Winning the Super Bowl Ad Game

An estimated 100 million people tune into Super Bowl Sunday every year – and some even watch the game. For the rest of us, it is all about the halftime show and the commercials.

This year, some of the ads tugged at our heartstrings… others tickled our funny bones – but these were our favorites.


Bill’s Insight:

When it comes to Super Bowl spots, I get pretty picky. The spot needs to pull at an emotion, be entertaining and memorable, and have a real benefit that resonates either with me directly, or with the intended audience.

Though a version of the Walmart Grocery Pickup “movie car” spot premiered at the Golden Globes, I picked the expanded version that showed during the game as my favorite. It features lots of iconic cars pulling in to Walmart to pick up their groceries. From the Ghostbusters ECHO-1, to the Batmobile (“Excuse me, is there a trunk?”), to Bumblebee from Transformers, it had true entertainment value, spoke to the right age groups, was memorable, and also directly relayed a benefit. From an emotional standpoint, I loved the nostalgia and humor.

Our family uses the pickup service weekly, so I’m already invested. But it took us a while to understand the benefit and feel comfortable with the potential outcome before we decided to try it. My wife does the ordering online, and I get to do the pickup. I feel like this ad demystifies the whole process a bit for people, in a funny way and really sells the benefits of friendly service, convenience and speed. And, truly, the associates that help us with our groceries have always been super friendly (hopefully that’s the case nationwide). So, at least in my experience, the spot is true to the brand.

I want to go online to read more about the spot and to watch it a few more times to discover any Easter eggs. So it does a good job of extending the message beyond the Super Bowl.

One reservation: I’m a guy that likes cars, so it naturally hit me. So it will be interesting to see how it resonated with the female demo.


Kathy’s Fav:

By nature I’m drawn to simple, and effective creative – and humor never hurts (when it’s actually funny). T-Mobile’s text messaging ads hit all of these marks for me. While the pink branding was obviously strong, the humor and real-life struggle of the text messages were completely relatable – not only to me, but I think to almost anyone.

I love how they didn’t over-do the copywriting – the interactions were very real and concise. Bonus points that they didn’t leave me rolling my eyes. “Dad?” and “We’re here for you” were my favorites of the bunch. Well done, T-Mobile.


Leslie’s #1:

The first thing that made me chuckle about the NFL “100 years” Super Bowl ad was the entire premise of how the football fell from the cake—I totally related. I’m such a sucker for cake and I’m also a total klutz so that easily could have been me causing the chaos. I mean, who hasn’t reached out to try and take a swipe of icing without anyone noticing?

I could watch this ad 1,000 times and see something new. On the surface, it was funny, lighthearted and struck just the right tone after a couple of years of turmoil for the NFL. What could be more fun than an impromptu game of “backyard” football with six generations of football greats?  There were so many funny moments, and I won’t pretend to know all the faces, but Peyton Manning was hilarious, as was Emmitt Smith and even Tom Brady found his funny side by having a hilarious interaction with rookie QB Baker Mayfield.  “Hold my rings” may go down as one of the funniest lines of the entire night.

I love that the NFL recognized the contribution women have made and will make to this sport in the future.  I was curious who the girl was that kept the ball away from Richard Sherman at the end.  So, I turned to my trusty friend Google and fell in love with this ad a little more.  It was 15-year-old Sam Gordon, who won the NFL’s game changer award last year for starting the Utah Girls Tackle Football League and helping similar chapters launch across North America.  She apparently also has some impressive stats of her own and has a huge following on YouTube. Also, if you have a minute, you should watch the behind the scenes footage on the making of this ad, it’s a must-see!


Bridget’s Top Pick:

It is rare that a sequel is as good as the first, but kudos to Verizon for pulling it off. Last years “Answering the Call: Saying Thanks” was great. It tugged at the heartstrings, thanked a group of people who risk their lives everyday to save others and had a call to action to get you to say thank you too. The overall brand message did not come across as in your face and tied back into the ad well.

They did it again this year with “The Team That Wouldn’t Be Here”. This time, they told the stories of NFL players and a coach that needed first responders and were thankful that they answered the call. Verizon did a brilliant job of pulling you in and inspiring you to go watch the other stories on their website (which I ended up doing). The website associated with the campaign was executed perfectly. It was customized by state, so mine read “ First Responders of Nebraska, thank you for always putting others first” with a call to action to share your story. If you have a chance to go watch all the videos, they will not disappoint.


Ellen’s Thoughts:

In a sea of brands attempting to go for the heartfelt and emotional ads, I preferred the lighthearted, funny spots that felt real and grabbed my attention. Pepsi’s star-studded “More Than OK” ad with Steve Carell, Lil Jon and Cardi B proved to be an interesting, but entertaining mix of talent. As someone who says, “No, it’s not okay,” to the dreaded response – “We don’t have Pepsi. Is Coke okay?” this Coke hating ad really resonated with me.

Pepsi’s choice to go with Cardi B is a smart move as she is no amateur to the super bowl ad game. Cardi made her debut last year for the “Amazon Alexa Loses her Voice” ad and came back this year to deliver her fierce and feisty persona to show that Pepsi is more than “okkkkuuur” or “OKKAAY” as Lil Jon would say. The overall message of this ad is that Pepsi should be your first choice, #TeamPepsi.


Scott’s Choice:

While flashy special effects and celebrities can help boost brand visibility, sometimes a brand can be more than just the flash. In their Super Bowl ad, Microsoft shows us that people, even a relatively small group, can drive a product. The ad starts out with children with rare conditions and disabilities connecting with each other through video games. It highlights their difficulties with regular Xbox controllers before unveiling the Xbox adaptive controller, a fully programmable controller.

A quote in the ad that stood out to me was from one of the children named Ian. He said “I never thought it was unfair — I just thought, hey, this is the way it is, and it’s not gonna change.”

Microsoft shows the ingenuity people with rare conditions and disabilities have when using standard gaming equipment and how the adaptive control not only enhances the game; it allows them to play on a level playing field. This is a great example of putting the user first and following the brands tagline – “When everybody plays, we all win.”


Tom’s Preferred Ad:

As an artist, I love to see creative expression delivered through traditional art forms. Coke’s animated ad is a well-executed example of an artist’s interpretation of a writer’s story. The imaginative hand drawn visualizations, with unique character styling and building transition techniques take the viewer on a playful journey. This ad delivers a unifying message while staying true to Coke’s core brand values and supporting their community stewardship philosophy and efforts. For me, this ad felt really nostalgic and reminded me of a throwback ad from my childhood “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” which was remastered just two years ago.