The Best Seconds In The Super Bowl Aren't Free

Apologies for the Tuesday morning quarterbacking, but I figured readers were already up to their ears with Super Bowl ad post-mortems. But in case any of you are still gluttons for it, here is my case for the best two spots of the Big Game, as well as one of its biggest missed opportunities.

For some perspective, I’ve covered Super Bowl ads since the early 1980s, including what arguably still reigns as the best one of all time -- and maybe one of the best ads of all time -- Apple’s “1984” spot. Some years later, after watching many, many advertisers take the field and fumble, I wrote a column as media editor of Advertising Age arguing that brands should compete for the right to be in the game, much the same way that NFL teams do.

The reason: the Super Bowl was too important an event to let American eyeballs down. No one wants to see the worst football teams compete, and no one wants to see the worst commercials air.



I still believe that, and so I watch the Super Bowl with a certain amount of cynicism each year, because most of the ads let me down, don’t live up to expectations, and dilute the brand equity of Madison Avenue. This is especially true of the celebrity-laden ones that try to one-up each other with so much borrowed equity, and as a result, they just end up being sad, pathetic examples of the excessive extravagance of Super Bowl marketing.

I did like Nissan’s celebrity mashup starring Eugene Levy, mainly because Levy is so inherently hilarious as an action hero that it's entertaining. Not so for most of the others, which after the “did you see so-and-so in that spot,” just leave viewers thinking, “why?”

There were a few other decent spots -- purely for entertainment value -- meaning they didn’t commit the worst possible Super Bowl advertising sin: wasting your time watching them.

But here are my picks for the most worthwhile ads to air, as well as one that could have been truly great, but missed the boat.

To me, there were only two spots that were truly worthy of being in the Big Game: Coinbase’s “QR code” and Chevrolet’s “Sopranos” homage. And both had a very important ingredient that should be a requirement of every Super Bowl spot: that they surprised you.

I know that might not seem possible in an era when most, if not all, of the commercials milk pre-game exposure on social media to justify an ROI on their super price tags. Economically speaking, I get that. But in terms of having an impact and wowing people during the game, I still think unexpected surprises are the best way to go. And if you really do that, you’ll get enough residual impressions for the rest of the year to make up for the loss of what you would have generated in the lead-up.

Chevy’s "Sopranos" spot wasn’t an over-the-top, high-concept, CGI or Web3-infused extravaganza. It was a sweet, nostalgic nod to endearing characters from what may still be the greatest TV show of all time.

But it was Coinbase’s QR code ad that was the best spot in the game -- and possibly, one of the greatest commercials of all time, for similar reasons. It surprised us, but it also had some underlying nostalgia -- tapping into the original 1970s arcade game Pong, as well as Com Truise’s updated cover of The Flying Lizards cover of Barrett Strong’s “Money.” Especially when the screen fades to the DOS-like NES-era blue screen. It just evoked something that my neuroscientist friend Carl Marci would tell you triggers stored neural equity for a contemporary brand.

But creative execution aside, the spot achieved what any great Super Bowl ad -- or any ad of any kind -- should do: It made people stop, think and talk about it. Even if it was just the “WTF” aspect of it. Or the residual post-analyses (like this one).

Even the fact that Coinbase’s servers supposedly crashed when its site was inundated with spontaneous traffic generated by the spot. We can all argue whether that is a good or a bad thing for a company whose brand is supposed to be about trust, dependability and security. But honestly, the skeptic in me believes that was actually planned for, because -- you know, it just compounds the conversation.

In an age of eight-second attention spans, to get millions of people to stay glued to their sets -- or even rewind them -- to watch an ancient game of Pong, and then continue talking about the merits or pitfalls of it -- well to me, that adds up to one of the greatest Super Bowl ads of all time.

Now for my pick as the biggest miss of Super Ad Bowl LVI. It was Expedia’s “Stuff” spot, which if you ask me, had the right stuff in terms of messaging -- poking fun of the materialistic, conspicuous consumption that the Super Bowl is all about -- and even taking on the next-generation of Web3 virtuosity in favor of the thing that Expedia’s brand represents: the ultimate real-world, human existence (including an allusion to Mathew McConaughey’s spot for, which had a similar message).

The reason it was a miss, is that the spot ends with actor Ewan McGregor opening a door onto a bucolic beach location, and the Expedia logo on the screen for one second. One second, seriously? That may be the most expensive second of brand promotion in the history of advertising, Super Bowl or otherwise.


6 comments about "The Best Seconds In The Super Bowl Aren't Free".
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  1. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, February 15, 2022 at 11 a.m.

    It has gotten to the point where brands and creatives are overthinking what to do in :30 and the ones that are most over-the-top always seem to be the ones that fall flat.

    Personally, I liked the McDonald's commercial that is getting little to no recognition. A few celebrities, a little nostalgia, and a common behavior that we are all guilty of...staring at a McDonald's menu board, even though we've all been there a million times, and when we are asked, "What would you like to order?" the first thing most of us say is "ummmmmm..." as if we're thrown into an unexpcted situation where we have to make a tough choice where most will order what they always have ordered.

    Simple, relatable, and free of unecessary graphics and choppy edits.

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, February 15, 2022 at 11:13 a.m.

    @Dan Ciccone: The McDonald's spot was great. It was a good mnemonic device. It reminded me of Budweiser's classic, "Wassup." I just think it's harder for things like that to break through in 2022 vs. 1999.

  3. M Gingrich from GI, February 16, 2022 at 10:10 a.m.

    I've never seen the Soprano's (I don't doubt it's great), but nor has anyone under 30. It was an insider story pushed to millions who didn't get it. That was 60 seconds of waste and better served airing at the Oscars, Golden Globes or the like.

    Coinbase wins. We all know it in this industry, but no one outside of it is looking it up.

    Larry David was great entertainment; still couldn't tell you the name of the company it was for.

    Rocket Mortgage was brilliant, though Cash Offer Carl would have gotten the Dreamhouse.

  4. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, February 16, 2022 at 10:35 a.m.

    @M Gingrinch: Interesting theory that no one under 30 has ever seen The Sopranos. Can you share your source on that?

    The sources I've been seeing, indicate otherwise:

    "Why Is Every Young Person in America Watching ‘The Sopranos’?"

    "'The Sopranos' has drawn a younger audience in recent years — here's the theory why"

    "The Sopranos Is the Hottest Show of 2020"

    I thought people under 30 were aware of streaming?

  5. M Gingrich from GI, February 16, 2022 at 10:57 a.m.

    You can take the article's hyperbole of "everyone" along with mine of "no one".

    "Aware of streaming" ha ha... the snark is strong and not flattering.

  6. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, February 16, 2022 at 11:04 a.m.

    @M Gingrich: Apologies for the snark, I thought that's what I was responding to. This comment field is for people to express their opinions, and I appreciate you sharing yours. I don't agree with it, but I respect it.

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