeared in a Toyota ad which no doubt contributed to the Eagles’ championship victory).
There are some commercials that stood out to me, and they deserve to be recognized. They may not be as iconic as the ads I mentioned above, but in such a mediocre field, these ads stood out from the rest. These are the 10 best commercials from Super Bowl LIII.
10. The Handmaid’s Tale Season Three: This commercial came early into the broadcast, when everyone at the Daily was still trying to guess what the commercials were advertising, and before we got bored of the game. We first guessed, based on its optimistic images of people going to work and babies being baptized, that it was a car commercial, or a Tide ad because everyone was wearing clean clothes. The turn to a dystopian society caught us all off guard with a burning building, which is why The Handmaid’s Tale Season Three trailer takes spot #10 on my list.
9. Our Planet: I’m a sucker for nature documentaries, which is why the trailer for “Our Planet,” a Netflix original set to premier in April takes the ninth spot on my list. The documentary is going to be narrated by Sir David Attenborough of “Planet Earth” fame. This ad wasn’t humorous, nor did it feature any celebrity appearances, but its stunning images of nature were enough to make it memorable in my eyes.
8. Expensify: This commercial is actually part of a longer music video that Atlanta native 2 Chainz made with Adam Scott to advertise Expensify, an app that streamlines the expense-management process (something The Daily might need to implement because I constantly lose track of paper receipts). I had never heard of Expensify before seeing the ad; the turn from music video to commercial quickly caught all of us off guard. I am personally biased toward 2 Chainz because of his performance at Blackfest last year, so almost any decent commercial he appeared in would have made this list.
7. Pepsi: More than Okay: Featuring Steve Carell, Lil’ Jon and Cardi B, this commercial is your classic celebrity endorsement of a product. Pepsi capitalized on Coca-Cola’s absence this year and responded to the most common criticism people have about its brand: that it’s not Coke or that it’s just okay. It might not be noticeable to most of the people who watched the Super Bowl, but I thought this ad was really well made. Pepsi’s director of marketing definitely deserves a raise.
6. Microsoft: I love video games. They’ve always been a place for me to relax and unwind after a long day. However, this Microsoft commercial shows that for some, video games are so much more. It features the stories of young children with disabilities who are able to participate with friends thanks to an adaptive controller. It was inspiring and heartwarming to see these children make memorable experiences because of the controller. It may not be the best commercial of the broadcast, but it was by far the most wholesome.
5. Hyundai Elevator commercial: This commercial ran the gamut of human experience from root canals to six-hour flights in the middle seat. It starts with a couple stepping into a crowded elevator and telling the elevator door operator, played by Jason Bateman, that they’re going car shopping. The operator responds by saying “oh you’re going way down” and the elevator descends into what Hyundai would associate with “car-buying hell” while making a few stops at some unpleasant human experiences including a vegan diner, a pubescent sex ed talk and jury duty. Once the elevator reaches the bottom floor of “car shopping” the couple tells the operator that they aren’t just car shopping, they’re shopping for a Hyundai. The operator presses a button and the elevator skyrockets into a bright open space. I’m not in the market to buy a car anytime soon, but if I were, I would consider Hyundai after watching this ad.
4. NFL 100: “There was a Jacksonville Jaguar in it, we did it!” screamed sports manager Bobby Pragada at the Daily’s watch party. This masterpiece is an action-packed football commercial, featuring current and former NFL legends all fighting for a golden football at a black tie event. You can imagine the fun the players and viewers had seeing their favorite stars slammed into tables full of glassware and knocking over a giant cake (the ball was supposed to be the decoration on the top). Bobby also wanted to make sure that I put on the record that at the start of all the action, Christian McCaffrey ’16 was the first player to get to the ball. While his appearance wasn’t a focus of the commercial, the world’s most popular gamer: Ninja, also deserves to be mentioned as making a cameo in the ad.
3. Bud Light: Corn Syrup Quest: Bud Light is definitely the big winner of Super Bowl LIII (especially because I don’t want to give the victory to Brady). In what could be adapted into a novel, the King and Knight of the fictional Bud Light kingdom go on a quest to deliver a giant barrel of corn syrup to a neighboring beer. The takeaway: Bud Light is not brewed with corn syrup, while other leading beers are. Secondary takeaway: the Bud Light expanded universe is much more complex than we initially envisioned.
2. The Twilight Zone: Taking both the second and top spots on my list are ads that I predicted, almost accidentally. Once I the advertiser was revealed, and my prediction proved correct, I jumped around in front of the TV and screamed as if I had just seen Stanford win the Pac-12 Championship. This commercial for The Twilight Zone reboot features Jordan Peele walking through a door in the middle of Mercedes-Benz stadium, only to disappear. Apparently the reboot was announced well before the Super Bowl, but that wasn’t enough to contain my excitement.
1. Bud Light: “Game of Thrones” Crossover: This commercial starts off as a regular Bud Light commercial. Bud Knight (is that what we call him?) mounts his horse in a joust only to be knocked off by a tall, imposing figure. It becomes apparent that this figure is an homage to the Mountain who pokes out the eyes of the Bud Knight. This commercial is a reference to the Mountain’s fight with Oberyn Martell in Season 4 of “Game of Thrones,” which became more obvious when a massive dragon swooped in and set everything on fire, and got me so excited to see the return of the hit show. As a result this commercial is my favorite of Super Bowl LIII.
Contact Michael Espinosa at mesp2021 ‘at’ stanford.edu.