Tuned In

The Morning After: Super Bowl Ads, the Light and the Dark Side

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Thanks for my kindly masters, this was the first year in several that I did not work through the Super Bowl and into overtime reviewing every single ad for time.com—I divvied up the game with colleagues Steven James Snyder, Feifei Sun and Josh Sanburn. I had the second quarter, which included personal fave from Volkswagen (above), involving the adorable kid in the oversized Darth Vader costume trying to use the Force. (It becomes a little less adorable, I guess, when you think that as Darth Vader he is apparently trying to Force-choke the family dog. On the other hand: little kid trying to Force-choke! How sweet!)

As usual, we graded each ad from A to F, though we probably ended up using somewhat different scales and criteria. I personally, for instance, grade the ads as short films rather than on how well they sell the product—not because it’s irrelevant but because I don’t know how well any ad will sell the product and don’t want to pretend otherwise. Very likely the most effective ad that aired at the game was a completely boring one none of us are talking about this morning.

That said, after the jump a few more notable ads, for better and worse, that were not in my quarter.

For better:

Eminem for Chrysler. My colleague Feifei Sun pointed out that this was a better ad for Detroit than for Chrysler, and she’s probably right. But again, I don’t know in the long run what will sell a car; I do know that as an ad for Detroit—or just for a country emerging from a crushing recession of which Detroit was a prime symbol—it was a hell of an ad: stirring, feisty and a good argument for “Lose Yourself” as the National Anthem.

NFL. The league has quietly made a string of successful Super Bowl ads, and this one used the universal American love of classic TV to suggest a universal American love for the classic game.

Hyundai. It’s just one joke—what if we settled for the first version of every innovation?—but a funny one that built, as the spot worked references to various kinds of proto-technology (brick-sized cell phones, turntables, Pong) into the foreground and background.

For worse:

Groupon. To be fair, if this ad was actually made as a covert attempt to satirize consumerism and the frivolity of capitalist society, then well done, comrades! The problem is not just, as many have said, that it was offensive for making fun of Tibet’s suffering. It was also obnoxious in a way that was directly related to the use of the product, making Groupon’s own customers complicit in the commercial’s own d-baggery. But who knows? Maybe the ad will help Groupon seal a trade deal with the Chinese government.

Kim Kardashian’s butt for Skechers. It’s a pretty rare feat for a thirty-second commercial to make me conscious of the terrible acting, but KK managed to do it. Beyond the questionable meta-value of making an ad that’s essentially an allusion to the sex-tape scandal that originally made Kardashian famous, it wasn’t entirely clear what the ad was telling us about the shoes. Frankly it seemed, unsurprisingly, like Skechers ended up making a commercial to endorse Kim Kardashian.

Pepsi Max. This brand’s theme of the night appeared to be that Pepsi Max is a delicious, refreshing soda—to knock the living crap out of someone with. Beyond the standard women-are-a-drag misogyny and the typecasting of a controlling angry black woman—um, equal opportunity?—this was just the first Pepsi Max ad of the night to make the soda’s more memorable as a projectile than as a drink.

There were plenty more, but as I said, I was happy not to have to review every ad of the night and I’m ot about to go back and do it here. But give us your report card in the comments.