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Superb Owl 2020: Wave that mustache!

What halftime show? 

(Yes, I have Thoughts on that, but others are expressing it much more eloquently elsewhere on the net. Suffice to say I'm very much torn between appreciation of amazing performances with overtly political statements and cultural value, and wanting to smack the cameraman and director for the ridiculous male-gaze crotch shots. Those terrific women deserved better treatment for their work.)

Instead, we go for the commercials here at CultureGeek, because we are all about pop culture here and Super Bowl ads are a reflection of pop culture, of the economy, of the nation's mindset. "Nervous" is a word that comes to mind - not many risks taken, not much in the way of a standout, but some ads definitely resonated more than others.

As you know if you follow my Twitter account, each year I observe the Superb Owl at a party my dear friends throw in part to provide me a focus group for the commercials. This is in no way a scientific experiment, nor is it a representative sample, given that the entire room is full of middle-aged midwesterners and a couple of twentysomethings. My research methods professor would wring her hands in despair if I presented it to her.

But when you have a blowout winner like Sam Elliott's mustache, it deserves recording. 

 

 

Nothing else came anywhere close when I tallied the votes. 

A distant second among my crew was Jason Momoa's sly poke at the unrealistic male-physique expectations of a superhero actor while pitching Rocket Mortgage, with help from Lisa Bonet.

 

 

Funny usually works. Funny are the commercials that people seem to remember the most, whether or not they actually communicate about the product. But remember that dying is easy; comedy is hard. The running gag of "later" for Tide Pods fell utterly flat with my focus group, and for me. A running gag really hasn't worked since the Energizer Bunny, and the Tide Pod guy just didn't measure up.

Then there are the heartwarming ads, like third-place "Loretta" by Google. Of course, some folks pointed out that it could also be seen as a creepy reminder of how much of our personal information is stored on the net, but for most people, this one was Kleenex-worthy.

 

 

Utter failures included the avocado ad, the Hard Rock Cafe throwdown, that weird hummus ad, Pepsi's attempt to co-opt the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" (which is about a partner's death, not the color of her soda, guys), pretty much all of the 5G ads that had our programmer friend moaning in despair, and the Pringles riff on They Live with Rick and Morty (with the exception of one tween who voted for it). 

Others got a single vote, or no votes, but they caught my eye. Among them were WeatherTech's dog-survives-cancer, the Baaaaaaston accents for a self-parking Hyundai, New York Life's touching "Agape" spot, and Secret's "knock down walls" piece.

I also need to give a tip of the hat to the Bryan Cranston Shining parody for Mountain Dew, not because it was a brilliant ad, but because according to his Twitter, he is donating the funds to Film Aid, an organization dedicated to helping aspiring filmmakers. 

Speaking of films.... the race for best trailer ended up a three-way tie! Votes were evenly split between Black Widow, Mulan and the Marvel lineup on Disney+. By adding my own vote, I tip it to Mulan, which looks to be amazing.

 

 

Traditionally I don't review house ads, but the "take it to the house, kid" NFL ad meant a great deal to all the sports fans who actually recognized the people in the ad.

Also, extra credit should go to Walmart (did I really type that?) which might be evil but designed a terrific ad to shamelessly manipulate our nostalgia for good science fiction.

 

 

I also have to give props to the "world is out of sorts" bit about giving the world a Snickers to save us all - and got the first out-loud laugh of the night from the focus group. Here's the extended version.

 

 

And while it was forecasted waaaaay in advance with the alleged death of Mr. Peanut, I absolutely lost it when I saw Mr. Clean and the Kool-aid Man at the funeral. The debate raged on Twitter whether he was a ripoff of Groot or Baby Yoda. I'll let y'all fight it out in the comments. Bonus: Wesley Snipes rips up his eulogy in disgust. 

 

 

Some flubs here:

• I don't believe for a second that Dwayne Johnson has ever been on WW, the artist formerly known as Weight Watchers. It would have been better to show someone who actually has had to wrestle with being overweight. Still, the "running mates" gag was mildly amusing in an election year.

• Three Bloomberg political ads and one Trump ad. No other campaign could afford a $5.6 million spot?

• Trailers for Top Gun: Maverick and Fast and Furious No.31395 were unimpressive. There was allegedly one for a new Minions movie as well, and I must have missed it.

• Dear Pop-Tarts: Nobody asked for a pretzel version. Just stop.

• Michelob: Buying beer makes farms go organic. I'm not sure that's how economics works.

• The Reese's Take 5 workplace ad was more off-putting than appetizing for my whole crew. 

• The Fargo parody for SquareSpace made about as much sense as the real movie. Maybe it would be more effective with someone who, y'know, liked the movie... 

• The less said about the Alexa ad, the better. At least in this space. My full thoughts on using "fake news" as a goddamn gag to sell Amazon toys - when Jeff Bezos owns the frigging Washington Post - will be saved for a different space, when I can write about it without profanity. 

But in a flaw of timing, we took the votes on the ads before they finally aired Jeep's "Groundhog Day" rehash with Bill Murray and Stephen Tobolowsky. I've always been impressed by Tobolowsky, who has been in 200 movies and is also an accomplished musician and writer - far more than "Ned the Head." I was dying through the whole thing. Extra points to the groundhog's doubletake during whack-a-mole and the groundhog bike helmet.

Here's the expanded:

 

 

In all, none of the ads really stood out the way some previous ads have, in what is essentially a slice of American consumerism and the state of the economy piled up in a few dozen expensive spots. Mostly the companies played it safe, and while that might be disappointing for some, I find it a welcome relief from the Years of Rampant Sexism or the gross-out GoDaddy ads of a decade ago. 

Did we miss one? Do you disagree with the focus group? Share in the comments! About anything but the halftime show!

 

Elizabeth Donald is a freelance journalist, editor, author, photographer, grad student and instructor, as well as the editor of CultureGeek. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find out more at donaldmedia.com.

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