Super Bowl Ad Review: Yard By Yard and Yawn By Yawn
By Brian Braiker. Published on February 4, 2019.


If you're the kind of person who looks for patterns, you have a lot to work with in this batch of Super Bowl spots. Despite each 30-second commercial costing upwards of $5 million, on par with recent years, there was a lot of mediocrity. There's also lots of jokes about robots. They're in beer ads, potato chip ads, home security ads and, well, Alexa ads. It's almost as if we're afraid of something. Then there are the women: Advertisers appear to have glommed on to the fact that half the Big Game audience is female. Imagine that! Enter Serena Williams for Bumble and Sarah Michelle Gellar for Olay. Brands steered clear of any controversial issues or potential political hot potatoes. Which is for the best: Why fumble when you can blitz with gags? Well, we'll get to that. Anyway, we heard there was a game on, too.


ADT, "Real Protection Launch"
Bear in the Hall
Ruling: Offsides

Here we have the ADT wonder twins suggesting we don't really enjoy "real protection" yet (no kidding, guys). Boy have they got the solution for us! They're just not telling us … yet. This is like one of those evening news teases: "You won't believe what's in your diet that's ALREADY KILLING YOU. We'll tell you after this word from our sponsor." (Anyway, we think it's funny that the agency behind this spot is called Bear in the Hall. What's ADT's fix for that?)

Amazon Alexa, "Not Everything Makes the Cut"
Lucky Generals and Amazon's in-house agency
Ruling: Touchdown

Amazon is back in the Big Game, scoring points again for its self-deprecating jabs. This spot highlights some Amazon "failures" in experimenting with upgrades to its voice assistant, which include putting Alexa into Forest Whitaker's electric toothbrush; the collar on Harrison Ford's dog; and Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson's hot tub (honestly, we'd try it). Then there was the "incident," where Alexa turned all of Earth's power on and off like a lightswitch. Viewers who enjoyed "Alexa loses her voice" will also love this spot.

Audi, "Cashew"
Ruling: Time out

The premise of this ad is that Audi's electric car is so great you'll feel like you've died and gone to heaven—or at least somewhere that sucks less than work. Our hero is reunited with Grandpa in a wheat field, who bequeaths him an Audi e-tron and—psych! Turns out our dude had blacked out while choking on a cashew. Relatable! The song choice, 1969's religio-hippy "Spirit in the Sky," makes the whole thing a little, well, nuts.

Avocados from Mexico, "Top Dog"
Ruling: Missed goal

You know those "SNL" sketches that have a kind of lame premise and are executed with obvious gags…and then go on way longer than they need to? Somehow Avocados From Mexico manages all this in just 30 seconds. The premise: Humans compete for best-in-show at the behest of their doggie masters. The prize: avocados. The star: Kristen Chenoweth. The punchline: a lady wearing a cone? Our eyes: rolling.

Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, "The Pitch"
Ruling: Illegal formation

Two mermaids swim into a shark tank ... Sounds like a joke, but this thirsty ad for Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer features two business mermaids (fishtrepreneurs?) pitching their boozy beverage to literal sharks, a nod to rival network ABC's "Shark Tank." Our water-logged heroines tell us that even though it "seems too good to be true" that this booze-infused seltzer comes in delicious fruity flavors AND has zero grams of sugar, "the myth is real." Yeah, but! "Bonnie and Vivian" aren't. Not only are they not real mermaids, they don't exist at all! They're just an AB-InBev corporate confection. So how are we to believe anything else in this fishbowl of lies?

Bubly, "Can I Have a Bublé?"
Ruling: Safety

We may not be fans of Michael Bubly's—sorry Bublé's—anodyne warbling, but he's repeatedly shown himself to be game for some light self-mockery. This sparkling spot gets props for that, and for casting comedian Aparna Nancherla, though her talents are somewhat lost in the role of the foil. Cleverly repetitive—the product's name is said four times in 30 seconds—the spot will likely stick in our collective craws.

Bud Light, "Special Delivery," "Two Medieval Barbers," "Two Trojan Horse Occupants"
Ruling: Missed goal

We loved these ads when they were called "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Mercifully, there is no mention of either of the two Dillies here (more on that later). Unfortunately, though, there isn't much in the way of wit, other than the suggestion that Bud Light doesn't use corn syrup, which no doubt has been plaguing the drinkers of Bud Light.

Bud Light/HBO, "Joust"
Ruling: Touchdown

For those of us who have shouted "kill it with fire!" every time we've seen a new Dilly Dilly spot, tonight was our lucky night. Here comes the Mountain from "Game of Thrones," who annihilates our Bud Knight in classic melon-squishing fashion. Younger viewers accustomed to the goofier tone in the Bud Light spots will possibly be traumatized by this unexpectedly awesome turn of events. "GoT" fans will go wild. Winter may already be here in polar vortex-land, but at least their beloved show is coming. And the Knight — has anyone noticed his resemblance to Boba Fett? — is dead.

Budweiser, "Wind Never Felt Better"
Ruling: Holding

There's something delicious about Bob Dylan's 1963 generation-defining antiwar anthem being used to hawk lager that is "brewed with wind power for a better tomorrow." The ad stars a dog perched atop an old-timey wagon pulled by Clydesdales through a vast heartland prairie. The reveal: It's a giant wind farm! Past, present and future converge on our heartstrings with a strum twice as earnest as Dylan's eternally elusive ditty.

Bumble, "The Ball Is in Her Court"
Ruling: First down

Bumble, best known as a female-centric dating app, recently ventured into social and professional networking. Who better to serve up ferocity than Serena Williams? "Don't wait to be given power, because here's what they won't tell you: We already have it," she says. It's almost as if advertisers have realized that half the Big Game audience is female. Will it be enough to get them to download, um, "Bumble BFF?"

Burger King, "Eat Like Andy"
Ruling: Touchdown

Where have you gone, Andy Warhol? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. This 45-second spot is everything it needs to be: unsettling, awkward, a little swish, a little hip and all-American. Warhol is the man for these President Diet Coke times, and this quiet commercial, smack in the middle of our most ostentatious gladiatorial display, would have either delighted or disgusted him. Or both.

Colgate Total, "Close Talker"
Ruling: Personal foul (for breath!)

If you were ever looking for evidence that advertising creatives, uh, borrow ideas from other cultural touchstones, look no further than this ad. "Close talker" entered the pop lexicon in 1994, towards the end of the fifth season of "Seinfeld." This ad lacks the edge of Larry David and company's wit, but it does feature a closeup of Luke Wilson's handsome wrinkles. Also our mouths are feeling a little stale after all these wings and beers and yada yada, so we could really use a freshening up.

Devour, "Devour Food Porn Addiction"
Ruling: Safety

So let's get this straight: Devour is to food as porn is to sex? In this spot, a long-suffering girlfriend bemoans the fate of her addicted boyfriend, who has become a "three-minute man," an allusion to how long it takes him to defrost his dinner. Or is it? We're trying to not be offended by the implied smut-shaming here and enjoy the joke. Now dim the lights and pass the … bacon-topped meatloaf with spicy ketchup bowl?

Doritos, "Now It's Hot"
Ruling: Touchdown

We often find ourselves asking "Tell me why?" at the end of these Super Bowl spots. But this one, which revisits the Backstreet Boys ditty—we're not calling it a classic already, are we?—is at least entertaining and on message. Here, like spicy Doritos, we have the original, only hotter, with a (pretty excellent) verse by Chance the Rapper.

Expensify, "Expensify This"
Ruling: Personal foul

Our first reaction: Haha, even 2 Chainz has to do expenses. Our second reaction: Ugh. This just reminded us we have three months of overdue expenses to file. Thanks a lot, 2 Chainz.

Google Translate, "100 Billion Words"
Ruling: Safety

Google Translate ranks among the world's most sophisticated AI engines, and even still, machine-translation software remains clunky and vexing, often tripped up by context, tone and our pesky emotions. Good thing this ad was written by a human! With this spot, which informs us the most commonly translated expressions are fundamentally about human connection, our emotions have been fully understood and, well, manipulated too.

Google, "Job Search for Veterans"
Ruling: Touchdown

We can review this on its creative merits (goosebumps? check! mild guilt? check!), but does it ring true to vets? We asked George Slefo, Ad Age's lone on-staff veteran, to weigh in: "Any company that helps vets gets love from me." As for those codes that Google makes a point of telling us we don't understand? "12 Bravos are the craziest dudes on the planet," he says. "They get shit done." Good thing their civilian options seem pretty remunerative.

Hyundai, "The Elevator"
Ruling: Touchdown

Step aside, Dante. Instead of Charon piloting the souls of the damned by ferry, perky Jason Bateman takes passengers down in an elevator. Embedded in the nine circles of hell apparently lay several other strata of torture: root canals, jury duty, vegan dinner parties and buying a new car. But don't fret: Hyundai has something called "shopper assurance," a get-out-of-hell free card. And it also has one of the funnier ads of the day.

Kia, "Give It Everything"
Ruling: Missed goal

With an ad that lasts a near eternity at 90 seconds, Kia just about depresses us to death with the voice of a child going on (and on) about what a bunch of nobodies he and his small-town neighbors are. However! They're all heart because they all work at a Kia factory? "No we are not famous," he says in a crescendo of cliché. "But we are incredible. And we make incredible things." He means cars, we think. Because he sure doesn't mean ads.

M&Ms, "Bad Passengers"
Ruling: Incomplete or missed goal

Mom, are we there yet? How much longer is this game? M&M's returns in an ad premised on one of the oldest gags on four wheels: bickering backseat kids. Christina Applegate, an actual comic whiz, does her best with tepid fare. Behind the wheel she snaps, like countless moms before her: "I will eat all of you alive right now." The reveal is being introduced to the "kids": M&M's' new candy bar. Surprise! Can we go home now?

Mercedes-Benz, "Say the Word"
Ruling: Safety

Who hasn't wished that their every utterance suddenly came true? In this quick-moving, fun spot, our hero uses his power for both good (saving kittens, freeing Willy) and not-so-good (aiding Wile E. Coyote, swapping out opera for Ludacris in front of a paying audience). The kicker: You can get this exact sensation with the new voice command–enabled Mercedes A-Class. For a nominal fee, you too can be a mediocre dude with power.

Michelob Ultra, "Robots"
Ruling: Time out (for bots!)

Robots: They're faster than us, stronger than us … better golfers than us. What can't they do?! Enjoy beer, it turns out. (And, well, Pringles.) In a very 2019 take on the John Henry legend, we see a series of robots outperforming their human counterparts in all things athletic—except the enjoyment of beer. This would be funny if we didn't suddenly fear retribution from our metallic physical superiors.

Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, "The Pure Experience"
Ruling: Missed goal

Imagine our disappointment when Zoe Kravitz, seated at a desk in a jungle, didn't say "And now for something completely different...." Instead, she whispers seductively and clicks her nails in an homage to ASMR, the goosebumpy feeling some people experience with certain sounds. Whisper- whisper, clank-sloosh. The phenomenon is no stranger to ads—it had already been spoofed by KFC in 2016. This, however, is beyond parody.

Microsoft, "We All Win"
Ruling: Holding

With its adaptive controller, Microsoft is leveling the playing field for gamers with disabilities. This spot, which features several kids, focuses primarily around Owen, who was born with a rare genetic disorder. Every bit the 9-and-a-half-year-old, Owen loves video games. And the controller helps him game with his friends. "He's not different when he plays," says Owen's dad, choking back tears. He's not the only one.

Mint Mobile, "Chunky Style Milk? That's Not Right"
Ruling: Personal foul

For a telecom carrier that's not on the radar of most Super Bowl viewers, Mint Mobile makes the curious choice of devoting more than a third of its Big Game debut to a fake ad for "chunky style milk." It's a lazy gag that goes for the gross-out factor—and has nothing to do with the product actually being advertised. Which was … what again? "That's not right!" says the ad's real hero when he sees the chunky milk head fake. You said it, pal.

NFL, "The 100 Year Game"
Ruling: Touchdown

This is at least the 100th ad we've reviewed for this dumb game so far, so we can say this with 100 percent authority: "The 100 Year Game," marking the NFL's 100th year, is phenomenal. It's fast, it's funny, it's furiously choreographed. We hear no athletes were concussed in the filming of this spot. The gang is all here—literally—and so are the little throwaway in-the-know gags. You don't have to be fan to get it (trust us) or to wind up with a 100 yard grin on your dumb face.

Norwegian Cruise Line "Good to Be Free"
Ruling: First down

Oh the things you can do on a Norwegian Cruise: Sushi! Go-karts! Musicals! Zip-lines! Animal husbandry! OK fine, we added that last one. But we get it, guys, being on a boat with your family can be boring. But not this boat! Frankly, because we're watching this spot—as thoroughly generic as it may be— in the middle of a squalling winter hellscape, we're sold. Take our money.

Olay, "Killer Skin"
Ruling: Incomplete or missed goal

Sarah Michelle Gellar and her guy are snuggled up watching TV when a horror movie killer suddenly bursts into their home. Things take a comedic turn when she can't unlock her phone with facial recognition because she's rejuvenated her skin with Olay. So far, so funny. The ad flubs its landing when the killer breaks character to tell Gellar he thinks her skin is amazing! So … does he want to wear it himself? We'll never know!

Pepsi, "More Than OK"
Ruling: Time out

"Is Pepsi OK?" is a question we've all pondered since its disastrous flirtation with Kendall Jenner. At long last we have the answer from Cardi B, who is getting to be a Super Bowl staple, and Lil Jon, fresh from his Christmas Kool-Aid spot in which he cashed in on his other catchphrase ("Yeah!"). Steve Carrell ties it all together and tries to convince us that not only is Pepsi "OK" as a Coke alternative it's "More than OK." OK? Pass the RC.

Persil ProClean, "The Deep Clean Level"
Ruling: First down

Blandly handsome actor Peter Hermann is at the "Persil Stain Lab" again, giving us a tour of its "deepest secret." It all has something to do with how clean Persil gets clothes. But, lo!, clean as it may get fabrics, Persil will not purify Hermann's lab assistant's filthy, filthy mind. "Keep it clean, Rhonda" is one of those punchlines that will make you say "that was funny" without actually laughing. Maybe she should start dating the food porn guy from the Devour ad.

Planters, "Crunch Time"
Ruling: Player disqualified

Did you check your calendar after watching this spot? It is, indeed, 2019. And yet, here's Charlie Sheen, a full eight years after his tiger blood flameout, yukking about the relative sanity of Planters' reckless driving peanut. It could have ended there, but the spot goes for another easy joke at the expense of, er, kale—may it never touch A-Rod's lips. (Fun fact: Charlie Sheen's Wikipedia page has an entire "meltdown" section).

Pringles, "Sad Device"
WPP's Grey
Ruling: First down

If we're to judge this ad in comparison to last year's Pringles spot, featuring a bugeyed Bill Hader saying "wow" a bunch, then we like it. The robot overlords may some day rule us all, but at least we can deny them the taste of all 318,000 Pringles combinations (which, honestly, they should be thankful for) and command them to play "Funkytown." Hey, we've all got to make a move to a town that's right for us

SimpliSafe, "SimpliSafe Home Security"
Ruling: First down

Preying on consumer fears is a time-honored tactic, from anti-vaccine nuts to the Hair Club for Men to Fox News. Now here comes SimpliSafe, having a bit of fun with the idea that everywhere we turn there's something trying to scare us. They've got our very vulnerable backs, though— and having their fear cake while eating it, too.

Skechers, "Easy Life"
Ruling: First down

For a commercial devoid of interesting ideas, there's a lot of easy charm here. We'd watch Tony Romo peel potatoes for 30 seconds with that goofy smile and his "Hey, I guess I'm in a Super Bowl ad" nonchalance. Mind you, that doesn't make this a good ad. It probably makes Romo a good pitchman. What was this a commercial for again?

Sprint, "Best of Both Worlds"
Ruling: Illegal crackback

Two-sport legend Bo Jackson has been knowing stuff since appearing in the 1989 Wieden & Kennedy "Bo Knows" spot for Nike cross-trainers. Droga5 revives the shtick nearly 30 years later to sell Sprint…for two reasons we didn't really understand. The execution—a series of whacky non sequiturs piled on top of each other—ultimately adds up to nothing. It's so distracting we don't remember Sprint's pitch. Bo might know, though.

Stella Artois, "Change Up The Usual"
Ruling: First down

The dream of the '90s is alive in this spot where Jeff Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker reprise their roles from "The Big Lebowski" and "Sex and the City." The beer brand is banking on its stars to carry it through this lazy-but-cute execution in which each switches up their signature drink. Lucky for Stella it will probably work, just as it did for Domino's with its 2017 Ferris Bueller-themed Super Bowl spot starring SJP's hubby. The gimmick abides.

T-Mobile, "Holy Scroller," "What's for Dinner," "Lyfted," "Dad"
Panay Films
Ruling: First down

With a commercial in each quarter of the game, T-Mobile features a comical text exchange in each spot. A friend unloads baggage at the slightest prompt, a hapless dad confuses his texting with Googling. Two of the spots highlight T-Mobile's new free Taco Bell and Lyft ride Tuesdays. This is marketing that entertains and entices, even though neither the jokes nor the offers are all that fresh.

Toyota, "Toni"
Ruling: Holding

Antoinette "Toni" Harris is already about to become one of the first female non-kickers on a college football roster. She wants to be the first female player in the NFL. If this ad helps her get there, we're all for it. If this ad sells Toyotas, we'd be confused.

Toyota Supra, "Wizard"
Ruling: Offsides

Let's get this straight, Toyota: You picked "Pinball Wizard," a song about a "deaf, dumb and blind kid" who "sure plays a mean pinball" to sell your car? We're taking the bus.

TurboTax, "RoboChild"
Ruling: Offsides

Burn, RoboChild, burn. Man creates a creepy robotic kid. Kid wants to grow up to be a TurboTax CPA. Man and his friends try to talk RoboChild out of this. Why? Personally, we would love an accountant with ruthless robotic precision. Anyway, RoboChild's emotions go haywire. This spooky thing isn't ready for prime time in more ways than one.

Turkish Airlines, "The Journey"
Ruling: Personal foul

What the hell is going on here? OK fine, we're not really supposed to know. But this Ridley Scott-directed teaser for something that feels like a spy thriller "celebrating 85 years of Turkish airlines" is way too stressful for an airline ad. We don't want thrills, "targets," or our boss (or lover? or both?) demanding better work from us while we fly. Also, has Scott never seen "Midnight Express?"

Verizon, "The Coach Who Wouldn't Be Here"
Ruling: Safety

This is not the first spot that reunites crash or trauma survivors with their first responders, but this ad is no less powerful because of it. It's never risky to celebrate the fire fighters and paramedics who are out there every day, answering the call. And if you can align your brand in a way that doesn't feel forced or phony, as Verizon does here, more power to everyone.

Washington Post, "Democracy Dies in Darkness"
Mark Woollen and Associates
Ruling: Touchdown

In this spot narrated by Tom Hanks (who played legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in 2017's "The Post"), we are reminded that "Democracy Dies in Darkness," the paper's grandiose Trump-era tagline. But this is less an ad for the newspaper itself than for journalism with a capital J. The spot heaps deserved praise on reporters — some killed or missing in action—from other outlets, too, including CNN, the Sunday Times and more. Because "knowing empowers us." There's nothing fake about that news.

WeatherTech Pet Comfort, "Scout"
Ruling: Time out

"Through American ingenuity," WeatherTech claims to have revolutionized car mats. Now, with that same American ingenuity, it aims to change the way you feed your American pets. The tagline: "WeatherTech and Pet Comfort doing it right in America." Don't you even think about feeding your filthy Russian mongrels with these bowls. (Backstory time: WeatherTech's founder is convinced his three dogs died from cancer due to toxic chemicals in their presumably un-American bowls.) We're having enough trouble following all of this without even beginning to absorb the doggo with top security clearance at Weather Tech's American headquarters.

WeatherTech, "CupFone"
Ruling: Personal foul

What a waste of a perfectly good cup holder, WeatherTech. Official 2019 Big Game Ad with Karlie Kloss
Internal agency
Ruling: First down

You may not look like Karlie Kloss, but your website can resemble hers! Here, the model and entrepreneur guides the viewer through a so-simple-anyone-can-do-it tour of the site-building platform. It's a nice fit in that Kloss herself runs Kode with Klossy, a nonprofit program to teach girls 13-18 to code. That's not mentioned in the ad, but we're more than happy to bring it up here.

Top image: Hyundai. Illustrations by Tam Nguyen. Web production by Jenn Chiu/Ad Age.