Super Bowl ads: Grading the best, worst commercials at the Big Game

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Liz Roscher and Jay Busbee
·18 min read
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Super Bowl Sunday! Even in the midst of a pandemic, we’ll gather (virtually) to sit through football while we wait for the ads. For the ninth straight year, Yahoo Sports’ Liz Roscher (@lizroscher) and Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) will guide you through the torrent of celebrities, cheap tugs at your heart strings, and songs you know and love ... all to get you to buy stuff. Grading begins at kickoff, and all grades are final.

Grade: A

Bud Light Lemonade, “Last Year’s Lemons”

The destruction wrought by lemons falling from the sky is an innovative and genuinely funny way to acknowledge the pandemic and the hell-year that was 2020. The song, the visuals, and the sweet, gentle optimism all work. It's an optimism we need — and that we're still reaching for — as we look around our empty living rooms during Super Bowl Sunday. Here's hoping we all get our lemonade sooner rather than later.

Mountain Dew, “Count The Bottles”

Pink. So much pink. An overwhelming array of pink. This one gets an A simply because I love the idea of thousands of devotees freeze-framing the ad and trying to count all the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of bottles, burning the Mountain Dew logo onto their very soul as they do.

Anheuser-Busch, “Let’s Grab a Beer”

This ad highlights one of the many things COVID-19 has taken from us: casual relationships. Things like getting a beer with work friends at the end of the day. Bonding with a stranger on the same delayed flight as you. Bar trivia with friends. Taking your roommate out after they've been dumped. What's incredible is that the ad doesn't even feature most of those situations — it's just impossible not to think about all the interactions we miss that we used to take for granted. No one expects a beer commercial evoke genuine emotion, but this one aims for the heart and doesn't miss. ::sniff::

Huggies, “Welcome, Baby”

Look, it’s gotta be pretty rough, being a baby and getting dropped right in the middle of all ... this. But at least you’ve got Huggies to take care of you, baby. (Pretty cool bit here, if you believe the ad: these babies were all born on Super Bowl Sunday.)

Toyota, “Upstream”

Jessica Long is a 13-time gold medal-winning Paralympic swimmer. She's held multiple world records, and is one of the most successful Paralympians of all time. Her story is inspiring, but it's about more than just her. It's also about her parents deciding to adopt her from a Siberian orphanage, knowing that she would need major surgery and live her life with a disability. What more is there to say than that?

Tide, “Jason Alexander Hoodie”

The decision to soundtrack this ad with “Greatest American Hero,” aka the famous George Costanza answering machine song, takes a funny concept and elevates it to sublime. Every different Jason Alexander expression is a laugh-getter, and they pack a ton of them into the ad. So even if you miss a few because you've turned to the person next to you to sing "Believe it or not, George isn't at home, please leave a message at the beep," you'll still get the gist of the commercial.

Amazon Studios, “Coming to America 2”

Are we grading this one on a curve because we loved the original so dang much? Absolutely. Eddie Murphy has a career of high peaks, deep valleys and long, blasted deserts, but he seems back in his element here. And this film’s bench is so deep that Wesley Snipes, Tracy Morgan and Leslie Jones are in second-line roles. Could be brilliant, could be a mess, but this trailer does exactly what it’s supposed to: get us to watch.

Amazon Echo, “Alexa’s Body”

Literally the only bad thing about this commercial is that it's not real. Amazon sadly hasn't discovered how to put Alexa inside hot celebrities we can keep in our homes. Besides that, it's everything. Michael B. Jordan is perfect, and the jealous husband is hilarious. Plus, this ad brings attention to an important issue facing our society: the serious lack of commercials that feature a shirtless Michael B. Jordan. Thank you, Amazon, for bravely taking the first step to fix this enormous problem.

Jeep, “The Middle”

Getting political is a death sentence for ads, since no matter what stance you take, half the country (give or take a few million) will oppose it. This ad by Jeep, starring none other than the Boss himself, steps right on top of that line. Bruce Springsteen, who’s never done an ad before, positions himself — literally and metaphorically — in the very middle of the United States and asks us to join him there. (Maybe you could take a Jeep to get there, the company would like that.) “Fear has never been the best of who we are,” Springsteen intones, “and as for freedom, it’s not the property of the fortunate few, it belongs to us all.” It’s a powerful and needed message, but is it going to find its mark on a night dedicated to football and chicken wings?

Grade: B

Doritos, “Flat Matthew”

This ad is weird and funny and bizarre, and it's hard to ask for more from a Super Bowl commercial. A flat Matthew McConaughey having trouble doing daily tasks is surprisingly great, and when you can identify at least two highlights (Flat Matthew almost getting sucked into a Roomba, Jimmy Kimmel's fax machine joke), the ad has done its job. You can spot the ending from a mile away, but that doesn't mean it's not funny seeing a 3D McConaughey stuck in a vending machine.

Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s, “Get Back to Nature”

We have an In These Trying Times alert! This one’s built on a simple premise: after 10 months indoors and quarantined, we all pretty much want to get the [expletive] out of our own homes, and the fine folks at Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s are happy to hook us up. A little walk through the woods does a body good, now more than ever.

“Old” (Movie trailer)

A movie about the horror of growing old? What is this, live-action Pixar? Anyway, this was a sufficiently creepy little teaser, though the most terrifying part might be the “Only In Theaters This Summer” tag.

DoorDash, “Get More From Your Neighborhood”

It’s “Sesame Street” and “Hamilton’s” Daveed Diggs! Come on, how you gonna give that anything less than a B? It’s neither a revolution nor a revelation, but it’s an effortlessly fun, cool little ad, which is what we want out of all of these, regardless of what you may think of the company itself.

General Motors, “No Way, Norway”

Will Ferrell recruits Awkwafina and Keenan Thompson to help him attack Norway, the land of ABBA. No, wait, that’s Sweden. Norway, the happiest country on Earth! No, that’s Finland. At least the three of them make the same mistakes, right?

State Farm, “Stand-Ins”

This one follows the blueprint of Super Bowl ads right down the line: famous guests (Drake, Paul Rudd), familiar regulars (Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Jake from State Farm), some inoffensive humor. Drake eating in the middle of Jake’s line was a nice touch.

Scotts Miracle-Gro, “Keep Growing”

Getting celebrities to pitch your branded contest is a tried and true ad strategy, but Miracle-Gro decided that six was the perfect number. That feels like a few too many for a 45-second ad. It needed more Carl Weathers and more Stanley from "The Office," and less of everyone else. Well, except for John Travolta and his daughter, who completely steal the show with some endearing TikTok dancing. Once Stanley from "The Office'' says "Hey, Travoltas! Don't be ticking and tocking on my grass!" it's clear who the star of the commercial should have been.

Skechers, “To the Max”

There isn't anything especially special about this ad, which is mostly just cute, but my goodness, that Tony Romo sure is charming. Whatever he's selling, I'm buying.

Michelob Ultra, “Happy”

There's something interesting in seeing untouchable athletes like Serena Williams and Anthony Davis just relaxing and being normal, relatable humans. Will that make you more likely to buy Michelob Ultra? Who knows, but at the very least this is an ad that makes an impression and has a chance of staying with you for longer than the 60-second runtime. Also, Peyton Manning wears a cowboy hat.

Rocket Mortgage, “Pretty Sure”

If you’re buying a house, Rocket Mortgage wants you to make sure Tracy Morgan isn’t in it before you do. That’s the lesson here, right? That and double checking your parachute is really a parachute before you jump out of a plane. And don’t challenge Dave Bautista to a fight. (I don’t think we needed a commercial for that one, though.)

Frito-Lay, “Twas the Night Before Super Bowl”

If you're longing to see your favorite Super Bowl heroes of years past eat snacks in team-specific pajamas, this is the ad for you. It's got the Mannings. It's got Joe Montana. It's got Jerry Rice. And Jerome Bettis. And Troy Aikman. And Terry Bradshaw. And Deion Sanders. Plus, Marshawn Lynch as narrator. The idea of all these guys sharing a house on the night before the Super Bowl is honestly adorable. Also adorable? Deion Sanders has a poster of himself on the wall of his fake bedroom. Nothing seems more Deion than that.

e*Trade, “The Best Around”

Brilliant “Rocky”-inspired training montage there for the skinny kid in all of us. And this will definitely be the year we get in shape. Absolutely.

Paramount+ , “Sweet Victory”

Yet another one of those celeb-packed ads, but in this case, the celebs have a vested interest beyond a paycheck: getting you to watch their shows on Paramount+. (Yes, it’s another streaming service, and it’s also another streaming service with a +.) This one gets grade inflation thanks to Beavis & Butthead and the inclusion of “Sweet Victory,” the greatest song the ‘80s never made.

Hellmann’s, “Fairy GodMayo”

Fairy GodMayo is the kind of fairy godmother that could be truly useful in day-to-day life. Most of us don’t need ones that turn pumpkins into golden carriages or worn out quarantine sweatsuits into ball gowns, we need fairy godmothers who can magic our leftovers into completely new food. Who knew mayo was so powerful?

Jimmy John’s, “Meet the King”

This is a commercial that manages to tell a story with tons of hilarious details in just 30 short seconds. I would watch a TV show starring Brad Garrett as the mafia boss of hoagies, fighting against the proliferation of chain stores that are taking away his customers. Jimmy John, maybe played by Steve Buscemi or Ray Romano, is the head of a rival family who has stormed into towns and cities all across America with their chain store. Brad Garrett is the only thing that stands between the Jimmy John hoagie empire and total US domination. Hoagie Wars! This is a runaway hit waiting to happen, I'm telling you.

Squarespace, “5 to 9”

Oh, Dolly. No. Is nothing sacred? "9 to 5" is an all-time classic song, and the title track of an all-time great female empowerment movie, so hearing it re-recorded as an ode to side hustles is deeply, deeply unpleasant. But it's hard to begrudge the ageless, effervescent Dolly Parton for making that money and doing whatever she wants with her song. The spot is fun, creative, and daring. People will either love it or hate it, but they'll definitely remember it.

Grade: C

Logitech, “Defy Logic”

Logitech used some of its massive pandemic profits to buy and create a Super Bowl ad starring Lil Nas X. The message is positive. Every second Lil Nas X is on screen is compelling (especially when he's wearing a set of spectacular magenta silk pajamas), but most of the visuals don't inspire much excitement. It's a lot of people sitting at computers and looking at computers and pointing at computers, and unfortunately, all of that is boring.

Cadillac, “ScissorHandsFree”

Targeted straight at the tender, bleeding heart of Gen X, this “Edward Scissorhands” “sequel” (ad-quel? We’re gonna need a name for these things) brings back Winona Ryder and introduces Timothee Chalamet as the latest blade-fingered man in her life. It’s an ad for an electric car, yeah, but nobody who worshipped at the altar of the original movie is going to remember that. But hey, why isn’t Johnny Depp in thi-- (checks literally any entertainment site of the last two years) … oh, right.

Dexcom, “Technology”

This is an ad that speaks to a limited number of people: those with Type 1 diabetes and their families/partners/etc. But it should definitely get their attention. Not because there's anything special about the theme or the visuals (there isn't), but because they got Nick Jonas, a celebrity with Type 1 diabetes, to be their spokesman. Also, glucose monitoring without finger sticks is stupendous. Nick Jonas is right. How are finger sticks still a thing?

WeatherTech, “We Never Left”/”Made in America”

WeatherTech is known for doing straight-ahead commercials that talk about their business. That's what these are. The goal isn't to be buzzy or attention grabbing, and they've definitely accomplished that. That's why it's hard to give them a failing grade. It may not be the kind of commercial we want to see, but it's the kind of commercial they wanted us to watch. And we did watch it.

Dr. Squatch Soap Co., “Not a Dish, but a Man”

If you're looking for a retread of those Old Spice commercials from a decade ago, you'll love this ad. It's not bad, exactly, but we've seen it all before. There's nothing new here. Plus, it has a try-hard tone that's practically screaming "LOOK AT US! NOTICE US! AREN'T WE SUPER COOL?" Who wants to try a soap that's desperate for attention?

Cheetos, “It Wasn’t Me”

It's a bold move for Cheetos to use a 20-year-old one hit wonder as the basis for their ad. The setup of Mila Kunis + Cheeto theft + spousal lying + Shaggy is funny, but the spot is weirdly and disappointingly short on laughs. When your sole thought at the end is "it's not humanly possible for Ashton Kutcher to be that stupid," there's a problem. I don't know how Cheetos messed this one up, but they did.

Dawn and Swiffer, “The Chore Gap”

This ad is like PTSD for, well, every parent who’s dealt with messes, dishes and kid-created chaos for the last 10 months. Another one of those “brands-telling-you-how-to-live-your-life” ads, this one will jump up to an A if it can convince that one slacker in the household to start carrying their weight. You know who you are.

Grade: D

M&Ms, “Come Together”

M&M's are not a suitable "I'm sorry" gift for mansplaining or gender reveals gone wrong. A priest doesn't need any kind of gift for hearing your confession, because that's his job. Let's just skip over the whole "Karen" thing because ... yeah. Most importantly: people don't carry packs of M&M's with them all the time, especially to give as gifts for screwing up! What world is this!? The only thing that saves this commercial from being a waste of everyone's time is Dan Levy, who should have been the whole thing. The "eating anthropomorphic M&Ms" concept has always been funny, and I'm not sure why they don't just stick with that.

Guaranteed Rate, “Believe You Will”

Would you like to see a way-too-long parade of athletes who believed in themselves? No? Then you can use this ad’s 60-second running time to refill your chip bowl and grab another beer. You’re not missing anything.

UberEats, “Wayne’s World & Cardi B’s Shameless Manipulation”

What is this an ad for? Is it for Wayne's World? Wayne and Garth? Baby versions of Wayne and Garth? Cardi B? Something called "Eat Local?" Nope! "Eat Local" isn't the company name, even though it's repeated multiple times in the ad. It's UberEats, only no one in the ad says "UberEats" at any point. And when the UberEats logo finally shows up on screen in literally the last four seconds of the ad, it's smaller than *everything else.* Why doesn't this commercial want to tell us what it's for?

Pringles, “Space Return”

Pringles: single-handedly ruining space travel, one can at a time. Those poor, poor astronauts, stranded in their command module while everyone who could possibly help them is busy doing something you've probably never seen anyone do in real life. Such a tragedy. A boring, boring tragedy.

Chipotle, “Can a Burrito Change the World?”

Chipotle, which paid nearly $30 million in fines in 2020 for major child labor law violations and foodborne illness outbreaks, has some serious cojones to run an ad featuring a kid wondering if one of its burritos can "change the world." I'm guessing he's not talking about changes brought on by Chipotle's flagrant disregard for mandated limits on working hours for children and food safety.

Vroom, “Dealership Pain”

Where does Vroom think people buy their cars? In the “Die Hard” universe? You'd expect more of a focus on the "contactless" part of Vroom's business model, since that's what many people are concerned with these days, instead of the age old "buying cars is unpleasant!" trope. Honestly, that dealership scene doesn't even look that painful. A conversation with another human being inside a closed, indoor room? Considering how few people many of us have seen over the past year, that looks almost sublime.

Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer, “All-Star Cast”

What? Just ... what? Is there some kind of fake seltzer epidemic that has been hidden from the world? Or was it created just because someone knew a bunch of celebrity impersonators? This is just a weird one. You can't show people a bunch of celebrity impersonators and only barely connect it to the product, because then you're just asking "hey, is that Mel Gibson?" for the rest of the commercial.

Indeed, “The Rising”

This is one of those rare instances where a company's non-Super Bowl ads may be more powerful than their actual Super Bowl ad. This spot from Indeed is focused on evoking feelings and emotions with songs and visuals and on-screen words, and that's totally fine. But compared to their recent spots, which are focused telling the stories of recent job seekers who have found positions through Indeed, it just feels weaker.

Grade: F

Shift4Shop, “Join the World’s First All-Civilian Mission to Space”

Do you want to go to space? This company you may not have heard of wants to take you there. Does this company focus on sending civilians to space? Do they sell toy spaceships? Or astronaut ice cream? Or mattresses, or coats, or lamps, or sunglasses or whatever? If this commercial is the first time you've ever heard of Shift4Shop, you have no idea, because they don't tell you what they do. Also, can we hit pause on putting songs covered by throaty-voiced women in commercials?

Klarna, “The Four Quarter-Sized Cowboys”

Maya Rudolph is a treasure, but the CG is *so, so bad*. Indescribably bad. So bad that it's the only thing you notice. Could it be intentional? Maybe, but there are zero hints about that in the ad. Not a wink. Not a nudge. No indication that there's a reason all four versions of Maya Rudolph look like awkward magazine cutouts beamed in from the early 1980s. Is there a concept here? It's hard to tell because the ad looks just that bad. Woof.

Oatly, “Wow, No Cow”

May I have the confidence of a CEO who thinks it’s a good idea to spend $5.5 million on a Super Bowl ad just to sing badly in a field.

Bud Light, “Bud Light Legends”

Remember the stars of past Bud Light Super Bowl commercials? They're here to help, “Avengers: Endgame”-style, with a major emergency: a convenience store is out of Bud Light. Yes, that's really it. Beyond Cedric the Entertainer, all you see is a crowd of "icons" who do nothing and get basically zero screen time. It feels like a waste of a concept, because getting all of them together practically begs for a parody of "We Are the World" or "Hands Across America." With so many different figures from different commercials, they're just not funny as a big, faceless group. They need to be doing something funny, and picking up a downed Bud Light truck ain't it.

Mercari, “Goodbye, Hello”

Did Mercari run out of money after paying for ad time? Because using a bland commercial that's already been running for months feels like a waste of their first-ever Super Bowl spot. At least record a toddler or a puppy running around carrying a sign that says "Mercari." Even if it was filmed with an ancient 1980s camcorder on an authentic videocassette, that still would have been better than this.

TurboTax, “Spreading Tax Expertise Across the Land”

YAWN. Another great concept that comes to zilch. Why did they follow just one "tax expert" across the land, when the ad opened with the rad image of a herd of desks sliding across a field? Why did they choose an actor with zero charisma to anchor it? Why did they show another group of traveling desks at the end, forcing you to imagine how many better versions of this commercial exist in parallel universes? We'll never know.

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Super Bowl LV from Yahoo Sports: