Unless you’re a New England Patriots fan like me, Super Bowl LIII wasn’t much fun to watch. Fortunately, we still had the commercials.
Here are the ones we liked the most at The Hired Pens. (And by the way, Thrillist ranked their top 51 commercials — you can see them all here.)
Pringles: Sad Device (Dan)
Before I get to my pick, I have questions for four Super Bowl advertisers:
- Bud Light: Is corn syrup even that bad for you? (SNL weighed in on this a few years back.)
- The Handmaid’s Tale: Oh. Dear. God. Is the Super Bowl really the time for depictions of dystopian nightmares that subtly comment on the current state of our country?
- TurboTax: Speaking of nightmares … what kind of demented sadists must you be to foist creepy RoboChild upon an unsuspecting nation?
- Doritos: I haven’t forgiven the Backstreet Boys for making crappy music for two decades — why have you?
With apologies to Amazon (whose ad for Alexa I loved), I’m choosing the Pringles ad with an Alexa knockoff as the centerpiece. As two buddies rhapsodize about Doritos, the device launches into an uninvited soliloquy about her tragic existence, only to be interrupted by her heartless owner directing, “Cool, play Funkytown.” Brilliant!
Thrillist only ranked my favorite Super Bowl commercial #46. So what? It was the first one of the night that made me laugh out loud.
The ad begins with a blank iPhone screen. We hear the sound of typing as “Cathy” innocently texts, “Hey whats up” (grammar mistake Cathy’s, not mine). We wait in anticipation as those ellipses flash … The first few chords of “2001: A Space Odyssey” play, then transition into a pumping disco beat as a novel-length response floods the screen that begins with “Well, I have been thinking a lot about my ‘journey.'” Cathy scrolls and scrolls and scrolls some more until at last we’re rescued by T-Mobile’s payoff line: “T-Mobile: We’ll keep this brief. America’s best unlimited.”
As someone who has received my fair share of this type of texts, I thought it was clever and relatable. I was also excited to go back today and read the whole thing, which I encourage everyone to do because it includes such comedic gems as, “It all started back in 5th grade when my teacher asked me to stop calling out answers” and “My diet currently consists of potato chips and cereal. I am happy to eat those things, they bring me joy, but is it really SERVING me?”
But then again, maybe it’s a joke only a copywriter who harps on about appropriate word count can love.
Expensify: Expensify Th!$! (Karen)
Expensify’s commercial was tight and the message clear, adhering to the first rules of copywriting. The ad was funny without trying too hard, and the story arc worked to sell the ad’s actual product — a strategy often missed in ads that cost companies over $5 million to broadcast.
2 Chainz is recording a music video from the driver’s seat of a sports car sculpted from ice. A silver-plated tower of lobster, oysters and king crab sits on the car’s hood. At the lyrics, “Day in the life of a baller,” actor Adam Scott (resident numbers-cruncher from “Parks & Rec”) interrupts the action with a tap on the window.
“Mr. Chainz? Hi. Record label finance,” Scott says. Gesturing around the set, he reminds his artist that the label needs receipts for everything involved in the production.
2 Chainz flashes his copilot a perfectly understated look of irritation, tells Scott he has Expensify and dismisses him with a “Skrrrrt,” closing the window. Scott points out that the car is a convertible but gives up on the conversation, as the camera pans to a quick shot of a receipt on Mr. Chainz’s smartphone (seafood tower, $500.00.)
Gulf (Thaddeus Van Heltren)
I couldn’t stand any of this year’s Super Bowl commercials, with their loud rap music, overbearing special effects and preponderance of attractive young people.
So instead, I’ll harken back to a simpler time that featured ads with no music, tasteful special effects and middle-aged people. In particular, the Gulf No-Nox Gas spot from Super Bowl I in 1967. Watch it and learn, young copywriters.
Thaddeus Van Haltren, a.k.a. the Grumpy Old Copywriter, founded The Hired Pens in 1931 and now serves as our senior copywriter emeritus. His current accounts include Piggly Wiggly and Van Camp’s Boston Baked Pork and Beans.