The important thing to remember about Super Bowl commercials is that you have to grade them on a curve. It’s almost impossible to make a truly “good” one right now. Things are too broken and screwy. Everyone wants to be weird and offbeat like the just watched a marathon of Tim & Eric, but like, broad enough for a general audience, too, and maybe with some celebrities so your great aunt can feel involved. It’s a mess. The whole thing should be overhauled. Listen to me.
But that’s a problem for the rest of the year. For now, we have to deal with what we have in place already. We have to look at the ads that actually aired during the 2020 Super Bowl. It… wasn’t great, for the most part. There’s no way we’re going to discuss all of them. What we will do, until we burn everything down and start fresh like a phoenix rising from the ashes next year, is pull out some of the highlights and lowlights. And very lowlights.
Below, please find the good, the bad, and the ugly from this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials.
Bill Murray doing groundhog things
I like to think I’m above naked nostalgia. “Oh, come on,” I’ll say when a commercial attempts to commodify warm feelings from my youth. “I see what’s happening here.” I’m very cynical and dismissive and just generally turned off. But then sometimes I’ll see — to pick an example completely at random — Bill Murray doing Groundhog Day things in a Super Bowl ad on Groundhog Day, driving around with the little fuzzball and running into Stephen Tobolowsky, and my brain jumps straight to “Ooooooo look at that!” I don’t know. Maybe I’m a hypocrite. Maybe I just like Bill Murray interacting with mischievous rodents.
Could be a little of both? Whatever the explanation, I’ll take it.
You could do a lot worse for your Super Bowl commercial than having Sam Elliott and his mustache recite the lyrics to “Old Town Road.” Or, like, anything. Sam Elliott could do an ad for rusty mousetraps that’s just him talking for 30 seconds about whatever is on his mind and I’d probably put it in this category. How did rusty mousetraps have the bankroll to make a Super Bowl commercial? Is “rusty mousetraps” the brand name or a description of the product or both? Is he playing a character named Rusty Mousetraps? All fair questions that we would be required to examine, should this happen next year.
For now, we can just focus on Doritos, which are simpler.
Local commercials by personal injury lawyers
The best Super Bowl commercials every year are the local ones that run in regional markets only, in large part because they’re the only ones having real fun. Every national ad is focus-grouped beyond recognition and playing it safe, but these suckers are like “But what if I was in outer space?” even if it’s an ad for a local personal injury attorney who presumably has very little jurisdiction in the cosmos. That’s what’s happening in the one above, featuring Darryl “The Hammer” Isaacs, a veteran of these insane little Super Bowl treats. Because why not make yourself a space hero? It’s your commercial. Go nuts.
Or, if space isn’t your thing, how about murdering a bunch of recognizable insurance commercial figures in a Godfather-style montage to show that you, another local personal injury attorney, have no fear going after the giants, as we see in this Maloney-Lyons ad.
I hope next year one of these goes all out and casts, like, Beyoncé as a bounty hunter or something and it only airs in the Milwaukee suburbs.
Jason Momoa is a very large, very charming man.
This commercial isn’t anything super special but I just like the idea that there’s a Super Bowl ad for an individual fruit. I want more of these. Show me a multimillion-dollar ad starring Paul McCartney and have it be about carrots. Or like a multi-part, all-night campaign about pears where the two pears are played by Michael Jordan and Zendaya and they’re just sitting on a couch watching fake commercials for other fruits and talking crap about them like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets. Get weird as hell, I say.
I almost put this one in the GOOD category, just because of how mad it made so many people. Background: Tom Brady, who is allegedly considering retirement, posted a cryptic photo on his Instagram last week. Half the people who saw it were like “Does this mean it’s over?” and the other half were like “This is definitely for some dumb marketing campaign,” and then it proved to be the second thing and both groups hated it like poison. What a wonderful experience it was for me, a broken soul who loves chaos and watching the room he’s sitting in be engulfed in flames. I wanted it to last forever.
It wasn’t great! But it was also very great.
There are too many Boston accents
This ad was… fine. It was fine. It had people you know doing an accent that’s easy and fun to make fun of. It was The Most Super Bowl commercial anyone involved could muster. But I’m getting really sick of the Boston accent. Between your Wahlbergs and your Affleck/Damons and your Patriots/Sox championships, there have been about 100 years of Boston stuff crammed into the last 20. It’s too much. Other regions have terrible accents, too. Have you ever heard a real, thick Philadelphia accent? It’s awful! I want it everywhere. Put that in a commercial.
It says a lot about me as a Philadelphia-area native that “the lack of disrespect being lobbed at our awful regional accent is DISRESPECTFUL.”
I have watched the ad three times now and I can’t figure out why Jonah Hill just won’t go to the party with Martin Scorsese. It might be because I’m getting stuck on the idea of the phrase “coke energy.” I will continue viewing and report back.
(I will not report back.)
Stop it, Turbotax
I do not like this. I do not like the dancing. I do not see why this exists and I wish it didn’t. This shouldn’t be so hard. Just have two dogs out getting coffee and have the one dog say something like “You know, I did my taxes myself this year and it was so easy. I was so scared to try but it turns out it wasn’t really all that… what’s the word I’m looking for?” and then the other dog says “Rough.” It’s not worse than whatever is happening here.
The end. Come on. Don’t overthink this.
But what if… the troops
There’s a genre of commercials you could call “But what if… the troops.” You’ve seen them a million times. They’re the ones that are barely tied to the product in question in any way, choosing instead to wrap themselves in the flag and make a transparent attempt to win public support by reminding everyone about the persons sacrifice made by veterans and public servants. That’s what this ad is. It’s borderline hilarious and the whole thing was summed up very well in this tweet from Desus of Desus & Mero.
u can tell how evil a company is by how touching their super bowl ad attempts to be
— Desus Nice (@desusnice) February 3, 2020
On the tangentially related note of heart-wrenching commercials, in general, I did very much enjoy that Google’s devastating ad about memories and aging was immediately followed by WWE legend Ric Flair whooping about hummus. Capitalism is wild.
Two possibilities here:
- Planters panicked in the wake of a national outpouring of grief following a sudden celebrity death and scrapped whatever they had planned with Mr. Peanut’s death to throw this together at the last minute, like someone said “What if the Kool-Aid man’s tears resurrect the peanut but now the peanut is a baby that makes dolphin sounds as a goof?” and everyone was like “Dammit, Frank, that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard,” but then six hours went by and no one had anything better so they talked themselves into it as the clock kept ticking, and before they realized what happened it was airing on television
- This was the plan all along and they did it on purpose
Either way, objectively hilarious.