Super Bowl commercials 2016: Grades for the best and worst ads

Jay Busbee and Kevin Kaduk
February 8, 2016

Ah, Super Bowl Sunday: An ad extravaganza punctuated by brief forays into actual football. Since this year's game was kind of a dud, we were OK with that. As we did the last few years (you can find 2014 here, and 2015 here), we graded the best and worst of this year's Super Bowl ads.

[Related: Mountain Dew's PuppyMonkeyBaby terrifies, delights viewers]

As always, our criteria for judgment remain rigidly unscientific and completely biased. Looking for the popular opinion? Well, USA Today's crowd-based Admeter rated  the top 5 Super Bowl commercials  like this: Kevin Hart's "First Date" Hyundai commercial, followed by Heinz's Wiener Stampede, Doritos' Ultrasound Baby, Doritos' Doritos Dogs and Hyundai's Ryanville. 

Our critiques were a bit different so without further delay here are our grades for Super Bowl 50's ads:

Grade A

Avocados From Mexico: InSpace

Two years of Super Bowl commercials, two As for the super fruit from south of the border. This year’s clip capitalized by combining a number of successful ingredients: Star Wars-type aliens, nostalgia for the past, a glimpse into the future and mocking the career of Scott Baio. If Avocados From Mexico do it again for next year’s Super Bowl, it’ll be considered a dynasty.

Mountain Dew: PuppyMonkeyBaby

Did you see a PuppyMonkeyBaby running around in your nightmares last night? No? Go ahead and try a Mountain Dew Kickstart  ... How about now?

NFL: Super Bowl Babies
OK, put aside the inherent creepiness involved in singing about your parents doin' it. This was brilliant, a collection of babies born nine months after the Super Bowl harmonizing with Seal. Key moment: the Seattle babies crying. Sadly, no Buffalo millennials. Nice work, NFL. This doesn't get you off the hook for concussions, but we'll let Coldplay slide for this.

Intuit: Death Wish Coffee

Fierce Vikings row and row through a storm. But there’s a twist! The ocean is a sea of coffee that quickly disappears down a man’s gullet. The New York-based small business, which boasts the “world’s strongest coffee” won the ad in a contest by Intuit. They tell Daniel Roberts of Yahoo Finance they expect to sell millions of pounds after the spot. Hope they upgraded their servers.

Audi: Commander
Letting the ol' astronaut take the controls one last time: Touching. Comparing driving an Audi to commanding a moon shot: overreaching. Using the late David Bowie's song "Starman" to tie it all together: heartbreaking. We're grading this one on a curve.

MINI USA: Defy Labels
In the year of the celebrity Super Bowl ad, it’s probably no surprise that the sports blog liked the one that was packed with sports celebrities. Serena Williams! Abby Wambach! Tony Hawk! Randy Johnson! Plus some cool guitar music and Harvey Keitel! Who wants to watch the Italian Job?

Acura NSX: What He Said
Yeah, it looks like Acura’s ad agency just learned of the isolated David Lee Roth vocals that have been floating around the Internet for years. But that track is still awesome. As is Diamond Dave. As is this ad.

Pantene: Strong Is Beautiful
Dads trying to do their daughters' hair. If you've got a daughter, you give this an A three seconds in. Even if you don't, you probably know someone's daughter. Always a great message.

Doritos: Ultrasound

Yeah, sure, it’s yet another ad with a slobby dude and a shrewish wife. What makes this one so hysterically awful, or awfully hysterical, is the final image: of a baby in the womb so hungry for Doritos that it makes an early exit. Probably a lot less funny to any woman who’s had a difficult delivery. We can hear the OWWWWWs from a hundred thousand Super Bowl parties.

Pepsi: Joy of Pepsi

Confession: We love everything that Janelle Monae does. How long before she gets tabbed for a Super Bowl halftime show?

Hyundai: First Date
America is a society losing privacy at every turn, a land where we are watched 24/7 and our every movement tracked. This is a horrible invasion of our personal space … unless you’re a daughter and your dad is watching over you. Then it’s perfectly fine.

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Grade B

Apartments.com: Moving on Up

In one of the more technically brilliant ads of the night, Jeff Goldblum takes a crane ride up the side of a New York city apartment building while playing the theme from The Jeffersons. Some charged last week that L’il Wayne cooking for George Washington was racist, but the rapper’s camp denied those charges to TMZ and said the appearance was only about fun. And getting people to rent apartments, presumably.

Amazon Echo

Another of those “throw everyone we can find into an ad” ads, this one features Alec Baldwin and Dan Marino trash-talking each other as Missy Elliott and Jason Schwartzmann look on. Still not quite sure how Echo’s going to function, but that’s not the point here.

Budweiser: Simply Put

Helen Mirren is simply delightful. And getting lectured to in a prim British voice makes you feel guilty even if you haven't done anything wrong. Sure, a fair percentage of people whom this ad is trying to reach will tune her out, but if even one person decides to hand over the keys because that lovely English lady said so, then hey, we have a successful ad.

Campbell’s: This One’s For Mom
We knew we were being manipulated, but the love and support of the mother in the commercial left us feeling as warm as a bowl of Campbell’s Chunky Hearty Cheeseburger soup.

Colgate: Every Drop Counts
The toothpaste titan used its 30 seconds to remind those of us with access to clean water to turn off the faucet while we brush. We admire their effort to spread a message of conservation and for resisting the urge to shame us for also forgetting to floss. 

Wix.com: Po discovers power of Wix.com
We had never heard of website builder Wix.com or even knew what it did before this ad. Now we do, thanks to the characters from Kung Fu Panda 3. Maybe the most effective ad of the night.

Prius: Getaway Car

Surely someone somewhere is going to complain that Prius is advocating illegality and bank robbery with this particular ad. We look forward to the first bank robbers caught using this car who claim they were inspired by the ad. The Prius Defense will set new legal precedent. (Bonus: having the Sobotka family from The Wire pull off the heist was inspired casting.)

WeatherTech: Made In America
Going straight for the heart there with the patriotism angle, eh, WeatherTech? Smart move. Nobody’s going to pay much attention to a truck bed liner commercial on its own, but wrap it in the flag? Boom, attention and love.

Don’t Struggle With OIC
Constipation ad as black-and-white art film. Another one of those ads with a surprisingly narrow focus for the Super Bowl, but hey, if it works ...

Dollar Shave Club
Clever little ad from Dollar Shave Club, which might have to go to Five Dollar Shave Club after paying for this ad. Try not to think about what exactly is caught on the blades of that filthy razor.

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Grade C

Shock Top (Anheuser-Busch): Unfiltered Talk

Loved the idea of beer tapper as insult comic — it’d make solo trips to the bar a lot less lonely — but most of the jokes ended up like a weeks-old barrel. Flat. 

(By the way, anyone else notice the tap handles of InBev’s other craft beers lurking in the back? Made us wonder what the goose has to say.)

SunTrust: Hold Your Breath
This grade is not for the concept behind the ad; getting one's financial house in order is a worthy endeavor. It's for the execution: nobody wants to think about their credit rating or single-digit savings account when they're trying to enjoy the game.

Pokemon: Train On

Prediction: Once the NFL collapses from its own mass, our excuse to get together in the winter over a plate of chili cheese dip will be the big Pokemon battle they showed at the end of this ad. Over 80 percent of the population will fail to notice a difference.

Kia: Christopher Walken (extended)
The opening pun was chuckle-worthy — “Walken” closet, get it? — but it went downhill from there as the inestimable actor spent his time likening a Kia automobile to a pair of colorful socks. Needed more cowbell.

Sofi: Loans for Great People
Fairly straightforward financial-products advertisement set amongst beautiful young urban hipsters that make up 95 percent of the country, in the eyes of creative agencies. Best part is that everyone is going to look around their Super Bowl party and assess whether everyone else is “great” or not. (You are, of course.)

Bud Light: The Bud Light Party
Fun party game: see how many subversive references are going to provoke outraged Letters (not emails, letters) to the Editor. Start with the not-too-big caucus and go from there.

Marmot: Snow Angel (teaser) What the heck is Marmot? A new movie character? A delicious new dish from some fast-food chain? A new drug that will cure your ills while possibly causing organ detonation? Who knows?

Michelob: Breathing 
You thought this was going to be something like Nike, didn't you? Some kind of workout product? So when Michelob Ultra came up, you're thinking, "really?" Cool enough setup, bit of a letdown.

Hyundai: Ryanville
Women in Hyundai do a good job of masking their disappointment that Ryan Reynolds and not Ryan Gosling was cast in this ad.

Skittles: Steven Tyler
Sure, this is some high-level strangeness, but it’s Skittles and it’s Steven Tyler, so you gotta figure they just multiply one another. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Steven Tyler thought that Skittles portrait was a mirror.

Honda
Our bias against talking animals is deep and well-earned after decades of contrived wackiness. But when you throw in sheep lip-sync’ing to Queen, well, that gets you out of the F territory. Not sure what it has to do with a truck, but whatever.

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Grade: D

Bud Light: Teaser (Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen)
Maybe one day we’ll learn why the Illuminati continues to push Amy and Seth on us despite the fact that neither are particularly funny. But Sunday was not that day.

Quicken: What Were We Thinking?
Push Button. Get Mortgage. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty great title for the inevitable sequel to “The Big Short.”

Snickers: Marilyn
Hey! Yanking a star from beyond the grave to hawk merch! That's never been done before! Points for using Willem Dafoe, though. That dude makes everything better ... even if we'll be seeing him in that skirt in our nightmares. (For more along those lines, see his take on the infamous Marilyn Monroe "Happy Birthday" song.)

LG: Man From the Future
To the people who got Liam Neeson to do this commercial but had him stop short of saying “I will find you and I will kill you: We will find you and ... we’ll hit fast forward on our DVRs next time.

T-Mobile: Restricted Bling
You can see exactly how the ad agency came up with this one: "Hey, guess what! You know that Drake fellow all the kids like, with that funny video where he dances so badly? He mentions cell phones! Let's glom right on that action!"

AXE: Find Your Magic

Inspiration from the product that prevents perspiration. We gotta sweat this one, though: This ad felt like the type you’d see in a movie theatre before the next Marvel flick and not in the highest-profile ad showcase of the year.

Jack In The Box: Declaration of Delicious
The "we stunk before, but we're good now! Promise!" gambit is always a risky one to take. Good luck with that, JitB. Also, don't know about you, but if some hydrocephalic Colonial dude comes out of the water handing me a burger, pretty much the last thing I'm going to do is eat it.

Paypal
This wasn't a really memorable ad, but it does raise the question: Did Paypal "paypal" CBS $4.5 million for the ad? 

Taco Bell: Quesalupa
Taco Bell promises that the quesalupa, whatever that is, will be bigger than anything in history. Yeah, ok. You can only combine different names of Mexican food in so many ways, Taco Bell. We look forward to the Chadillaita next year.

Coca-Cola: Little Marvels

Oh, this could have been so good. Getting licensed to use both Ant-Man and the Hulk? (Though clearly not with Paul Rudd’s voice.) But the ad is surprisingly bland, a by-the-numbers opposites-work-together Super Bowl ad. Where’s Thanos when you need him?

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Grade F

Heinz: Meet the Ketchups

Yes, the stampede of wiener dogs dressed as hot dogs was well executed. But we have to side with our Chicago pals “Superdawg” in their fight with the condiment titan this week. Ketchup doesn’t belong anywhere near a hot dog.

Doritos: Doritos Dogs

A pack of hounds stake out a grocery store in search of delicious corn chips, finally break through with the old cartoon standby of standing on each others shoulders to dress as a human. If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. RIP Creativity. It was a good run.

Hyundai: The Chase

This one was cute enough but absolutely cratered once the bears started talking. (Vegan! Cheat days! So wacky!) These bears are the ursine equivalent of the annoying dude by the salsa dip who just will NOT shut up about that time he saw Peyton Manning in the grocery store. Less talking, more campsite-pillaging, bears.

 

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Kevin Kaduk (@kevinkaduk, Facebook: Kevin Kaduk) is the blog editor of Yahoo Sports. Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee, Facebook: Jay Busbee here) is the author of EARNHARDT NATION. When they're not watching ads, they co-host the Grandstanding podcast (iTunes, Soundcloud).