In the aftermath of a million Super Bowl parties, as a nation scrubs the Cheeto dust from its fingers, the memories that linger as sharply as long bombs and missed tackles are the pictures corporations spent $5 million apiece to sear onto our eyeballs.
Many TV watchers grant the ads more attention than the game, not surprising considering some Super Bowl commercials bring the cinematic sweep of a best-picture nominee. No jingles. No car salesman yelling in a parking lot.
This year’s attention-getters reflect the flaming political rhetoric of 2017 with thinly veiled commentary on national issues: Budweiser shows its founder immigrating from Germany over storm-tossed seas; Audi features a father worrying how the world will treat his daughter; 84 Lumber follows a Hispanic mother and daughter on a grueling journey north – a spot Fox declined to air in its original form.
But the other standouts seek mostly to entertain, knowing their audience is clutching a jalapeño popper rather than a debit card. Skittles scores with its charming “romance.” Kia places Melissa McCarthy in a series of slapstick disasters.
In the all-time collection of Super Bowl ads, the spot most often applauded aired in 1979, featuring Mean Joe Greene tossing a jersey to a young fan after chugging his Coke. It works, academics point out, because it follows the formula for success.
“It’s using the emotional appeal,” said Patrice Nealon, lecturer on marketing and business management at N.C. State University. “The Coke Classic and the child, that’s bringing out the emotions. Budweiser and the puppies are going for the emotions. With the Audi commercial, there’s political undertones. It’s all about what this man is going to say to his daughter. Not coming out directly. They’re using this moment to sell the car, but they’re not talking about the car. It’s very emotional. Obviously, you know our country is in a very emotional state.”
In case you skipped the bowl, here’s a look at the ads that tugged hardest:
Co-founder Adolphus Busch endures stormy seas and anti-immigrant taunts – “You’re not wanted here!” – on the road from Germany to St. Louis, where he finds a friendly handshake and warm gesture from his future partner: “Beer for my friend.” This schmaltzy American dream story is already drawing boycott threats.
As a young girl races to the finish line in a go-kart, her father muses aloud: “What do I tell my daughter ... Do I tell her that her grandpa is worth more than her grandma?” As she wins, the German automaker assures the audience, “Audi is committed to equal pay for equal work.” Also raising political eyebrows.
Comic actress Melissa McCarthy is summoned from her Kia to rescue whales, save trees and preserve polar ice caps – adventures that end in her being hilariously injured. As she struggles, the pitch emerges: “It’s hard to be an eco-warrior. But it’s easy to drive like one.”
A love-struck teen tosses candy at his sweetheart’s window at night, calling “Katie! Katie!” Flash to Katie’s room upstairs, where Katie, her father, her mother, her grandmother, a burglar and a policeman are all catching the Skittles in their mouths.
Sure to be the ad most discussed at the Monday water cooler, the original version had the immigrant mother and daughter arriving at their destination to find a wall blocking their path. The lumber company revised its ad for the Super Bowl, inviting viewers to watch the rest at its website.