Some of the best and worst Super Bowl commercials of 2017

  • By Wire Service
  • Sunday, February 5, 2017 6:50pm
  • Life

By Steve Johnson

Chicago Tribune

As 2017’s NFL championship played out on the field, the bigger-money game was taking place between the plays. Here is a look at the best, the worst and the just OK, our review of the Super Bowl ads that sponsors paid more than $5 million per 30 seconds to air.

Budweiser, B+

Instead of presenting another lost puppy improbably saved by Clydesdales, Anheuser-Busch this year plays it much less safe in its big storytelling spot. It tells the tale of founder Adolphus Busch emigrating to St. Louis and meeting Eberhard Anheuser, after first encountering Americans who tell him to “go home,” The boldness of this pro-immigration message, at this moment in our country, makes up for a narrative that’s only moderately compelling.

Mr. Clean, C-

This is either an ad about the cleaning product mascot or a promo for an upcoming movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I can’t tell those two apart. Assuming it’s the former, I will admit that I’m mostly just creeped out by the housewife leering at the life-size cartoon figure in tight white pants as he spiffs up her home. When Mr. C turns into her schlumpy husband — if you want a woman way out of your league, millennial guys, grow a beard! — she pushes him onto the couch for some hanky-panky amid the aroma of cleaning fluids. Um, sexy?

Audi, B

The luxury carmaker delivers a paean to gender equality. As his daughter wins a soapbox derby, a dad frets about her growing up in a world where “her dad is worth more than her mom.” They drive off in their $40,000+ car, and we are told that Audi is committed to equal pay, because that’s a stronger message than, say, parent Volkswagen’s tainted commitment to clean diesel. The soapbox derby car, apparently, gets left by the roadside.

Michelin, B

People get text messages saying come quickly: a husband to his pregnant wife, e.g., a mother to her homesick son. As “Stay Alive” by Swedish artist Jose Gonzalez plays, Michelin tires deliver people safely where they are needed. The storytelling is unexciting, yet strong and tight, like a good set of tires in a turn.

Intel, A-

The chipmaker enlists Patriots QB Tom Brady to demonstrate that its new 360 replay technology “makes anything look epic” — including Brady getting out of bed, brushing his teeth and invoking the 5-second rule to gobble a pancake that fell to the floor. Ending with Brady drawing the line at cameras following him into the bathroom, the spot is amusing and vivid in its product demonstration.

King’s Hawaiian Rolls, B

Those slightly sweet dinner rolls get gobbled up so a guy hides them in a secret compartment in the wall — where his kid can count on magically finding rolls. This spot is simple, cute and effective. Just don’t think too hard about how the scenario could play out more than once.

Wonderful Pistachios, C

Spokes-cartoon Ernie the Elephant touts the health benefits of these nuts, then does a pratfall on the treadmill. That’s pretty much it, except for a tagline with Ernie saying, “Um, that one’s broken.” So the nuts, then, are high in protein and low in advertising ambition. Can we get Stephen Colbert back?, B+

Every year, there’s a spot or two that tries to force action-movie tropes into Super Bowl advertising. This year’s edition is better than usual. The website-creation service employs Jason Statham and Gal Godot to rout some baddies in a restaurant while the chef in headphones obliviously refines his Internet presence. It ends with an explosion, and the chef working out of a food truck.

Nintendo Switch, B+

Backed by Imagine Dragons’ new “Believer,” this ad achieves its goal: It makes me curious about the new gaming platform Nintendo launches in March. Showing the device in action across multiple dayparts, it’s a bright, bouncy enticing spot.

Sprint, A-

“Well, kids, daddy’s dead,” says the guy who just pushed his car off a cliff. “Let me guess,” says the Sprint spokesguy, who happens to be walking by (because he CAN hear you now, wherever you are). “Faking your own death to get out of a Verizon contract?” Sprint can help you with that with much less hassle, says this precisely targeted, humorously delivered message.

T-Mobile, B+

Superb celebrity casting, from a bespectacled, tuxedoed Justin Bieber as a “celebration expert” to Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski as a caveman, helps sell this thoroughly enjoyable spot. They tell a story of the evolution of football end-zone celebrations, unlimited, like the sponsor’s data plans.

TurboTax, C+

There’s a lot to admire in this spot: the clever depiction of a fractured Humpty-Dumpty, who’s fallen off a wall while doing his taxes, all the Pythonesque king’s men who decide to put him back together again, the repair work on Humpty as he heals. It’s the connection to preparing your own taxes that is just too tenuous to make this one a winner. He was filling out tax forms on a wall, see, because TurboTax makes it that easy. OK, sure.

Honda, A-

This spot is a triumph of imagination and execution. Celebrities from Tina Fey to Robert Redford to Missy Elliott advise folks to follow their dreams via talking versions of their actual high-school yearbook photos. “Maybe don’t dress like this, but play the clarinet,” says Jimmy Kimmel, in blue ruffles. “You may fall flat on your face, but technically that’s still moving forward,” says Amy Adams, blowing the bangs out of her eyes. The only demerit is for the fairly loose tie-in to the product, Honda’s new CR-V, which apparently is the dream the carmaker has followed.

Lexus, B+

A dancer, a soundtrack, a car. Sia sings “Move Your Body,” dancer Lil Buck acts on her suggestion, and the car, Lexus new LC sport coupe, is imbued with the suggestion of a soul, of the grace and athleticism that a great dancer can convey. This ad doesn’t aim to do anything more than shine a spotlight on the product, but it does it so very well.

Ford, B

Airing just before kickoff, which now counts as a Super Bowl ad, this spot dramatizes the perils of being stuck: on a ski lift, in a wet suit, locked out of your house. Nina Simone sings “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” And then people get unstuck, and Ford drives home its message about the technologies its cars employ to help move us on our way.

Buick, B

“If that’s a Buick, then my kid is Cam Newton,” says a dad at a pee-wee football game, as said vehicle pulls into the parking lot. Presto. The star QB is under center, and he fires a bullet pass that a tot miraculously catches. This spot is more old-school than the image Buick is now trying to project, yet it still possesses a certain charm. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a referee turn into supermodel Miranda Kerr?


The league behind this annual extravaganza has made some pretty spiffy ads in years past, playing off its “Football is family” slogan. Not this year. The 2017 entry dresses toddlers like NFL legends — Mike Ditka, Michael Irvin, Joe Namath — and parades them around to Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration.” Inspiration is precisely what was lacking in this innocuous but too-easy commercial.

Avocados from Mexico, B+

The full-length version, imagining a secret society pulling society’s strings, is very good. Priestly types banter about Bigfoot, Area 51 and deflated footballs. At one point, the leader sees a guy is streaming their proceedings. And then there’s subliminal advertising — Jon Lovitz commanding “Eat them!” — which leads to gorging on guacamole. The 30 seconds that aired during the game retained most of the essence.

Mercedes-Benz, B+

Directors the Coen Brothers imagine a biker bar where every song on the jukebox is “Born to Be Wild.” When somebody gets blocked in, violence seems inevitable. But the blocker is original easy rider Peter Fonda, now driving Mercedes-AMG’s GT C roadster. If this doesn’t get Baby Boomer hearts racing, perhaps nothing anymore can.

Kia, B-

Aiming to protect whales, trees and rhinos, Melissa McCarthy suffers various calamities while battling to save the environment. If you know McCarthy’s work, you won’t be surprised that she winds up howling in fear and pain each time. The message might be taken as: So don’t bother trying. But what it’s meant to be, the announcer tells us, is: “It’s hard to be an eco warrior, but it’s easy to drive like one.”

Skittles, B-

There’s potential here, as a teen trying to get Katie’s attention tosses Skittles at her window. Inside, we see Katie’s whole family catching and enjoying the fruits (or, rather, fruit-flavored candies) of the admiration she’s earned. But then there’s a burglar, a cop and a rodent catching candy, too, and you stop thinking about snacks and start wondering what kind of a feral household Katie is growing up in. You might be better off without her, kid.

Busch, B

Simple and smart, A-B’s discount beer appears in the Super Bowl with a callback to its roots. A plaid-shirted guy plucks a six-pack from a mountain stream, opens one up, and the “Buschhhhhh” sound resonates through the forest and will not stop. It invokes the outdoors and suggests there may actually be some lasting flavor lurking therein. Those who’ve tasted Busch may disagree.

Google Home, B-?

Give Google credit for trying to portray its Amazon Echo-like personal assistant as the embodiment of folksiness as “Country Roads” plays and people ask for recipes, for the lights to be turned down before a surprise party, etc. But it’s a tough sell, in the current era, to convince us than a countertop eavesdropper controlled by the biggest Internet company is all that benign.

H&R Block, C+?

Several tones collide in this spot. What seems like a tech ad turns into a tax ad, but not in a parody kind of way, as the powers of IBM’s Watson computer are said to be harnessed by the storefront tax-prep outfit. Then actor Jon Hamm walks on, giving body to the voiceover. Like the spot for TurboTax, it doesn’t quite come together.

GoDaddy, B-

The one-time bad boy of Super Bowl advertising has become more mainstream. Its spot this year has a wiry guy, of course, playing the Internet. He likes buying lots of stuff, and he sings along with Rick Astley. A decent concept, but it feels overcrowded.

Lifewtr, C

Yes, art is lovely and exciting, as this spot for Pepsi’s new water (or, rather, wtr) product tries to dramatize. What isn’t so great is having paint rain down all over you. It suggest sloppiness and staining, the opposite of the concept Pepsi wants Lifewtr to embody.

Yellow Tail, C

Australia’s uninspired everyday wine serves up an uninspired everyday ad. Would you expect a kangaroo in sunglasses and a supermodel? An announcer dude in a yellow suit? A product that, yes, is made from grapes? That’s exactly what you get.

WeatherTech, B

The little company from Bolingbrook, Illinois, unveils its most elaborate Super Bowl ad yet. More than just touting that the company’s car mats are made in America, it stages a scene in which a woman in jumpsuit delivers a mat onto a car’s floor just in time to protect it from a spilled drink. Not bad.

Febreze, B+

Bathroom humor is very tricky. But in showing lots of faces headed for the loo, the spray that deodorizes air by reodorizing it pulls it off with a spot asking whether your bathroom is ready for America’s “halftime bathroom break.” Your little room may reek a bit, but with this commerical, the company comes out smelling pretty good.

World of Tanks, B

The video game parodies two reality-show genres — tiny house and real housewife shows — by having tanks crash into their programs. It ain’t high advertising art, but it is deeply satisfying.

Bai, B+

I’m still not sure what exactly the Bai drink is. But I like the ad, which has Christopher Walken saying the product name three times, forcefully, while a dandified Justin Timberlake looks on, not saying a word. By not telling me much, this makes me want to know more.

Coca-Cola, B

The pitch here is to combine “Coca-Cola and Food.” Pretty pictures are employed to suggest this works. And it does for, let’s say, a pairing with burgers and fries, food that asks for something cloying to cut through the fat. But, otherwise, nope.

Tide, B-

NFL commentator Terry Bradshaw has a BBQ stain on his shirt, captured live on TV. He runs around and winds up at Jeffrey Tambor’s place, where Tide Pods get the stain out. There’s a lot of production here, and two whole celebrities, but at the end, it’s just a detergent-cleans-shirts message.

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