It’s always hard to stand out in the Super Bowl advertising derby. Companies want to impress viewers and make a splash, but they also don’t want to flat out blow several million dollars.
That’s why the great majority of the commercials end up being, you know, fine. But each year, for better and worse, a couple of handfuls leave more than a fleeting impression.
These are the five best and five worst Super Bowl ads from the game’s 2021 edition.
THE 5 BEST
Here are our 5 favorite commercials from Super Bowl LV:
Doritos 3D - Flat Matthew
Best: The flavor-dusted tortilla-chip company wins this year’s game-within-a-game battle in the salty crunch product category and looks strong to take the overall crown, too. Matthew McConaughey is feeling flat these days, and looking it, too, in the spot’s superb sort of animation. He’s invisible at the coffee counter when he’s turned sideways; his Roomba almost sucks him up; and Jimmy Kimmel asks him if he traveled to the show by fax machine. Then he tries the new, puffy Doritos 3D Crunch product, and, he, too, adds dimensions to his frame. From Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” as the backing song to the vending machine ending, this is top-tier stuff.
Bud Light - Legends
Best: The beer brand that has been consistently among the funniest Super Bowl advertisers goes meta with this one, and it really works. A Bud Light truck has upended on a road, and the Bud Light Legends, the Ghosts of Ad Campaigns Past, emerge from the forest to save the day and get the truck back on its way. Cedric the Entertainer, Dr. Galazkiewicz (“Yes, I am”), Post Malone, the Bud Knight, the guy who says, “I love you, man” and the “Real Men of Genius” singer banter a bit as they heroically return blue-packaged low-cal beer to area convenience stores.
Squarespace - 5 to 9 by Dolly Parton
Best: It would take a great concept to make it worth having the universally beloved Dolly Parton sell out her proto-feminist hit “9 to 5” with a commercially inspired rewrite. So: Hello, great concept! Web-site company Squarespace is pushing all the things people do to develop their dreams in the hours they are free from their dull day jobs: design landscapes, lead dance classes, and do woodworking among them. “Make your 5 to 9 full time” is the perfect tagline, and staging the side hustles in little cubicle spaces, as the lead character dances between them, is a clever visual. Do “Jolene” next, Squarespace.
Oatly - Field sing
Best: The actual CEO of alt-milk manufacturer Oatly sits at a keyboard in a field, singing a pro-oat-milk jingle he apparently wrote himself. “It’s like milk, but made for humans” and “Wow, no cow” are among the lyrics. With obviously DIY ads, there’s a fine line between charming and cheap. This one is way over on the charming side. (But oat milk still tastes like, you know, oats.)
Jimmy John’s - Meet the King
Best: The hyperefficient and undeniably tasty meat-bread-veggie assembler gives us a nemesis, “King of Cold Cuts” Tony Bolognavich, played by a very well-cast Brad Garrett (“Everybody Loves Raymond”). Bolognavich, more of a “Scarface”-style meat boss than a chef, laments the rise of the rival sandwich empire he calls “Jimmy’s John’s.” Sure, JJ’s hand-slices real roast beef, Bolognavich says, but “I got ‘turkey’ and ham made by science.” It’s fresh and funny as it underscores the Jimmy John’s strength: Its sandwiches taste like real food.
THE 5 WORST
Here are our 5 least favorite commercials from Super Bowl LV:
Uber Eats - Wayne’s World - Wayne and Garth are Back
Worst: For its “Eat Local. Support Local” message, the third-party delivery service trots out Mike Myers and Dana Carvey to reprise their “Wayne’s World” bit from decades ago. They say they’d never manipulate viewers but then trot out babies and guest star Cardi B to persuade us to eat local. Not only doesn’t that premise hit paydirt, but I couldn’t avoid considering the bigger picture: all those stories I’ve read about how the delivery apps have not been great for local eateries during the pandemic. On the bright side, they can always say the food will be fresher than the stars they hire.
Cheetos - It Wasn’t Me
Worst: Mila Kunis, husband Ashton Kutcher and apparent house guest Shaggy star in a domestic drama over the question of who keeps taking Kutcher’s bags of Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix. He wants to blame his wife, who is guilty, but Shaggy tells her to employ his hit song and say, “It Wasn’t Me.” Warning: Kutcher sings some of the lyrics, while Shaggy takes an extended solo that steals time from setting up the supposed comedy of a cute couple’s minor squabbling. Meh. I’m going back instead to watch last year’s winning look at the perils of powdery Cheetos fingers.
Sketchers Max Cushioning - Tony Romo
Worst: Tony and Candice Romo like to take things to the max. So they sleep in a multiple mattress configuration, and Tony’s car is a monster truck. And their shoes, don’t you know, feature Sketchers Max Cushioning, which is apparently like strapping on pillows. The couple is likable enough, but witnessing this premise and its execution is like strapping pillows around your brain.
Mountain Dew Major Melon
Worst: In some weird fever dream, pro wrestler John Cena drives around a candy-colored set asking viewers to count how many bottles there are of Major Melon, the first new flavor from the sugar water company in years. Winner apparently gets a chance to win a million bucks. Melon could be okay, I guess, Mountain Dew. But couldn’t you do the extra work and come up with your own take on hard seltzer?
Bud Light - Last Year’s Lemons
Worst: One of the few ads to overtly address the pandemic, this one tries a delicate dance: 2020 gave us a lot of lemons — home haircuts, canceled weddings, baseball in empty stadiums — but, hey, at least Bud Light developed Seltzer Lemonade! An extra star for the attempt, I guess, but unless the product has medicinal qualities beyond alcohol, the sunny side of COVID-19 is a message I’m not ready to hear. And if you’re going to bring the reality of 2020 into your commercial, you kind of have a responsibility to have the young adults standing at a party, reminiscing near the Bud Light cooler, wear some damn masks.
Photos: The Super Bowl LV halftime show
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