To air a 30-second commercial during Super Bowl LI, you needed to pony up a cool $5 million. A reasonable price to pay, to reach north of 100 million people?
It all depends on how you make use of that precious seconds. As this year’s contest between the Patriots and Falcons plays out in Houston, TVLine is singling out the spots that were winning plays, and the few that were costly fumbles. (Anything not listed — e.g. Skittles, Avocados, Tide — was neither here nor there.)
By the end of the night, this list will be left with only the very best, and a few of the worst, that Madison Avenue had to offer. Refresh for updates, and feel free to comment on any ads that landed in the “meh” middle.
84 Lumber, “The Entire Journey” | Super Bowl viewers only saw 90 seconds of this short, immigration-themed film from a building materials supplier (whose owner voted for Trump, natch), which met some resistance from Fox. The full, online version shows the mother and American flag-weaving daughter met by the wall… as we realize the workers were actually building a door for them to pass through, legally.
It’s a 10 Haircare, “Super Bowl Commercial” | You had me at, “America, we’re in for at least four years of awful hair.”
Squarespace, “Calling JohnMalkovich.com” | The in-game spot continued the pre-game commercial’s narrative, in which the John Malkovich struggles to wrest his eponymous domain from a…. fish blogger.
Snickers, “Live Super Bowl Commercial” | Maybe not the strongest of the “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign, but major points for “destroying” an Old West town, live. Also: Kylo Ren!
Audi, “Daughter” | The auto manufacturer says it elected to “speak to American emotionally” with this year’s spot, by tapping into the “culturally engaging topic” of gender equality in the work place. And it did so with just the right firmness of touch.
Michelin, “I Need You” | Warm/fuzzy vignettes in which people rush to the side of loved ones, perhaps a bit more assuredly on Michelin tires.
Intel, “Brady Everyday” | An effective, fun demo of the Big Game’s 360-degree camera technology, reminding you that Intel makes more than PC chips.
Airbnb, “#weaccept” | A timely message spot that almost challenged you to identify its sponsor.
Buick, “Big Game Spot With Cam Newton and Miranda Kerr” | Started off a bit similar to the Snickers spots, with the body swapping and all, but once #19 got rifled backwards by Cam’s pass, big laughs.
Honda, “Yearbooks” | Perhaps not the strongest sell for any car, but the assemblage of celebs, retrofitted (and talking) as their teenage selves, is mesmerizing.
Bai, “Big Game Ad Starring Justin Timberlake and Christopher Walken” | If only because Walken reciting any dialogue, let alone JT lyrics out of context, is always a winner.
TurboTax, “Humpty Hospital” | Some have found this series unsettling, but damn if they don’t stick with the yolk, er, joke to the very end.
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Bud Light, “Ghost Spuds” | It’s been a while, so remind me: Has Spuds ever spoken before? And with that voice? Add in a dog apparently dangling from wires and it’s just wrong.
Mr. Clean, “Cleaner of Your Dreams” | This one is starting to grow on us, with the about-to-be-ravaged shlubby hubby at the end, but still — sexualized CGI makes you feel a bit dirty.
H&R Block, “Future” | On the heels of entertaining-enough January spots starring Mad man Jon Hamm, the tax prep service takes a sharp left turn with an almost eerie tout of the IBM Watson computer’s ability to find you every deduction.
Busch, “BUSCHHHHH” | Silly.
T-Mobile, “#UnlimitedMoves” | Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we put bad boy Bieber in a tuxedo and spectacles? Answer: no.
Michelob Ultra, “Our Bar” | When I heard Michelob was doing a “fitness”-themed spot, my eyes rolled so hard I burned 95 calories. Know what people who work out like a beast actually drink? Lots of water. True story.