A Review: The 5 Best Commercials of Super Bowl LI

Most people these days have no problem admitting they don’t just watch the Super Bowl for the football, and neither do I. In a way, it’s also the Super Bowl for advertisements: spots are expensive, millions of people watch them at the same time, they’re critiqued via social media almost immediately, and there are always “Best Commercials of the Super Bowl” posts — like this one. This year’s Super Bowl ads were especially interesting because we're smack in the middle of an extremely politically charged time period, and as a result, many companies attempted to weave trending political topics into their messages. Some were well-received, and others… well, I’ll leave those to the critics.

So, what makes a commercial great? Like all art forms, it’s subjective - but in my opinion, a great commercial has to connect to viewers, nail an appropriate tone (i.e., if you choose humor, it better be funny), and last but not least, sell the product or brand. Oh, and you only have about thirty seconds to one minute to make an impression. It’s for that very reason that I wrote these reviews without watching the ads more than once — so the less I have to say about a commercial, the less I was able to take in the first time I saw it.

To note: I did not include movie trailers, or TV show trailers, but I have to say Legion’s ads for their new show were pretty kick-ass. 

1. FORD - Go Further.

In my opinion, Ford had the best commercial of the Super Bowl, hands down. I haven’t laughed that hard at a commercial in awhile. Not only did they completely nail the relationship between the concept and the product, but they also managed to effectively capture an emotion we all experience on an almost daily basis: frustration. 

The commercial opens with a group of diverse people stuck in independently frustrating situations: a small child shoots a basketball and it gets stuck between the rim and the backboard. A man forgets his house key and gets jammed crawling through the doggie door in business attire. A man struggles to get out of his sticky neoprene wetsuit post-surf. A car is stuck on the side of the road as the driver waves to flag attention, yet people pass by without taking notice — you get the idea. The one that got me laughing was the little kid who tips over on his tricycle and gets stuck face-on-pavement because he’s caught on the bike. The music dies down just in time to see this shot in silence, as the child yells, “MOM?!”. I almost cried laughing — we’ve all been there. We then start to see some of these people find gratification in overcoming these frustrating situations, followed by a shot of Ford’s shiny new self-driving car backing into a parking space, tight on the steering wheel. They show people using the car, driving the car, getting in and out with ease, and using Ford’s ride share app. They do a great job showing how well the car is designed to actually suit you, the driver, and it’s truly mesmerizing. It leaves you feeling like the car was made just for you, and that it'll make everything easier for you. It sounds like fiction put to words, but the message is clear. “We’re going further, so you can.” 

So, was it relatable? Absolutely! Not only have I accidentally flashed my friends trying to get out of a wetsuit, but I’ve also climbed through a window when I locked myself out of my house. In fact, I ruined the damn wood trim my second week as a homeowner, trying to get my butt over the sill. And I hate backing into parking spaces… I’d rather go to a chiropractor to have my bones crack that much.

As for the tone, they certainly went for funny… and they nailed it. The acting is sincere, which is just as important as nailing the humor. For a second I thought it could be a commercial for Midol, because I thought, “Wow, they’ve really captured the essence of PMS!”, but I quickly realized there were far too many men for that to be the case. Either way, I felt for those people. I connected with the characters.

Did they sell their brand? Hell yeah. When I first saw the steering wheel shot of the self-driving car, I just assumed it was someone struggling to park who’s car took over and parked itself — clearly, I’m still coming around to the idea that there are, in fact, self-driving cars out there. I was surprised to find out it was a Ford commercial, because I honestly couldn’t guess what brand it was advertising from the cutesy, comical intro — but they executed, and they executed well. They stuck you in life’s most annoying situations, they frustrated the hell out of you, and then they gave you relief, in the form of their product. I’ve seen very few commercials that effectively capture the interest and emotion of viewers successfully, comically, and seriously, all at the same time. Bravo, Ford. That one gave me all the feels.

2. SQUARESPACE - Get your domain before it’s gone.

I’m pretty stoked that Squarespace had such a great ad spot, because my predictions for this year’s Super Bowl were that the Pats would win, and Squarespace would have a kick-ass ad spot — and I was right on both counts. Squarespace really captures the importance of buying your domain before someone else does, in their ad spot featuring John Malkovich. Malkovich is trying to negotiate domain ownership of johnmalkovich.com with the current owner because he wants to start a "men’s clothing line", and he’s not succeeding, by any means. Malkovich asks the owner, “Do you think when people go to johnmalkovich.com that they’re actually looking for you? Or maybe, they’re looking -  for ME!” This guy is not letting up. Malkovich, frustrated, yells, “Get out of my name!” According to social media, it seems like some people aren’t understanding what that tagline means, but I get it. The internet is a strange place, where millions of things, thoughts, and ideas are contained within one little web address. It’s like there’s a whole little world inside your laptop, and to John Malkovich, this other guy is just some dude on the internet, using his name. “Get your domain before it’s gone.” Point made; Malkovich should’ve purchased the domain a long time ago.

Relatable? Certainly. Trying to negotiate domain ownership is a pain in the ass. It can be a long period of hurry-up-and-wait, and some people get enjoyment out of sniping clever domains (that should probably belong to somebody else), and sitting on them until they get a decent amount of money for it.

The tone was playful and humorous — they nailed it. Nothing was too over the top, too dry, or too forced. Part of that is due to the fact that John Malkovich himself, was in the commercial, and he’s a fantastic actor. Well worth the investment.

Did they sell their brand? Absolutely. This ad has fantastic production quality, and does a great job explaining why you should buy your domain the second you have an idea. People are actually able to look up recent domain searches, so just by looking to see if your domain is available, you're increasing the chances that it won't be available tomorrow. I’m personally a huge fan of Squarespace because it’s not just a great tool for non-designers; it also allows graphic designers with little to no HTML/CSS training to do web work for clients, and even hand it to the client to manage after. Easy peasy. Not to mention, this website is powered by Squarespace as well.

Well done, SS!

3. WIX — Jason Statham & Gal Gadot

I had Wix tied at #5 with the NFL, but ultimately bumped up Wix, because… Jason Statham. Wix takes us to a restaurant, where a young male is in the kitchen designing his website on his break, with headphones in. Jason Statham and Gail Gadot cruise into the restaurant and cause complete havoc, overturning tables, fighting people, and by the time the young male realizes that the entire restaurant has been taken out, he’s done designing his website. Their message: “To succeed in a disruptive world, Wix helps you make your own stunning website.” Perfect. Messaging.

Was it relatable? Hell yes. I can’t tell you how many people come to me looking to have a website designed or ask for help because they don’t have time to learn how to create their own. Web design is an ever-changing industry, and if you don’t keep up with the constantly improving programming and coding tools, you won’t last in the industry. Wix, like Squarespace, actually makes designing a website easy enough for anyone to do it. 

Tone? It was badass, and it was funny. To me, it felt like reality crashing into a feature film. I mean, one can only dream about Jason Statham showing up to your work and taking out absolutely everyone but you: It’s the corporate worker’s dream-come-true.

Did it sell the product? Yes. Clearly, their tools are easy enough to help you design a website even if you’re extremely busy, or Jason Statham is taking people out in the next room.

4. 84 LUMBER - The will to succeed is always welcome here.

This one is certainly controversial, and I’m sure some of you wouldn’t agree with me marking it as one of the “best” — but political parties and opinions aside, their message was damn ballsy. It was bolder and braver than any of the other companies who tried to weave similar themes into their spots. I was on the fence about this one based on the broken user experience (which I’ll describe below), but I ultimately decided this one makes the cut because it takes that kind of ballsy action to actually make a change — again, whether or not you agree with the wall in the first place, I’m talking about the actions necessary to change the world, here.

The commercial is very cinematic and well-produced. It shows a mother and her child, struggling to make ends meet in what we assume is Mexico. We can’t help but feel sorry for this mother and her hungry, young child. The mother and child pack their bags and head on a journey, hitching rides, walking miles of dirt, and fields of grass, camping out at night. We get the idea they’re headed for the Mexico/US border. It finally seems like they’re about to reach it, and — we’re hit with, “See the conclusion at www.journey84.com.” What?! Now I have to give up my comfy spot on the couch to get my laptop?

I hop on their website, and I’m greeted by, “The service is unavailable”. I instantly realized the fact that they were sending millions of people to their website at once — and it crashed. For whatever reason, they weren’t appropriately scaled for that kind of traffic. In their defense, it loaded after waiting a few minutes, and the mother and child finally reach the infamous wall. They sob, and hug; it’s truly depressing. I had tears in my eyes. The little girl hands her mother an American flag she had clearly hand-made, which was a very sweet moment. Her mother takes the flag with joy, and she holds it in her hands. We then see a pickup truck with lumber in the back, driving on a road, while the woman simultaneously finds a door in the wall. They open the large door, and voila! They’re in the U.S. “The will to succeed is always welcome here”, is overlaid on a shot of the random pickup truck that enters the story, at the end.

Was it relatable? The message certainly was; it’s one of the top trending news items right now. I can’t pop on Facebook for five minutes without seeing something about Trump’s tweets, or getting Mexico to pay for the wall. We’ve all heard it, we’ve all argued about it, but no matter how you feel about the issue, their story makes it extremely difficult to feel anything but compassion for the mother and her child — which is clearly their point. While the issues going on in the US don’t affect everyone, they do affect thousands, even millions of people. If we don’t feel compassion for those who are affected and targeted, this will get uglier. They clearly disagree with new immigration laws in the works, and the infamous “wall” — all are welcome at 84 Lumber. They did a pretty darn good job of delivering their stance on the issues, whether you agree with it or not.

The tone of the spot was serious, and appropriate. The acting felt real. The message was clear.

Did they sell their brand? That’s where it doesn’t exactly meet my standards, but part of me feels I should give them a pass for putting their brand aside to share an important message nationally. The pickup with a pile of wood in the bed was certainly their attempt at a connection to their company, but it felt broken. I was confused on whether that truck was driving on the other side of the wall the woman was trying to get through, or if it was driving on a random road somewhere completely unrelated. It didn’t feel weaved into the story enough to make any sense. But, their end message was a positive one, minus the web hiccup. It almost seems like they were told their content was too controversial for television at the last minute, forcing them to direct traffic to their website, leaving them unprepared for such high volume. I’ve seen situations like that; it’s not pretty and it’s really disappointing after you’ve invested so much into the project.

Kudos to 84 Lumber for the investment and the production of such an important message, despite a few obstacles. I hadn’t ever heard of 84 Lumber before this Super Bowl, but now I know they’re a company that means business. They actually come off as slightly intimidating, since I tend to associate Lumber companies with large log trucks that typically scare the shit out of people on the highway. So they’ve got that going for them, too. Don’t F*** with those guys.

5. Aflac - Surgery

Man, this one came on right as I was picking up a pizza, so I missed some of it. However, it still made a lasting impression, which is why it made my top 5. We see a man about to have surgery, surrounded by doctors. Gloved up, the doctor says, " It's a very simple procedure Mr. Diaz. We're gonna make one small incision here and then we're gonna remove your '67 Corvette." What?! "But my Papa gave me that car..." he replies, starting to sound depressed. The doctor asks, "What do you wish you had?" and then proceeds to move his lips to say "Aflaaaac". Creative delivery. It was cute, comical, and made a valid point. Simple, but funny.

Was it relatable? Absolutely. I dread any and all medical procedures because I know I’ll have a slue of bills in my mailbox after. We all know healthcare can break the bank, and it sucks.

Did they nail the tone? Yes. They went for humor, and it was funny. The acting is excellent and the message is clear.

Did they sell their product? People are all about saving money on medical bills, and Aflac certainly showed us a solution. 


Honorable mention goes to...

The NFL for their powerful message, Audi for promoting gender-equality, Anheuser-Busch for their attempt to cover hot political issues, and H&R Block for their bitchin’ visuals. T-Mobile's "Fake your own death" concept was pretty hilarious, too. If I had a top ten, they all would've made the cut.

Which commercials did you enjoy most?