The Obligatory Super Hole X

by | Feb 7, 2016

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Get excited, America and all parts beyond: Super Hole X is upon you. Indeed, this is the tenth time I have expunged all enjoyment from watching the Super Bowl so that I may proffer my opinions on the commercials contained therein to, as always, upwards of two dozen mildly enthused readers – all while offending people I’d like to work with or for. It’s as brave as advertising gets.

The guidelines: 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). And no movie trailers, TV show promos, or local/regional ads. Or pharmaceuticals that aren’t named Colon Blow.

Once again, spots are arranged in alphabetical order according to brand. If I have missed any, feel free to visit a site that requires an ad blocker to view rage-free.

My apologies in advance to anyone who worked on any of the spots to which I give low marks. Remember, you got to do a Super Bowl spot. I got to write a blog post about it.

This year’s takeaway: For all the talk the last couple of years about “storytelling” and how “the future belongs to storytellers,” I didn’t see a lot of actual storytelling going on. You know, with a hero/heroine, conflict, resolution, etc. Even a montage can follow that classic arc. Not that I ever recommend a montage. Especially after this year. Also, please stop using hashtags as the titles of your spots.

Acura, “What He Said” – Acura is a brand that could really use some focus. This spot, for the long-gestating second generation of the NSX, aims to launch the brand’s new positioning: Precision Crafted Performance. Lack of grammatically correct hyphens notwithstanding, the tagline itself isn’t particularly exciting, although it is better than “Civics with Chrome.” The spot itself has some very nice, smart touches. I love using the isolated bits of the song. I like that it assumes people know the song (and if you can’t afford a six-figure car, you’re not probably old enough to have seen not-Van Hagar in concert). I really dig the lack of trying-to-hard voice over at the end. And I’d really, really like this spot more if it wasn’t on during the Super Bowl. It just doesn’t feel special enough. B

Advil, “What Pain?” – If you mute the sound, this spot is at least interesting to look at – although this particular style is bordering on cliché at the moment. The voice over, however, feels like it belongs to a different spot produced in a different decade. C-

Amazon Echo, “#BaldwinBowl” – Nails it from the opening line. Excellent use of disparate characters (Alec Baldwin, Jason Schwartzman, Missy Elliot and Dan Marino) to demonstrate a product without putting marketing speak in the actors’ mouths. Marino’s dismissal of Schwartzman’s threat is his best work since his Isotoner gig. Still don’t regret selling my pre-release Echo on eBay, though. A

Apartments.com, “Movin’ On Up” – Best use of George Washington’s teeth in a TV commercial ever. Not really sure Apartments.com needed to drop the coin on this, but I’m glad they did. Every Super Bowl should have a Jeff Goldblum spot. Make it happen, Goodell. A-

Audi R8, “The Commander” – Is driving a new Audi R8 with its mid-mounted V10 engine akin to flying a rocket ship to the moon? Probably not. But shooting for the moon is a great metaphor for the company that promises “Vorsprung durch Technik.” Take notes, kids. This is how you tell a story without, you know, telling the story. A

Avocados From Mexico, “#AvosInSpace” – Excellent use of Baio. Excellent writing that takes an odd brand (especially for the Super Bowl), and elevates it to, if not high, better-than-ninety-percent-of-returning-sitcoms comedy. A big step up from last year’s bizarre spot. Also, Baio. Still, enough with the hashtags. A-

Axe, “Find Your Magic” – Nice to see I can back to hating Axe. D

Bai, “Horse Whisperer” – I don’t find the underlying strategy to be very strong, but this spot was a hoot. Could’ve been really, really bad. Funny what good writing can do. But what did they shoot this on? That opening shot had the worst bokeh I’ve ever seen. B+

Budweiser, “#GiveADamn” – You land Dame Helen Mirren for your anti-drunk-driving spot and this is what you do with her? I’ll bet her ad libs were priceless. Or at least worth the $10 million dropped on airtime for this. And, let’s be honest, I’m much more likely to believe Helen smokes bud than drinks it. D+

Budweiser, “#NotBackingDown” – I’ll give Budweiser props for this spot if for no other reason than it ends with the classic “This Bud’s for you.” If you’re not going to “back down” from the onslaught of microbrews and whatever qualifies as the hipster cordial du jour, returning to your best tagline (by far) is a smart move. The rest of the spot strikes a pretty good balance of making boldish pronouncements without sounding like a jackass, and the shots are gorgeous. But let’s be honest, an truly outstanding montage/anthem spot is a rare beast, and this is no unicorn. B

Bud Light, “The Bud Light Party” – Hey, it’s an election year, so let’s try an united the Divided States of America around our brand! Nice try, account planner. Well, not really. Not very original. Still, you don’t have to be new to be good. Unfortunately, choosing Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer to portray the grand unifiers is a bit odd given how much they both appeal to a certain, similar mindset. I will grant that this spot does have some decent lines. But it also has a caucus joke that doesn’t need to be there. Seriously. This is a case of people thinking what they like automatically applies to the target. In the case of a broad-based brand like Bud Light (who also sells seashells by the seashore), that’s not a wise assumption to make. C-

Buick, “The Big Game Meets the Big Day” – The antithesis of the Audi spot. D

Butterfinger, “Bolder Than Bold Jump” – I miss Bart Simpson. And, for that matter, Slim Pickens. C

Coca-Cola, “Coke Mini (Hulk vs. Ant-Man)” – Fun to watch and, naturally, expensive as all get out to produce. But I couldn’t tell it was for Coke Mini. Probably because the can looks huge next to Ant-Man. Go figure. B-

Colgate, “#EveryDropCounts” – Not quite the buzzkill that last year’s Nationwide spot was, but still. Call me crazy, but perhaps instead of telling me to turn off my faucet while brushing my teeth in a water-rich area (which I do anyway, FWIW), ask me to donate to Compassion or The Mali Project or CharityWater.org. Or was this spot targeted specifically at Tom Selleck? Just kidding, Magnum. D

Dollar Shave Club, “Zeke” – Is this the best DSC ad ever? No, sadly. Is it still miles ahead of Schick? Yes, also kind of sadly. B-

Doritos, “Doritos Dogs” – This is the last year for the long-running Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign. Which is good, considering this quit being about “user-generated content” years ago (if it ever was), as more about getting tons of production companies to generate spec work. Setting that aside, this spot is one of the more enjoyable to make it to air, as instead of relying on rude or corny humor it uses the classic Totem Pole Trench and a bevy of pooches to make a live-action version of something you’d see on “Tom & Jerry.” Why they go for Doritos instead of steak, however, is a mystery. B

Doritos, “Doritos Ultrasound” – Hahahahahahaha. No. C+

Fitbit, “Dualities” – Well done for what it is, but there’s nothing in this spot that we haven’t seen in a thousand Nike, Gatorade, Under Armor and Adidas spots before. Also, maybe don’t focus on style so much when you look like an Apple Watch. C

GoPro, “The Big Game TV Commercial” – This commercial is in violation of the Blitzkrieg Bop Retirement From Advertisements Act of 1989. D+

Heinz Ketchup, “Wiener Stampede” – There is nothing harder in the world of storytelling than sticking the ending. Maybe that’s why “Star Wars” keeps blowing up different versions of the Death Star. I dunno. In this case, we get the awesomeness that is dachshunds in hot dog costumes paid off with, well, something rather expected. Still, wiener-ized wiener dogs! Good for you, creative team. B

Honda, “A New Truck to Love” – I pity the agency on this one. Sure, it’s great to have Honda as a client, an R/GA has done some stellar work over the years. But the Ridgeline, aka the Honda Pickup? Well, the first generation could be described as, if I’m being kind, under baked. It resembled a Chevy Avalanche that’d been left in the microwave a little long during some bizarre Hot Pockets-based experiment. This new version certainly looks better, but it’s still a unibody design. Let’s be honest, the point of Honda offering a truck is to keep dealers happy and to keep Honda loyalists from buying, I dunno, a 2002 Ford Ranger. The new Ridgeline doesn’t offer much to the traditional truck buyer that he or she can’t find elsewhere in butchier form. So. What’s the agency to do? B

Hyundai, “Better” – So embarrassing when you leave the house with your metaphor showing. Bonus points for the kid’s stellar “how you doin’?” look. C

Hyundai, “The Chase” – As a brand, I like Hyundai. Not only have they done some pretty good Super Bowl spots over the years, their cars are no longer the “but it’s got a great warranty” joke of yesteryear. (But please, can we redesign the logo?) This spot, however, well, I just don’t get. Remote starting your car is sweet – I’ve got it on our 2005 Odyssey. Which is a minivan. And not a hipster minivan. Unless hipster equals dented. Anyway. Remote start is cool. Remote starting from your Apple Watch is theoretically cooler. But, dear couple in the ad, why did you park an Elantra in the woods? Why did enter bear country without a .410 or at least a .357? Were you burying a barista who made your flat white a little too frothy? And why are the bears talking at the end? Okay, that’s actually the best part of the ad, but the dialogue could’ve been a little sharper. C

Hyundai, “First Date” – If you’re going to use Kevin Hart, then use Kevin Hart. If you’re going to push a feature that you can duplicate with Find My Friends, don’t do it on the Super Bowl. C-

Hyundai, “Ryanville” – Much better than “The Chase.” I’m sure someone out there will get their gender-neutral knickers in a wad because it shows two ladies being dangerously distracted by the man-candy that is Ryan Reynolds. Whatever. Is this a breakthrough idea? No. Is it a clever way of demonstrating a product feature using spot-on casting and direction? Yes. And while that may not be enough to win the Super Bowl Ad Meter, it’s enough to make me forget about the talking bears. Half a letter grade off for song choice. C’mon, people. B

Intuit, “Death Wish Coffee – Storm’s a-Brewin’” – Once again, Intuit (makers of Quicken and QuickBooks) held a contest to advertise a small business during the Super Bowl. This spot for Death Wish Coffee (mmmm, coffee and death) is actually quite nice. I just wish, since the coffee is claimed to be “fiercely caffeinated,” that the Vikings had been a little more hopped up on the sweet, sweet elixir of the gods. Still, I’ll look for the product and give a try. What more is an ad supposed to do? Have a hashtag? No. Have you learned nothing so far? B

Jeep, “Portraits” – A pretty decent spot right up until the cliché “you’re business is our business” style super at the end. B-

Jeep, “4x4ever” – Airing a montage during the fourth quarter is a gamble. And not a smart one. Fine for what it is, but after so many similar spots tonight it’s just wallpaper. B-

Kia, “Walken Closet” – I hate puns. At least in advertising. They’re usually a cheap way to get a cheap smirk for a cheap-thinking brand. But not always. At least not when Christopher “The Continental Cowbell Player” Walken is involved. What would be a vacuous diatribe in the hands of another becomes a thing of true pizzazz – even if nothing really does say “blend in” quite like a mid-sized sedan. If only they’d done a cowbell-in-the-glovebox joke for the stinger. Or a pocket watch. A-

LG, “Man From the Future” – If you’ve ever seen one of LG’s OLED televisions in person, you know how stunning they are. Colors that caress your cones and taunt your rods. Blacks that come pre-crushed. Heck, I’d rather have a 1080p OLED than a 4K LED. But I have no idea what’s going on here in this, the first Super Bowl spot created in collaboration with Ridley Scott’s RSA Films (his son, Jake, directed) since the standard-setting “1984” for the Macintosh introduction. Somehow, Liam Neeson has gone back in time to tell his younger, Loki-lookalike self that he’ll have to fight the MCU in a cross between the original “Tron” and that A-ha video in order to save the future from TVs that are 5mm thick instead of 2mm. Or something. Half a grade bump for the Loki hair. C

Marmot, “Love the Outside” – Well, that got weird. No idea what the takeaway of this spot was supposed to be. At least they didn’t use “Happy Together.” C+

Michelob Ultra, “Breathe” – Remember when Michelob Ultra used to try and convince us that having a frosty one was the perfect reward for completing a triathlon? (Mmmmm, extra dehydration.) They’ve finally, at least in this spot, abandoned that conceit, but are still sticking to the “beer for athletes” positioning. This spots isn’t stellar – you can see the ending coming 28 seconds away – but its quietness helps it stand out on an otherwise loud evening. Nicely shot, too. But if they really wanted to stand out, they’d swipe Billy Dee from Colt .45 and call it a day. B-

Mini, “#DefyLabels” – Remember the super-awesome campaign Crispin Porter + Bogusky created to launch Mini way back in 2001? This is the opposite of that. Celebrities (mostly) telling me a dozen things people tend to call Minis (although I’ve never heard 3/4 of them applied myself) – but, wait for it, they’re all wrong. It’s not too small or too cute or too gay(?). It’s the honey badger of cars – it doesn’t care what you call it. Because Harvey Keitel will put the beatdown on you if you offend it. At least I think that was the message. I can’t blame the agency for trying something, anything to spruce up the brand, though. Minis, despite spawning the Clubman, Countryman and Paceman (no more Coupe for you!) to go along with the Cooper, hasn’t really improved the product much over the past 15 years. And I love small, fast, hatchbacks that are great daily drivers and don’t break the bank or batter my kidneys. Which is why I drive a GTI and not a John Cooper Works Mini. Also, #KnockItOff. Also again, a choddy? Really? In the end, the Mini doth protest too much.D

Mobile Strike, “Arnold’s Fight” – Great production value, but not any more special than previous Mobile Strike spots with Arnold. B-

Mountain Dew Kickstart, “Puppymonkeybaby” – Interesting idea that just veers into creepy. And not the good kind of Christopher Walken creepy. Do single dudes really think babies are awesome, or is that an attempt to woo the extreme ladies? Also, can’t figure out if the CGI is that purposefully bad or just bad. It is memorable, though. Yay? D+

NFL, “Super Bowl Babies Choir Featuring Seal” – In a bid to distract us from rampant concussions and bad uniform design, the NFL gives us a cover of Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” featuring, um, Seal and a bunch of people who were conceived on the night of previous big games. I do not want to know how they found these people. Also, reminding me of “Batman Forever” is not cool. C

NFL, “Text Talk” – A fairly well done PSA against domestic violence, there are a few executional details that weaken this spot. First, the ambient crowd noise seems out of place in a spot that revolves around texting. It’s used mainly so it can be faded out for dramatic effect at the climax (which is an effective move), but it generic, dinner party sound removes me from the messages on screen. Also, the text conversation is obviously inferring a domestic abuse situation, but the spot wants to be about domestic violence and sexual assault. I realize the NFL’s “No More” campaign is about those two issues, but this spot is singular in its focus and that first super should have dealt directly with that. B

Pantene, “Strong is Beautiful” – Wonderful sentiment clumsily told. The long-form versions are better, but you’re judged by what ya brung, hoss. Sorry, my eight years spent in Dallas just came out. C

PayPal, “There’s a New Money in Town” – This spot is highly watchable and a bit beguiling – it’s easy to nod your head along to the music and start agreeing with the message. Until you think about the message. PayPal is the new money. Okay, I get that on its face and it’s a good statement to make even if most folks currently view PayPal as the company that swipes a chunk of the cash they made selling Aunt Edith’s prized owl cookie jars on eBay. But the comparisons to “old money” feel too pat, contrived and mildly hippie-ish. After all, you can’t use your new money if you don’t have plenty of old money in your account. Wouldn’t it make more sense to personify old money, not as a roll of Benjamins (old white guy alert!), but as something akin to stuffing a wad of ones and gas receipts into your Costanza-sized wallet? The answer is yes. B-

Pepsi, “The Joy of Pepsi” – Technically, this isn’t really a spot – it’s the intro to the halftime show sponsored by Pepsi. So to say Britney Spears’s jaunt through the decades 15 years ago is better than this bit featuring Janelle Monae isn’t entirely fair. Well, suck it up, buttercup. That’s life. B

Pizza Hut, “Stuffed Garlic Knots” – So confused. Pizza Hut took an existing commercial and altered the stinger to include a nonsensical Gatorade shower with CBS Sports sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. Not that the spot made much sense to begin with. Who dresses up for pizza? And if said pizza really was fancy enough to encourage one to hire Mr. Bates to dress you for the evening, why would you then talk about getting “an unbelievable amount of food (for) just $12.99”? It’s tonally incongruent. D+

Pokemon, “Train On” – Okay. I enjoyed watching this spot. But, after two decades of Pokemon madness, I still have no real idea what all the fuss about. Granted, I am not the target. My 8-year-old son, who got several packs of cards for his birthday (all dupes – bummer, man), is. I think. I sent him to bed during pre-game. B

Schick Hydro, “Robot Razors” – This will totally staunch the wounds inflicted by Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club. C-

Shock Top, “Unfiltered Talk” – The Shock Top logo on the beer tap is sassy with a lowercase “s,” aka shocking. Get it? Huh? Get it? Most people probably won’t, be cause he isn’t really that wacky. His foil, actor T.J. Miller, brings some nice timing and an affable doofishness to the spot. However, this is another case of the aired spot being weaker than its longer, online sibling. Also, has anyone heard of a Shock Top loyalist? Or is the brand simply a defensive shelf- and tap-space taker for AB? We may never know. Ever. Nice “magician” line, though. B-

Skittles, “The Portrait” – Is this spot featuring Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and his pointillism-portrait-by-Skittles the best ad this always-strong campaign has ever done? No. Is it a worthwhile addition to the oeuvre? Indeed. B

SoFi, “Great Loans for Great People” – It’s rare that I argue for more snark in an ad – after all, it’s way too easy to veer into Full Jackass territory, which is rarely good for your brand. But this spot for virtual bank SoFi could use a few more barbs tied onto its narrative wire (Metaphor! Boom!). It’s interesting to follow the camera and see who is deemed great and who is not, but there’s no dynamic tension involved. No redirects or mistaken labels. Nothing to give the spot drama. I’m not asking the spot follow Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet in 30 seconds, but come on. Give me something to latch onto. Also, I have no idea was SoFi does except possibly give out $50,000 loans to the great ones among us. C+

Snickers, “Marilyn” – Yes, Wilem Dafoe recreating Marilyn Monroe’s iconic subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch is funny. Unfortunately, that’s the only real joke in this spot. Last year’s spot with Danny Treo as Marcia Brady was strong not just for the sight gag, but also because of the reworked dialogue. Also, Buscemi trumps Levy. B-

Squarespace, “Real Talk with Key and Peele” – This spot is part of a much larger Super Bowl push revolving around the comedy duo’s delving (in character, of course) into sports commentating – including live commentary throughout the game. This spot suffers from being the least-funny part of the entire campaign. Which is not good when it’s also the most expensive chunk of media. Lead with the funny. Don’t just promise funny if we engage with your brand initiatives posthaste. C

Sun Trust Banks, “Hold Your Breath” – Great production values with interesting vignettes, lack of treacly background music and stronger writing than one typically finds in a montage spot. But this spot ends up being too much of a tease – a little to vague about what Sun Trust and their On Up initiative is all about. B-

Taco Bell, “Bigger Than…” – Sure, I’ll try a Quesalupa. But not because of this spot. Borrowed interest does not equal interesting. C

T-Mobile, “Drop the Balls” – I like Steve Harvey. I feel bad for him. C

T-Mobile, “Restricted Bling” – Talented cast (Drake included) and a setup that points to a strong finish peters out in this spot that could’ve used more of T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s brashness. Such a waste of Jerry Lambert. B-

Toyota Prius, “Heck on Wheels” – I’ll give Toyota credit for going big in this rock-till-you-need-a-nap style spot. And really, they had to do something to get people who don’t already love the Prius to consider the car, which was redesigned for this year. Not that it budged me an inch, but love burning dead dinosaurs in the pursuit of torque steer. Also, I wish the main character didn’t reek of closeted eco-weenie. Bonus points for Poodle Lady. B

Toyota Prius, “The Longest Chase” – I don’t believe it. A spot that actually improved as it went along. Good thing this was on during the Super Bowl, or I would’ve wandered off after the first six seconds. But please, stop putting copy from the brief into the spot; e.g., “This thing is actually pretty fast.” Let the action speak. B

TurboTax, “Never a Sellout” – This spot should have had some strong back-and-forth dialogue between Sir Anthony Hopkins and the interviewer. Instead, it felt as if Hopkins was lethargic from too much Chianti. B-

Quicken Loans, “#RocketMortgage – What Were We Thinking” – Hmmm. The central premise of this spot is that a lot of people don’t buy houses because they’ll can’t get a mortgage using their iPhones. While I like the general execution of this spot – veering into the absurd without going full weird – that central premise still makes me tilt my head like my dog when I ask him why hasn’t learned to code yet and start producing some positive ROI. Maybe the app is awesome. Maybe I don’t want to borrow six figures via an app. Maybe I’m amazed at the way I ramble all the time.B-

WeatherTech, “Resources” – A great story cliché-ly told. And this is coming from a long-time user of the brand’s products. C

Wix.com, “Kung Fu Panda” – If you’re going to spoof ads, and you’re going to spoof them in four seconds or less, make sure they’re ads people will instantly recall. Most will get the Old Spice reference. Some (like me) will get the Budweiser frogs bit. I’m guessing the first bit references a Carl’s Jr. spot. Which is good for the kids. Also, take the Wix.com logo out of the upper left. We get it. D+

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