Look Back At Super Bowls Past Reveals Forgettable Commercials

Does anybody reading this remember last year's Super Bowl ad featuring the voice of the sad little boy from a small town in Georgia?

What about the spot from a year earlier in which the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. was used to sell Dodge trucks?

Anybody remember who won the last couple of Super Bowls? Probably the only one anyone remembers was the Philadelphia Eagles victory in 2018 in Super Bowl LII (52). Who can forget that?

But the commercials? I didn't remember the ones mentioned above, and I wrote about both of them. In fact, I have written about many Super Bowls and their commercials over a long career writing about television.

With Super Bowl LIV (54) arriving this Sunday, I went back and looked at the post-Super Bowl columns I have written annually here since 2015.

I discovered that I did not remember almost all of the many spots I wrote about -- and which cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million each just to air during the game, plus many other millions to produce. The point being: All that money, and then they are forgotten.



I also unearthed a series of recurring themes and issues. One of them was the creative “device” of the sad, forlorn child.

Last year's example was a spot for the Kia Telluride, a mid-size SUV. “In a forlorn voice, [this little boy, pictured above] described his hometown -- a place called West Point, Ga. -- in terms so desolate you might have thought he was describing a town that had been deserted in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s,” I wrote.

The point was that this dreary town had only one positive attribute -- it was where Kia operated a factory to build Tellurides. “The face and voice of a sad little boy has no place in a joyous, fun environment such as the Super Bowl,” I complained, adding that this sad spot did the Kia Telluride no favors.

Before that, the last “sad kid” spot turned up during the Super Bowl in 2015. In this spot for Nationwide Insurance, a little boy spoke in a sad monotone from beyond the grave to tell us how he died in some sort of household accident that could have been prevented.

My reaction to this spot was the same as the Kia spot. “The Nationwide Insurance spot featuring the little boy lamenting that he didn't live long enough to have a full life was a downer that felt out of place in the generally upbeat environment of the Super Bowl,” I wrote in 2015.

I complained about the 2018 spot featuring Martin Luther King, the martyred civil-rights leader, basically selling trucks in the same way I griped in 2015 when the voice of John F. Kennedy, a martyred president, was used to hawk Carnival Cruises.

Examples of tastelessness recur again and again, almost always to the detriment of the brand they are trying to promote. Cure Auto Insurance has an unfortunate knack for this.

Last year, a Cure commercial had a young woman with a large screw embedded in her forehead conversing with her boyfriend -- until he suddenly lunged forward, angrily grabbed her head with two hands and yanked the screw out of her forehead with his teeth.

Thus, the spot used a scene of grotesque male aggression against a female to sell auto insurance. Who creates these things?

In 2016, a Cure Auto ad had a young man in a hospital room visiting an elderly patient -- and then basically ignoring a monitor that showed the old man was flatlining and likely dead. What was the message supposed to be? There is no “Cure” for death?

Speaking of hospitals, that same year a Doritos commercial had a baby in its mother's womb craving Doritos so badly that it suddenly shot out of her, as if her womb was a circus cannon. If you forgot that spot, consider yourself lucky.

Time and time again, I lamented that after all was said and done, many of the Super Bowl spots were such spectacles that it was easy to forget what they were for in the first place.

In the end, the best, most memorable commercials in these post-Super Bowl analyses were the ones that were conventional. Look for the same themes again this year.

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