The Super Bowl 2018 Ads

This past Sunday night brought, once again, the Super Bowl to the screen. This year the game was exciting right up to the last play. I was at a party with a bunch of friends and I asked them for their opinions about the many ads that played throughout the evening.

It was funny, it was challenging, it was political, and it made a statement about how religion could be a powerful force rather than being one that separates

Not too much has changed over the years, as the series of Tide ads demonstrated with their parodies of many Super Bowl ad tropes. We still get sold things by several styles; humor, sex, tugging on our memories, grabbing our emotions. What follows are the first probably not annual Holsopple Super Bowl Ad Awards. We will start at the bottom of the pile and work our way up, much as the refs do with a fumble.

Worst ad award: Wow. This had some real competition. And wow, given the amount of money spent on these ads, I am surprised. The winner is Pringles. It may be earth-shattering that you can stack two flavors of Pringles together to create a new combination of flavor to somebody, but it left me without a laugh. Bud Knight, despite the amazing usage of “Dilly dilly” several times, still had no idea why it existed. I will also give honorable mention to the Kia ad where Steven Tyler is able to reverse the car enough to step out as a much younger self. The “Feel something again” tag suggesting that older people don’t feel any more is just insulting.

Humor award: When Amazon’s Alexa loses her voice and the fill-in voice of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay berates a young man for not knowing how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, that wins the runner-up position. The winning ad in this humor category pits Morgan Freeman against Peter Dinklage in a lip sync rap-off touting the heat of Doritos Blaze and the chill of Mountain Dew Ice.

The most offensive ad: The runner-up in this category goes to Amazon for the spot introducing a new series on Amazon Prime, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, that employs a voice-over of many former presidents, with Barak Obama’s voice saying, “Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear.” Another intones, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.” The spot was almost over before I realized that the music playing underneath was a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Even here the memory of war protests are twisted to get us to watch a hero take on all the “evil” in the world to protect us and, in the final scenes, have sex with a beautiful woman as his reward. This duality of evil being wiped out by the hero is common in our cultural lexicon; it is ironic that the words of presidents and Dylan can be successfully employed to reinforce this narrative. But, alas, Dodge Ram managed to go even lower. Using part of a speech from Martin Luther King Jr., the ad shows scenes of people helping each other and being tough and soldiers marching as King reminds the viewer that the definition of greatness is to be a servant. The speech is amazing, but it shouldn’t sell trucks, or nationalism, or a vision of tough masculinity. I find these ads really troubling when so much fuss has been made recently of players protesting—and yet no one complains when these advertisers take words that are meant to change our society and co-opt them to sell violence and big trucks.

Most beautiful cinematography award: This hat tip goes to Turkish Airlines, in an ad with Dr. Oz expounding on the power of the five senses and how much they can take in. The beautiful images beckon the viewer to explore sights, sounds, colors, scents, and tastes and to “Widen your world.”

Positive messages: It was a night when many ads tried to make positive messages about our society, including T-Mobile with a pan of a variety of babies with various features and skin tones and the words “We are equal.” Budweiser, with Stand by Me playing, showed how with a few flips of levers they could begin to can water to fill a need following a natural disaster. Coke tried to find their previous year’s mojo, but seemed to fall short with the idea there is a Coke for he and she and we and me.

Best ad: Toyota out-Cokes Coke to win the best overall ad. A rabbi pulls away from his synagogue, stops to pick up a priest, then an imam, and finally a Buddhist monk; they all head to a football game. When they arrive—late—their team is losing; the two nuns they sit down next to blame it on them. Suddenly the game turns around and they are all happy. The tag suggests, “We are all one team.” If I didn’t know it was a Toyota ad, I likely would not have even noticed what kind of pickup they drove. It was funny, it was challenging, it was political, and it made a statement about how religion could be a powerful force rather than being one that separates.

Most thought-provoking ad that didn’t get aired ( A man walks into church and into a confession booth. “I’ve lied . . . to the world.” The priest, played by James Cromwell (think of the farmer in Babe), asks, “Are you a politician?” The man replies, “No, I work in the meats industry. I’m the guy who came up with ‘free range’ on the packaging, but there is no range.” After the priest offers an initial penance, the man keeps adding to the list of things meat producers lie about, until the priest tells him there is no forgiveness: “We have to draw the line somewhere.” NBC asked PETA for $10.4 million to air a 30-second spot, more than double the reported $5 million other advertisers paid. Ironically, just days out, the website platform Wix was offered a reduced price to put their ad on the air. We can only surmise that NBC wants happy viewers, and advertising is not about free speech. For me, the ad raised questions beyond the meat industry, actually suggesting that many ads are based on lies. I will leave the thoughts about what forgiveness means in this ad for another day.

To view many of the 2018 Super Bowl ads, go here:


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.