TIME Advertising

The Best and Worst Ads of Super Bowl 50

Grading the clever, the dull, and the simply weird

  • Hyundai

    Kevin Hart made a good case for his own ubiquity as he stalked his daughter and her date through the city using Hyundai’s “Car Finder” function. But Hart’s face-popping, out-from-behind-a-carnival-stuffed-animal is where this commercial’s cuteness ends. His protectiveness of his daughter, while maybe relatable, feels creepily retrograde without any more context than an ad can provide. Perhaps promoting Hyundai cars’ functionalities as a way to get their drivers stalked isn’t a way to present the car company in its most appealing light.

    Grade: B-

  • Michelob Ultra

    As an ad for, say, health-tracking wristbands or athletic gear, this would have been dully clichéd, stocked as it was with footage of athletes of all stripes briskly breathing out after a tough workout. But the turn, in which the exhalations were echoed by the release of a purportedly healthier bottle of beer, made this feel sharp and witty.

    Grade: A-

  • Snickers

    Poor Marilyn Monroe. Mistreated and objectified in life, her posthumous image is used as a cheap sight gag in an ad that purports she acted like a cranky old man on the set of The Seven Year Itch when she was hungry. Monroe’s own on-set turbulence colors an informed viewer’s reception of the ad, but even those who just know her as the girl on the subway grate may be confused by the casting of Willem Dafoe. (Is he famously ornery? Or is the image of literally any famous man in a dress still, somehow, considered subversively witty, rather than just, yes, a drag?)

    Grade: D+

  • SoFi

    This ad derives its energy from weird meanness towards stock models about whom we know nothing, telling us that various passersby on a city street were not “great.” “His mom thinks he’s great. She’s wrong.” The ad is notionally meant to make viewers think they, too, might be among the “great” people who could benefit from SoFi’s services; its effect is the opposite, calling all of us couch potatoes mediocrities. You don’t need to point it out!

    Grade: C-

  • Avocados from Mexico

    The premise of this ad—aliens touring through a museum of humanity, observing artifacts of a past life—was cute enough. But its obsessive timeliness made it feel already out-of-date (jokes about the variably colored “dress” are so last year) and its obsession with Q-list celebrity (in this case, a cameo by a non-speaking Scott Baio) is a big advertising trend that’s come to feel more unimaginatively mean-spirited than refreshingly frank.

    Grade: B

  • Hyundai

    The second Hyundai ad of the broadcast drew its energy from a pair of bears chasing hiking humans, who just barely escape. One wonders if this was in production before The Revenant hit theaters, but the differences between these campers’ fate and Leo’s are key—the humans escape thanks to their car recognizing voice commands, and the bears talk too. It’s a sharp concept whose rougher edges needed a rewrite: The bears only eating humans on a “cheat day” felt like something out of a Cathy comic.

    Grade: B+

  • Apartments.com

    The broadcast’s first true fiasco, this ad’s absurdity doesn’t even feel genuine. It’s obvious the website simply wanted to catalyze online response. Leaving entirely aside the racial component of Jeff Goldblum, a white actor, singing the theme song to The Jeffersons while backed up by a black gospel choir, the ad—featuring a George Washington impersonator and Lil’ Wayne (nom de rap Weezy F Baby) as “George and Weezie”—is just incoherent, committed to nothing but its own idea of itself as something that will, somehow, get Twitter likes.

    Grade: D-

  • NFL

    A short ad featuring “NFL babies”—in other words, the babies born by celebrating fans of winning franchises—is cute enough, thanks to its toddling stars, even as it put undue pressure on fans in Denver and in the Carolinas.

    Grade: B+

  • Mobile Strike

    Fair warning to all candidates for president and all politicians really: This could well be your future. Arnold Schwarzenegger, formerly the governor of America’s most populous state, promotes an app that looks, from the chaos surrounding him, like a loud, exhausting mess. At least he’s having fun!

    Grade: C-

  • Doritos

    The big game’s dose of Cronenbergian body horror came courtesy of this ad, which features a baby in utero responding to the smell of Doritos in the ultrasound room and diving headfirst out into the world when the Doritos go out of reach. If that description makes little sense on the page, it made less on the screen, adding up to little more than even more nausea than Cool Ranch is normally capable of producing.

    Grade: D

  • Paypal

    The instrumentals to Demi Lovato’s “Confident” provide powerful backing to an ad whose core message doesn’t make much sense—conflating “new money” the concept of upward mobility with “new money” the idea of reinventing money is a bit more complex than thirty seconds can really unpack. But it was a bold statement of purpose, at least, for a brand whose wallpaper-like ubiquity has never before come freighted with quite so much potential culture-shifting.

    Grade: A-

  • Audi

    An ad depicting an astronaut who finally gets to experience the joys of space travel again in his German-made car gets its narrative thrust from the late David Bowie’s “Starman.” It’s perfectly well-made but feels poorly timed. The ad-ending legend “In memory of the Starman” is the least the company could have done, but is also, well, the literal least it could have done. Whenever the ad was put together, the reference feels like a cheap appeal to sentimentality.

    Grade: C

  • Mountain Dew

    This ad, in which a “puppymonkeybaby” induces some young slackers to try a new soda that combines three great things, is edgier than it is funny. The hybrid creature itself is more than unappetizing; it is reminiscent of one of the awful crimes against aesthetics Sid welded together in the first Toy Story.

    Grade: C-

  • Taco Bell

    This ad, which says that the Mexican fast-food chain’s new cheesy taco will be “bigger than” various current topics, including Tinder, drones, and “James Harden’s beard,” was yet another crime against timelessness. Not everything needs to resound through the generations, but an ad that only references trending topics feels a bit like a missed opportunity. Credit, at least, to Star Trek actor George Takei, who appears randomly in the ad’s final seconds, for sheer tenaciousness in making ads believe he’s a signifier of contemporary relevance.

    Grade: C+

  • Marmot

    This rumination on the relationship between a man and his marmot chum is hardly one of the game’s most memorable, but it doesn’t commit any unforced errors (undue attempts at hipness, bodily grossness). This made it one of the game’s best so far!

    Grade: B

  • Squarespace

    Key and Peele’s concept, this time, may have been a bit too elaborate for their framing. In the space of thirty seconds, their attempts to up the ante in hilariousness register higher in decibels than in laughs.

    Grade: B-

  • Shock Top

    The idea of an insult-comic beer mascot isn’t particularly refreshing; that mascot would have to say some really sharp things to get the viewer excited. Too bad the Shock Top orange had writers that wouldn’t make the cut on a Comedy Central roast, spouting half-jokes like “You look like you peaked in middle school.” Ha… ha?

    Grade: C-

  • Buick

    This ad provocatively rejected narrative, with an opening involving a tossed bouquet that seemed to have nothing to do with the reveal that a random car uninvolved in the bouquet toss was, yes, a Buick. As an art film, it moved me. As an ad…

    Grade: C

  • Advil

    But for slightly elevated production values, this ad could really have aired at any time of year. Its frank commitment to a plainspoken message—Advil works!—was a nice respite from the heightened irony and meanness of the ads around it, which had already made me crave a painkiller of one kind or another.

    Grade: B+

  • Dollar Shave Club

    Another ad, like Shock Top’s, featuring an insulting protagonist, but this one’s lame jokiness is the point. He is an unappealing rusty razor, using dull (in many senses) wit to show why we should all refresh our shave game. This was one of the few ads in the game to deploy irony correctly—milking it for its lack of appeal—and in the right dosage.

    Grade: A-

  • Acura

    This well-made ad, just showing an Acura’s manufacture and features while guitar riffs play, would have been better-suited to a more iconic brand. As an attempt to make Acura one of those, it falls slightly short even though the car is a looker.

    Grade: B

  • Rocket Mortgage

    In a world in which mortgages are more readily available, Quicken tells us, the benefits would trickle down to every segment of the economy, creating a “tidal wave of ownership.” It’s a cute idea. In the real world, effects of widespread creation of mortgages for people not financially ready to be homeowners showed themselves in the 2008 financial crisis. All the frills of this ad—the emphasis, say, on “wooden leg makers” as beneficiaries of the new wave of ownership, or the beautiful consumer goods floating in air—make its brazen resistance to good sense more, not less, offensive.

    Grade: F

  • Bud Light

    Amy Schumer is among the many celebrities benefitting from a stellar 2015 with a Super Bowl ad, but this Bud Light spot is far below her comedic chops. She and bro-humor ambassador Seth Rogen appear to be running mates in a purposefully vague campaign championing the glory of America and light beer. Perhaps the vapidness is a commentary on our current political climate, but that still doesn’t make it funny.

    Grade: D

  • Skittles

    In a post-Old Spice world, commercials don’t have to make sense. So of course Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler can be presented with a portrait of himself made of Skittles. And of course that portrait can become self-aware, start belting “Dream On,” and be tricked into reaching a register that causes it to self-destruct. This one gets an extra boost from the guy casually munching on Skittles to the side of the action as all this is happening.

    Grade: C

  • T-Mobile

    Because the world of Internet media moves so fast now, we’re already at the redemptive portion of Steve Harvey’s Miss Universe arc. The game show host misstated the winner of the Miss Universe pageant during a live telecast, then there was a backlash, and then a backlash against the backlash. Now Harvey gets to laugh the whole thing off by accidentally announcing…that Verizon as more cell towers than T-Mobile, who actually has more? By the time he’s explaining what he’s talking about, you’re supposed to be giving a contented “I see what you did there” smirk. Somehow this joke already feels dated.

    Grade: C-

  • Hyundai

    In a suburban dystopia (utopia?) where all men have been replaced by Ryan Reynolds, it’s gonna be pretty hard for the ladies to keep their eyes on the road. So says Hyundia, who’s hawking a new Elantra sedan with an automatic emergency brake feature. Maybe if they’d gone the bizarre route this spot could have worked, but they play things a bit too straight to be anything but awkward.

    Grade: D

  • Persil

    “This Is How We Do It” is one of the best party songs of all time. This detergent ad is not one of the best Super Bowl ads of all time. So there’s a bit of a disconnect there. And unlike Tide, I’m betting their product isn’t being stolen from grocery stores to be sold on the black market. Best to know thy self and tay in your lane.

    Grade: D-

  • Coca-Cola

    Coca-Cola and Marvel impressively crammed an Avengers action scene into a one-minute ad. The diminutive Ant-Man swipes one of Bruce Banner’s cokes, and you wouldn’t like him when he doesn’t have his coke. There’s a harrowing chase between Ant-Man and Hulk across the city, which ends with a great payoff when the green guy finally reclaims his can. This ad boosted Ant-Man from “no interest” to “maybe stream on Netflix” for me, and it made me want a coke.

    Grade: A

  • Weather Tech

    This manufacturer of car-related accessories wants you to know that it’s keeping factory jobs in the United States because American ingenuity and talent is the REAL natural resource. Good to know.

    Grade: C

  • Toyota

    This too-long car chase features a set of bank robbers who are forced to make their getaway in a Prius and find out—gasp!—Priuses aren’t actually totally slow. I’m all for Toyota showing us how great their car is, but why provide reminder of all the negative Prius associations first. At least half of the Season 2 cast of The Wire is inexplicably in this ad (they were drug-smugglers, not car thieves).

    Grade: C+

  • Jeep

    What if your Jeep was actually a sage old man who could recall his every passenger? This magic-realism scenario is brought to life in this spot by Chrysler, which recounts a bunch of times Jeeps were used over the last 75 years, from World War II to Jurassic Park. The length to which your heartstrings will be pulled correlates directly to how many times you’ve driven a Jeep.

    Grade: C

  • Amazon

    Following George Washington hanging out with LIl Wayne, this is the second ad of the night that pairs an old white guy (Alec Baldwin) with a rapper (MIssy Elliot) because, like, life is so random sometimes! The real star of this spot is Amazon’s digital assistant Echo, which fires disses against both Baldwin (“Alec Baldwin has won no Oscars”) and NFL great Dan Marino (“Dan Marino as won zero championships”). Missy’s just here for the crudités and to drop an assuredly hot new single.

    Grade: B-

  • Doritos

    Should dogs eat Doritos? Probably not. But that doesn’t stop a group of hungry pups from sneaking into a grocery store dressed as a person to buy some. The ad is cute enough, but the animals-or-tiny-people-dressing-as-big-people cliche is tired.

    Grade: C-

  • MINI

    MINI thinks its cars have a reputation to beat: They’re for young professionals, they’re no good for tall people, they’re not great to drive. Here, the BMW-owned brand recruits a cadre of celebrities from Tony Hawk to Harvey Keitel to overturn those preconceptions. Does it work? Who knows—the MINI looks good, but it just sits there instead of being put through its paces.

    Grade: C

  • TurboTax

    Here’s something we don’t see every day: Anthony Hopkins vouching for tax prep software. But The Silence of the Lambs actor insists he’s not selling out, because TurboTax—which also happens to be the name of his cat—is free. The ad deserves props for getting a celeb not known for his commercial endorsements.

    Grade: B+

  • Pokemon

    Another ad that looks like it’s going to be hocking Nike shoes or Fitbit trackers until it takes a turn. But instead of light beer, this one’s celebrating Pokemon’s 20th anniversary and the upcoming Pokken Tournament for Wii U. It’s an attention-grabbing twist, but it’s short on details about the new game in the beloved series.

    Grade: B-

  • Heinz

    Dogs on dogs on dogs for this condiment commercial. Adorable, but the hot dog-dachshund joke is played out.

    Grade: C

  • LG

    One part Tron, one part Liam Neeson, shake until you’ve got a confusing ad for a television set. It’s hard to dislike the Taken star, but his presence would be more powerful if he were a spokesman for just a single brand.

    Grade: C

  • Fitbit

    No surprises here: Athletic people doing athletic stuff for an athletic brand showing off its latest fitness tracker. The simplicity is appreciated while other brands are going over-the-top but falling flat.

    Grade: B+

  • Butterfinger

    Why is a guy on a bull jumping out of a perfectly good airplane? Unclear. Why is he eating a Butterfinger while doing so? Also unclear. But maybe he should listen to his mom, who’s advising him not to ruin his appetite. The whole setup is a better fit for an “extreme” brand…

    Grade: D

  • Budweiser

    Budweiser takes a shot across the bow at craft beer makers, but it simultaneously delivers an awkward subtext about masculinity. Bud: Drink it because it’s not “small,” it’s not “sipped,” and it’s not a “fruit cup.”

    Grade: C

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