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While the Super Bowl is usually played in the middle of a raucous stadium jam-packed with thousands of fans, there is another game playing out on the airwaves every year during the fever-pitch sports phenomenon. Super Bowl ads are famous for their humor, drama, and intensity as companies large and small vie for a slice of the ever-diminishing attention span of millions of fans.
Carsten Becker, adjunct lecturer in communication at USC Iovine and Young Academy, tuned in to give his thoughts on the winners and losers of this year’s Super Bowl ads. A veteran creative director and filmmaker, Becker has worked with Fox, Disney, Apple, The Discovery Channel, Cirque Du Soleil, and more. For Becker, brands and ads are potential mirrors of culture and the best ads showcase stories of humans navigating the complexities of everyday life (exemplified in silly or profound emotions); or the human potential of real people (versus tired celebrities).
Not every Super Bowl LV ad was a hit, however. For Becker, many of the ads seemed out of touch.
“With a few exceptions, this year’s spots blatantly showcased the ad-maker’s collective fear of being too meaningful,” says Becker. “But some spots did stand out. Here’s my personal selection of ads worth a Google.”
Toyota: Jessica’s Long Story | Upstream
I applaud Toyota for a beautiful depiction of Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long’s life story in “Upstream.” The spot manages to cut through emotionally despite all of us having been somewhat sobered recently. As a side note: Toyota is quite active in supporting the Paralympics so this fits their brand too.
T-Mobile: Tom Brady & Rob Gronkowski | Big Game Ad
This ad exemplifies the silliness that feels so ‘us’ right now. Sell me a faster phone with a wink, and I’ll be willing to ignore the attempted video calls I made with any connection just a short few years ago. As I recollect, they [glitchy calls] merely led to frozen family members and a sad ‘connection lost’ notification.
T-Mobile: Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine
Funnier-by-a-mile of course are the colorful glitches that mangle a conversation to the point of an uncanny result. As an ad man myself, I cheer for T-Mobile’s success at leisurely transitioning from a necessary sales pitch to delivering a truly funny plot that also plays on star Gwen Stefani’s naughty-or-nice image.
M&Ms: “Come Together”
A tale of remorse-relieving morsels. Clever writing that touches on many topics of 2020 in a smart but tender way. Again, talking about navigating human complexities!
Indeed: “The Rising”
Kudos to Indeed for creating a spot with non-actors about something millions of Americans actually have on their minds – finding a job. They also managed to use meaningful descriptors for all of it.
Bud Light: “Last Year’s Lemons”
The one ad that actually managed to reference the pandemic year (THANK YOU!) in a down-to-earth way. The ad gave us a “Let’s make the best of it,” message I think many of us can align with.
Note: Commercials that tried what usually works did not successfully get anywhere...just like the Buccaneers.
Robinhood: “We’re are all investors”
Planned or not, the timely relevance to small investors bringing down hedge fund sharks just brought this spot home for me.
Amazon: “Alexa’s Body”
Ahem... “Alexa, is objectification accepted now as long as the object is not a woman?” Weird.
Oatly: “Wow No Cow”
Likely one you’ll see this one pop up in your social media feeds. I really hope to see the CEO cast as a priest in Midsommar 2. The persistence with which the oat-squeezing Swede doesn’t let up until the last note, forcing me to stare uncomfortably, reminds me of tipping a series of old folks off a cliff. Just the kind of weirdness we love (if we have a return ticket home). Hopefully, there’s no hair in the milk.
Uber Eats: “Wayne's World & Cardi B's Shameless Manipulation”
Really..? This ad was shockingly out-of-touch, as if they weren’t even trying to not put us to sleep.
Bud Light: “Legends”
Doritos 3D: “Flat Matthew”
A premise as flat as its protagonist.
P.S. Did I mention the half-time show? The Weeknd’s mix of creepy and claustrophobic scenery to me was the most-fitting reflection on the year we’ve had, hands-down.