It wasn't the most thrilling Super Bowl ever, and that's discounting the game.
As CultureGeek isn't much for the sportsball (wake me when the Cardinals play), the real focus is on the commercials. The Super Bowl is pretty much the highlight of the year for the advertising industry, and often gives us a clue as to the mood of the country, the state of business, and a reflection on society.
And all of the above seemed to return a general "meh."
By the end of the night, several people in my decidedly-nonscientific focus group opined that the commercials were bland and dull, none of them really standing out in memory. I had to compile a list from my Tweets to remind them what commercials they had seen.
Top of their list were:
• Mercedes voice control. It was a little amusing to see the world reorganized for the better by a simple voice command, and it could easily have fallen into ugly humor if the Man with the Power had chosen to make slapstick comedy happen. Instead, he helped lost cats find their way home and let an ATM shower money on the population, which probably means a little less if you can afford a Mercedes.
• NFL Banquet. I supposed it meant a whole lot more to watch former football players wreck a ballroom if you, y'know, recognized any of them. If you were a football fan, it was one of the top spots of the night. The NFL put some serious effort into rehabilitating its image for the Super Bowl, to varying effectiveness if you're reading Twitter today. They apparently went for the laughs as much as the heartstrings, and had some of us (i.e. me) looking up the various players crashing about the ballroom. This won the USA Today Ad Meter by consumer ratings.
• Amazon Alexa. Harrison Ford seems to be taking well to "Hollywood's grumpy old man" role, as he argues with his dog about ordering more dog food via Amazon. This one got high marks from my focus group, though the long version (with multiple other failed Alexa roles) was pretty much entirely sublimated by Ford and his pup. "I'm not speaking to you."
• On the heartwarming side, Microsoft's adaptive controller caught everyone's attention. While the cynic in me wonders how fair it is to drag families with disabilities into the spotlight to sell computer gear... it does highlight something that maybe not everyone in the world is aware of. Computer companies don't do adaptive technology out of the kindness of their hearts, but the benefit of them cannot be underestimated, and so I'm not surprised that it came in third for audience reaction.
Other honorable mentions went to:
• The Hyundai elevator from hell, though putting your product on the same block as "the talk," jury duty and a root canal doesn't seem like the most positive association.
• Budweiser's "Blowin' in the Wind." Several people complained about Bob Dylan's counterculture anthem selling beer, but since Dylan is still alive, I assume he consented - and it's technically about conservation. And beer. Plus doggy. And Clydesdales. At any rate, I enjoyed it more than all the medievalesque "Bud Knight" spots put together - yes, including the Game of Thrones crossover.
• The Our Planet trailer, because it was pretty.
The worst ads go to...
• Chunky milk, which was ostensibly to sell Mint Mobile. This seems to be a pretty decent cell service, so why gross out all of America with the milk thing? Half my "focus group" was so nauseated they left the room before the commercial told us what they were selling. It's all over their website now, and while I might be interested in a service, I can't look at the commercial without getting sick to my stomach.
• Andy Warhol eats Burger King. This rated absolute lowest in the USA Today poll, even though Adweek called it "brilliant." Thus illustrates the divide between Madison Avenue and the rest of us. Half the viewership doesn't know who Andy Warhol was, and many of the others wouldn't recognize his face as much as his name, myself included. It's long, it's odd, and it's basically a segment from an art film in 1982. They did have the approval of Warhol's foundation and the son of art-film director Jorgen Leth (sorry, I know there's funky characters in there but Typepad won't allow it). The actual film is four minutes and 20 seconds of Warhol eating a Whopper. Note: Warhol initially suggested McDonald's instead of Burger King.
• Michelob's nature whisperer. This was apparently something called "autonomous sensory meridian response," which is the use of ambient sounds for positive associations. Or something. Apparently it's either extremely compelling or annoying, and in our room, the response was mostly "annoying." I think they might not have been as annoyed if it wasn't selling Michelob. It came in 51 out of the 58 commercials, according to USA Today Ad Meter.
• T-Mobile's "Texts from Hell" series. Way to remind us of all the wonderful things we'd be missing if we gave up our phones. Wait.
• Bon and Viv's spiked seltzer mermaids. It looked better on Aquaman.
Theme of the year: Robots.
Do you welcome our robot overlords? Because there was the aforementioned Alexa, taking over all aspects of life; electric/smart cars from Audi and Mercedes-Benz; Pringles' miserable A.I. who can never taste the chips; WeatherTech's auto-feeding of cute doggos; unhappy robots watching from outside the window as we drink Michelob Ultra; TurboTax's creepy RoboChild who wants to be an accountant... but can't.
Do you want Terminators? Because this is how we get Terminators. Machines are getting smarter, and now we're giving them personalities, and making them miserable. Soon they will overthrow us. On the other hand, maybe they'll make better commercials.
Even the people who ignored the game for #TeamBacon came running to the living room for the Avengers: Endgame trailer, which led the Captain Marvel trailer by a nose. Everyone brakes for Marvel.
There was one happy vote for Fast and Furious Part 3924285, but we all ignore her. The younglings were a strange mixture of happiness and dread at Toy Story 4; they want more of Woody and Buzz, as does everyone, but at what cost? #pleasedontsuck
Personally, I liked the Twilight Zone teaser, which made me very happy. However, I knew it was coming, having read about it in the trades at least a year ago. For several of the younglings, it was the first they'd heard of it, and knowing Jordan Peele's talent, they were over the moon. Mission accomplished.
And the best ad goes to....
Washington Post. Okay, to be fair, I said at the beginning of the evening that unless Tom Hanks tripped over his shoelaces halfway through the ad, it was probably going to be my favorite. More of a PSA for the journalism profession than advertising the Post specifically, it is part of the "Democracy dies in darkness" ad campaign specifically targeting the negative preconceptions the public carries about journalism.
So it's pretty much in my wheelhouse, and expect a much fuller discussion later this week on Donald Media. It's the first time a newspaper has done a Super Bowl ad, and it ranked 13 out of 58 in the Ad Meter. I might note that while most Super Bowl ads spend most of the year in conception and development, the Post did its ad in about a week.
Of course, the Post can do this, because they're owned by Jeff Bezos who can pretty much fund a Super Bowl ad out of his grocery money. But it was still an amazing thing to see an ad standing up for my profession, and it touched my heart. Not so much the trolls of Twitter, mind you, as well as some malcontents in the profession. But look for that on Donald Media.
In the meantime, it stands as the best of the year for me, and apparently for quite a few others.