TIME Advertising

The Best and Worst Super Bowl Commercials of 2014

TIME grades all the ads of Super Bowl XLVIII

  • Bud Light

    Serial storytelling and reality TV come to the Super Bowl, as a crew of actors (and Reggie Watts, among others), abscond with one Ian Rappaport for a night of “whatever.” So far “whatever” is a ride in a stretch limo and a voice re-explaining the premise of the ad we just watched. For now, I’ll give the spot a wait-and…

    Grade: C

  • Maserati

    Did I like this ad? My God, who cares! Am I going to buy a Maserati? Are you? That said, I’m guessing that the striking “Strike,” narrated by Quvenzhané Wallis and featuring breathtaking vistas, will sufficiently appeal to the grandiose side of the richest guy in your town. I don’t know if Maserati NEEDS a pricey Super Bowl ad, but you know what they say: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

    Grade: B-

  • Doritos

    The perennial Super Bowl advertiser delivers a well-produced, funny spot–kid sets up a “time machine” to bamboozle a passer-by out of his Doritos–with a simple message: Our chips are worth getting into crime young.

    Grade: B-

  • Chevrolet

    Because when you think trucks, you think cow sex. A Chevy Silverado pulls a bull cross-country for a stud date on a ranch, to the tune of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing.” Message: Chevy trucks are strong. Strong as a bull’s mighty shoulders, as a bull’s mighty horns, as a bull’s mighty pen–er, pent-up desire for love. Yeah. Best not to overthink this one.

    Grade: D

  • TurboTax

    Finally, a Super Bowl ad for people who don’t want to be watching the Super Bowl! John C. Reilly explains, with an extended prom analogy, how watching someone else’s team in the big game is less fun than doing your taxes. After that opening-seconds safety, TurboTax, you could probably make the same case to Denver fans at the moment.

    Grade: B-

  • Bud Light

    Celebs, celebs, celebs! Multi-screens and helicopters return us to Ian’s big night, as our new friend shares some intimate moments with Don Cheadle, a llama, One Republic, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a funny Bjorn Borg getup–that unfortunately Bud already showed us in preview ads. In conclusion, um, Bud Light is a beer?

    Grade: D

  • Beats Music

    Ellen DeGeneres takes us through an extended riff on Goldilocks and the Three Bears–featuring upright animals reminiscent of What Does the Fox Say?–using this Spotify-esque app to find music that’s “just right.” I have no idea if the app is in fact just right, but Ellen dancing to Aloe Blacc can never be too wrong.

    Grade: B

  • Bank of America

    Here’s something different: a commercial that’s out to give, rather than sell. Bank of America (which OK, gets a brand burnishing out of the spot) offers a free iTunes download of U2′s new single, “Invisible,” plus $1 to fight AIDS per download. The ad itself is unremarkable, and the music critics can judge the song–yep, it sounds like U2–but at least the price is right.

    Grade: C

  • Hyundai

    Gasp! Gasp! An emotional, safety-oriented ad promoting the car’s automatic emergency braking rolls a highlight reel of Dad saving his offspring from near-misses until one day when the braking system saves the day. It’s slapstick, every parent has been there, and it touches on a concern of the helicopter-parenting generation: what happens when you step back and stop saving your kids from themselves? Well, drivers of America: we got your back! And dads of America: your job can now be done by a machine!

    Grade: B+

  • Cheerios

    This ad will get attention because–with the 2013 Cheerios spot it follows–it’s one of the first major ad campaigns to feature an interracial marriage. What makes it adorable, though, is the way daughter Gracie parlays the news of a new baby into the promise of a new puppy. (Check the hustler “Do we have a deal?” eyebrows she gives Dad, as well as the “We’re getting a WHAT?” kicker reaction from Mom–some fine eyebrow work all around.) Expect a Cheerio-eating baby in our future.

    Grade: A-

  • Squarespace

    The Internet, amirite? A smart, pointed ad with lots of spot-on references to the freakshow bazaar much of the online world has become argues that this website-service company can help you keep your little corner of it clean. The only thing missing is a slew of obnoxious comments, but I’m sure that’s what the ad’s YouTube site is for.

    Grade: B-

  • Radio Shack

    Nicely played, Radio Shack: you just needled your own stores’ dated reputation, appealed to the nostalgia (Hulk Hogan!) of old folks like me (and younger folks steeped in ’80s pop culture, and managed to make the joke template “The ____ called, it wants its ____ back ” funny again. I’m going to feel so much better the next time I buy a $5 coaxial cable from you!

    Grade: B

  • Chevrolet

    It’s the modern day version of the wild-west roadtrip: a couple rides off romantically into the sunset in some sort of high-powered beast. The woman in the passenger seat is choked up over the beauty of the view, but Chevy hasn’t given us an earful of advertising yet. Something’s afoot, it’s clear, especially when our heartstrings are tugged just a bit as she grips the hand of the driver. But what’s it all about? Yes, they’re driving a Chevy pickup, but it’s not about the car. The commercial’s only message is pasted on the screen as they cruise on – a humble message about World Cancer Day, to be celebrated Tuesday. It’s a touching tribute to survivors everywhere, and to anyone who knows a survivor. A solid tribute, with exactly the right amount of focus on the advertiser: almost none.

    Grade: A-

  • GoDaddy

    Sorry guys, no Danica Patrick in this one. Instead, we get Gwen, a homely puppetmaker. Gwen’s sitting in her cramped apartment filled with rather terrifying, toothy friends that she’s made herself. And for her, it’s more interesting than working as an operator of “large tonnage refrigeration machinery.” So Gwen announces, through a blue feathery bird that she’s quitting her job. Hopefully the one single person that needs to know this information–her boss–is tuned into the game. It’s a solid ad that actually has a point and a reason for GoDaddy’s involvement.

    Grade: B

  • Honda

    The company is trying to make an Accord feel like a member of your family, from “birth” aboard the car-hauling big rig to its adolescent years hauling around Adam and his friends to concerts to sports games to stoplights gazing out the window… Hey look! Cute girls! The car goes places, the guys go places, it’s really nothing shocking. Something we’d see during any old primetime show.

    Grade: C-

  • Bud Light

    Bud Light’s back, but sadly this isn’t a continuation of their big-tease to-be-continued ad featuring that average guy, whatever his name is. Here, they’ve brewed up a computer-generated plug for Bud Light with the aluminum bottle spinning and reflecting and prism-ing and just looking pretty overall. It’s as if we’re all honorary club kids for the evening, but realistically no one is watching the Super Bowl in a deafening dance club. Not even a new track from Afrojack can save this one.

    Grade: C-

  • T-Mobile

    Who better to lead an extended pun about having “no contract” than Tim Tebow, who, once upon a time, was a quarterback for the Broncos? Without a contract, he’s had a productive year since getting cut from the Jets: catching bigfoot, delivering babies, delivering his own U.N. peace plan and even playing a bit of moon football. Because contracts are overrated, as the phone carrier will have you know. (No, seriously, someone please hire Tim Tebow. It reeked equally of being an ad lobbying for him as it did for the phone company.)

    Grade: A-

  • WeatherTech

    Floor mats are among the least sexy Super Bowl products to be hawked tonight, but it’s a big step for the proud American company who made no secret of the fact that it still makes things right here. While it didn’t wave any sort of flag outright, the firm encouraged us to ignore the advice of corporate backers and bankers. And it’s not overly empowering to hear “You Can’t Do That” over and over again. But its efforts are warranted to appeal to the bustling “Made in America” loyalists.

    Grade: B-

  • Volkswagen

    Playing off that classic hokey dad quip “What if I told you…” we watch a vision of German engineers getting their wings every time a Volkswagen hits 100,000 miles. Engineers at every stage of the car-building process are doing tasks that earn them wings. By the end, the symbolism’s clear. There are simply a TON of VWs that last for 100,000+ miles. The daughter is nonplussed though, proposing that at 200,000 miles, rainbows shoot out of their butts. Luckily we don’t get such a vivid imagining of that — but close enough.

    Grade: A-

  • Wonderful Pistachios

    Stephen Colbert takes his usual pompous, no-nonsense style to this pistachio ad, suited up in a lime green tie, with a similarly-clad bald eagle perched next to him. He assumes his mere presence will sell tons and tons of pistachios so this ad cuts off after just 15 seconds. “They’re wonderful, I’m wonderful,” Colbert says. Sadly this one’s not that wonderful.

    Grade: C

  • H&M

    David Beckham’s no stranger to posing in his underwear. In his latest modeling campaign (which leaves little to the imagination), H&M gives him appeal for both sexes — as he runs a parkour course in his skivvies. When he finally gets to his photoshoot, he’s wearing markedly less than he originally signed up for. Like I said, little to the imagination.

    Grade: C+

  • Wonderful Pistachios

    It’s obvious that first one wasn’t all there is. Just 30 seconds after their first appearance, Colbert and his eagle are back, but he’s a humbled man. That’s because his status as pitchman extraordinaire is faltering, seeing how pistachio sales didn’t spike immediately following his first ad effort. Pistachios have taken over the room décor, their tuxedos — and even Colbert’s head. He’s not unlike Jim Carrey in The Mask, and it doesn’t look delicious in the least.

    Grade: C

  • Carmax

    He’s driving out of the dealership in his new used car, starting with a slow clap from the salesman for his purchase. But the praise doesn’t stop there: high school cheerleaders, a dad teaching his kid how to ride a bike, a bear in the forest, a beekeeper and a surgeon all keep the praise coming. But when the high point is the cheap laugh after the little kid crashes his bike, you know you’re working with feeble material.

    Grade: C+

  • Geico

    Putting the pig in pigskin, the insurance company brings back its frequent mascot Maxwell the pig. He’s getting his driver’s license photo taken — which is, let’s face it, a scary thought for any driver. While pigs can’t quite smile like the rest of us (unless you live in New Jersey, where the law forbids you from smiling), at least we can take comfort in knowing that they get the same gruff treatment as the rest of us at the DMV. Sadly for this little piggy, he did little to enthuse us about Geico; we’re just thankful we didn’t have to hear his obnoxious squeal from that old ad.

    Grade: C

  • M&M’s

    We start in at a swank dinner with hair held in place by too much hairspray — if the Sopranos taught us anything, we know to expect a mafia drama. The head gangster heads outside, interrupted during dinner, to gaze upon his minions’ latest captive. In thick Russian, he spouts off to the unknown capture: “I’m going to chop you into litte pieces… and sprinkle you on a big bowl of ice cream.” It’s not the most common utterance from a Russian roughneck, but then again, it’s not every day you reel in a giant peanut M&M. Now we’re hungry.

    Grade: B+

  • Coca-Cola

    Completely driven by the American patriotic classic “America the Beautiful,” we get a touching glimpse of American life today. Its appeal is felt in scenes of daily life around the nation as the song transitions from English to Spanish to Arabic to a variety of other languages. Coke’s appeal throughout cultures is on view, making us feel somehow even more American and connected, yes, by a soda.

    Grade: A

  • Sonos

    Ooh, pretty colors. But that’s about all this ad has going for it. We schizophrenically cycle through different music genres as the camera moves through different rooms in the house. Though we are curious whose awesome mansion was featured, anyone could have probably figured out how to do this ourselves if we had a Sonos sound system.

    Grade: D

  • Toyota

    The Muppets and Terry Crews crooning a tune together? How could we say anything negative? Rowlf pounds the keyboard and Pepe the King Prawn tugs at Crews’ shirt as we follow the Muppets’ roving band. We’ll certainly pick up hitchhikers from a mysterious broken down bus if ever we have the opportunity, just to recreate this experience.

    Grade: A-

  • Subway

    This was reportedly a last-minute ad purchase for the sub-maker — and it shows. A plug for their Fritos chicken enchilada starring a bunch of Olympians from Michael Phelps to Apolo Anton Ohno. But they didn’t do anything different from their usual drool-worthy ads featuring fit celebrities. Seems like a waste of $4 million.

    Grade: D

  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

    Looks like the much-discussed photo of Jerry and George in front of the famous restaurant from Seinfeld wasn’t all for nothing. In this ad for Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, he tells George why he didn’t get invited back to the Wasserstein’s Super Bowl party– it was because of his too-enthusiastic cheering, plus some some toilet trouble last time he was there.

    Grade: B+

  • Go Pro

    Felix Baumgartner leapt from a capsule floating 24 miles above the Earth’s surface in 2012, and Go-Pro’s got the footage for you. Baumgartner tells his team, “the whole world is watching, I’m coming home now” right before he jumps, which gave us chills.

    Grade: A

  • Alex and Ani

    Continuing the patriotic kick of this Super Bowl, it’s another All-American brand advertising their support of the American economy.

    Grade: C

  • Mazda

    Look! It’s cherry-red Mazda with a built-in car phone, as if we’ve never seen a phone in a car before.

    Grade: D

  • Scientology

    Glistening sun, light-drenched meadows, smiling people, then cut to a grandiose cathedral interior like the flashback in “Titanic.” The ad for Scientology gets an A, because now we live in a world where religions advertise during the Super Bowl.

    Grade: A

  • Audi

    A couple compromises in a pet store and ends up breeding a freaky tiny dog with a huge head, which then takes over the world. Featuring a hilarious Sarah McLaughlin appearance and a puppy takeover that appeals to dog-lovers and dog-haters alike, Audi’s ad perfectly supports its tagline: “luxury, not compromise.”

    Grade: A

  • Goldiblox

    Angry little girls make a spaceship out of their sexist pink toys in the first-ever winner of the Intuit small business competition. Cute kids being inventive and launching a spaceship made out of old dolls, well, it works.

    Grade: A

  • T-Mobile

    In another installment of the Tim Tebow T-Mobile endorsement, Tebow saves puppies, flies cars, and rides bulls, and represents T Mobile.

    Grade: C

  • Axe

    From North Korea to the Middle East, love conquers all. And Axe smells like love. Axe Peace is body spray that can “make love, not war.” Meh.

    Grade: B

  • Chobani

    A bear destroys a small country store to get at the only all-natural product in stock: Chobani yogurt. It’s nice that, for once, they used a massive grizzly bear instead of smiling women to advertise yogurt.

    Grade: B+

  • Kia

    That guy from the Matrix offers a couple a blue key and a red key. (Get in? Like the pills in the movie…) They pick the red key and drive off in their beautiful Kia with the Matrix guy singing opera in the back seat.

    Grade: C+

  • Sprint

    Sprint has a new ‘Framily’ plan that lets you talk with your friends and family. Insert lame beard joke here.

    Grade: D

  • Heinz

    Set to the tune of “If You’re Happy,” people around the country tap the bottom of their ketchup bottles to spice up their burgers/hot dogs/ all-American meals. Then a Grandma squeezes an empty bottle and it sounds like…a fart! Childish? Yes. Funny? Very.

    Grade: A

  • Honda

    Bruce Willis tells everyone to hug their loved ones, and be glad they’re not dead in a car accident. Then it turns out his “loved one” is Fred Armisen.

    Grade: A-

  • Budweiser

    In this heartwarming ad, a soldier comes home from abroad and Budweiser throws him a surprise ticker-tape parade. The tagline is, “every soldier deserves a hero’s welcome.” Patriotic and emotionally on point.

    Grade: B+

  • Chrysler

    Bob Dylan’s scratchy voice under images of American glory, telling us how American cars have changed the world. This ad was well-done but way too long, clocking in at around 2 minutes. Chrysler’s recent spate of “America, f— yeah” ads have been brilliant. But this isn’t the first time Dylan’s shilled for an American automaker. He once appeared in an ad for Chrysler rival, GM.

    Grade: B

  • Coca-Cola

    A pint-sized football player scores a big play in this cute spot from Coca-Cola. After the young benchwarmer recovers a fumble in a pee-wee football matchup, he carries the ball through the end zone, across the town of Green Bay and all the way to Lambeau Field. House of Pain’s “Jump Around” gives the ad some energy, but ultimately it doesn’t stand out because it’s so conventional.

    Grade: C+

  • Butterfinger

    Nestle bought its first ever Super Bowl commercial to promote its new Butterfinger peanut butter cups. In the ad, chocolate and peanut butter are personified as an unhappy married couple. A counselor advises them to spice up their love life with Butterfinger, which is now a raunchy swinger of sorts that seems to want to give chocolate much more than a backrub. Weird sexual interactions are not exactly what I want to think about when eating junk food, Nestle.

    Grade: D+

  • Jaguar

    The British are coming. Jaguar tapped Ben Kingsley, Mark Strong and Tom Hiddleston to smirkingly remind us that the most nefarious movie villains are usually British. We see these criminal masterminds often fly around in helicopters, lurk in their evil lairs and, of course, zoom around in flashy Jaguar cars. This ad works well as a sheer spectacle, though I’m not convinced all villains really are Englishmen.

    Grade: B

  • Oikos

    Your enjoyment of this commercial will be directly proportional to your love of the ‘90s sitcom Full House. I was a Family Matters kid myself, so seeing John Stamos, Bob Saget and Dave Coulier did even less for me than the merely decent Seinfeld ad during halftime. If Dannon Oikos was aiming to get Millennials feeling nostalgic, they probably should have worked the Olsen twins in too somehow.

    Grade: D+

  • Budweiser

    Budweiser’s latest ad featuring its iconic Clydesdales horses has already been a hit online, where it racked up more than 30 million views before the game. That’s for good reason–this ad ramps up the animal adorableness by pairing the Clydesdales with a scrappy young puppy that keeps venturing from his animal shelter to visit the horses at their ranch. Sometimes ads that try to be heartwarming can just come off as sappy, but Anheuser-Busch finds the right balance here. You’ll definitely smile at the final shot of the puppy and Clydesdale united at last on the ranch.

    Grade: B+

  • GoDaddy

    GoDaddy has become infamous for its sexed up ads that often feature buxom models in various states of undress. The company is currently undergoing a course correction in its marketing tone, but this spot featuring a juiced up Danica Patrick running through a city with bodybuilders doesn’t come together quite right. The punchline–that using GoDaddy for web hosting can help you promote your business–is a bit underwhelming. But the ad is weird enough to keep the name GoDaddy rattling around in your head, which has been the main strategy driving all the web hosting company’s commercials.

    Grade: B-

  • Doritos

    This spot featuring two cute kids is a relatively safe play by Doritos, since no one is really going to criticize an ad starring children too heavily. Ultimately, though the spot is fairly unmemorable and tykes were topped by Budweiser’s puppy as the most adorable star of the night anyway. Doritos should be a little more adventurous next time.

    Grade: C-

  • Hyundai

    A guy in a Hyundai Elantra tries to flirt with a girl in the next lane, but she is some kind of sarcastic wizard who can conjure road obstacles each time she has a sly retort to his advances. It’s the kind of ad that’s a bit funny as long as you don’t think about it.

    Grade: C+

  • Microsoft

    At first this ad seems like one straight out of the Apple playbook, as Microsoft illustrates the power of technology to help people with disabilities to walk, talk and see. But the commercial becomes more powerful than the typical tech ad because it’s centered around a real-life person –Steven Gleason, a former NFL player living with Lou Gherig’s disease. Gleason can’t speak, so he uses a Microsoft Surface and technology that tracks eye movements to talk through an artificial voice. It’s an impressive showcase of the power of both tech and, well, the human spirit.

    Grade: A-

  • Sodastream

    Sodastream earned quite a lot of free publicity by inserting four simple words into this commercial: “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.” Fox refused to air the ad with the diss to two huge advertisers, so the version that made it TV doesn’t include it. Beyond the controversy that line caused, though, the ad itself is pretty unremarkable and mostly just relies on Scarlett Johansson’s beauty to hold viewers’ attention.

    Grade: C-

  • T-Mobile

    After two big-budget spots featuring Tim Tebow explaining the virtues of a no-contract life, T-Mobile’s final Super Bowl ad instead focuses on explaining the company’s service deals in plain English on a pink screen. The ad won’t be talked about nearly as much as the Tebow spots, but T-Mobile gets bonus points for including music from Disney’s Robin Hood animated film.

    Grade: C+

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