Super Bowl 2020: the ads reviewed

Three creative leaders review a selection of ads from this year's big game.

Jeep: Murray stars in Groundhog Day tribute
Jeep: Murray stars in Groundhog Day tribute

Vicki Maguire
Chief creative officer, Havas London

I can’t pretend to care about American football, or even have a clue about what’s happening on the field, but I do appreciate a good spectacle, an excuse for drinks and snacks, and watching adland raise its game for a big occasion.

Although the real marketing moment of the night might well have been the massive brand collaboration between J-Lo, Shakira, Pepsi and NFL: what a mind-blowing performance, even before you take the pole dancing and snake tongues into account. Can we just take a moment to celebrate the Latino "fuck you" message that shook out loud and clear?

Amazon Alexa
It’s Blackadder meets Horrible Histories brought bang up to date, thanks to fake news and a brilliant execution that makes the most of every joke without labouring a single one of them. Also, you’ve got to love Ellen and Portia, presented here as a couple without any agenda. It’s a good question too: what the hell did we all do before Alexa? I LOVE THIS TO BITS. 

Groundhog Day coincided with the Super Bowl this year, so Jeep got Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Phil back together to celebrate. The result is pure entertainment, plus a tagline, "No day is the same in a Jeep Gladiator", that makes the brand stick. If I had to get stuck on repeat inside one Super Bowl ad this year, this would be it. 

I was ready to write this off as American syrup, but then I found out that it’s the true story of a Google employee’s grandfather. Those Google Assistants might be more useful than I’ve been giving them credit for. 

Tide has a lot to live up to after the 2008 "It’s a Tide ad", and while this one is classily done, it’s a similar device – mashing up commercials – and sadly a mere shadow of the original. 

Coke’s "Hilltop" dream of teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony seems like a long way off, what with grown men riding scooters and people naming their babies after produce, so Mars has settled for a less ambitious goal – feeding the world a Snickers – instead. Call me cruel, but I’d say it’s an amusing ad that becomes special right at the moment the influencers fall into the giant hole. Someone had to take the tumble and thank goodness it wasn’t the woman with the newborn. 

Mountain Dew
Not another rip-off of The Shining. Hasn’t this reference been used way too often? Not when crazy Bryan Cranston brings Walter White to the party. It’s well done and, by using cascades of Mtn Dew Zero Sugar instead of blood, slots the brand in nicely. Knocking on the door with a plastic bottle.

Javier Campopiano
Chief creative officer, Grey Europe

First, a disclaimer: I am particularly biased when it comes to the Super Bowl, because I hate the use of celebrities without an idea, which is something Super Bowl ads have been doing in an excessive manner. I believe that celebrities should be the conduit for an idea, not the other way around (unless the idea relies completely on the celebrity character/persona, as John Malkovich’s Squarespace campaign did).

This year, we have (again) way too many unjustified celebrities. A lot of money wasted, just because there aren't many ideas on these ads. Well, let's see.

I get why Maisie Williams, as she’s an advocate for sustainability-related causes – besides being a Stark – but why Let it Go? It's a really confusing choice, and just when we felt we could start getting that tune out of our brains. Overall, it feels a weird mash-up and as a story is so linear that not even the strange music choice can make it feel different. The car looks good, though.

Amazon Alexa
I am not a fan of the "what the world would look like without x" construct; feels easy and they’ve done it before on the Super Bowl. But the production values, the craft and the gags work here, at least most of the time. It’s lengthy, though; they could have made it shorter. Same goes for the opening scene with Ellen and Portia. 

I am biased here, because I love this movie so much. The ad is one of my favourites of the night by far. Still, it feels like a little bit of a missed opportunity; it could have been crazier and funnier. It’s 60 seconds and feels way shorter – not in a good way. It is a surprise that no-one has tapped into this before and they have executed it with charm and respect for the movie, so I can't help but like it.

The best of the bunch. A bit of fresh air, nice storytelling, a different construct (not a big vignette-after-vignette film) and it actually makes you feel something.

I can’t help but compare it with what they have done in the past – and this one falls short. Let’s see what the campaign looks like when they start unfolding it, as the creative platform sounds promising and this might just be the kick-off.

Mountain Dew
It’s a funny one and it has a strong line that makes sense with the product, which is a lot to say in comparison to the others. And who doesn’t like Bryan Cranston, right? He's the right choice here.

Just no.

Not one but… three celebrities! For an idea that would’ve never worked with regular folks. It’s such a nice car feature. A good brief to come up with a great idea and pick the right celebrity to make it better. This is the exact opposite of that. The edit helps a lot to avoid the complete collapse.

Sorry, this is the kind of stuff I couldn’t care less about. I get it, it might work for the Super Bowl crowd; does nothing for me.

Andy Bird
Chief creative officer, Publicis New York

Super Bowl season in the US was always something I looked upon with respect and huge curiosity when I was working in London. Now I’m now over here and lucky enough to be involved. Pinch me.

Aside from the commercials, the whole night is nuts, watched live by 98 million people in the US last year (compare that with the FA Cup, where hardly anyone can be bothered to watch Liverpool’s youth team kick ten bells out of Grimsby Town).

So the biggest thing I noticed this year was a shift from purpose-driven work – a trend that had been growing over the past four or five Super Bowls – to a focus on showbiz and hilarity. Like Amazon’s Alexa spot: an ad conceived in the UK for the US, with writing that’s spot on, brilliantly directed, (I properly snorted out laughing at the court jester) and even the ubiquitous Ellen DeGeneres didn’t overpower the whole thing. Made me proud to be British in a weekend when I wasn’t particularly.

Squarespace’s Fargo tribute spot made absolutely no sense; I only have a loose idea why Winona Ryder was in it. I don’t know what it had to do with Fargo. I’m not sure what I was meant to think at the end. But I somehow loved it. 

I didn’t love so much how the Google ad made me feel…  a jabbering emotional wreck, a brilliant story, told with compassion and emotion, the one moment of quiet beauty on a night of excess.

Talking of funny, Tide nailed it yet again and Bud Light’s unknowing homage to Beano's Numbskulls was hilarious. Likewise Hyundai’s "Smaht pahk", where the butt of the joke was the Boston dialect, totally made me laugh. (Hey, but taking the piss out of north-east accents in any other country isn't funny, OK?)

Doritos always shows up at Super Bowl and this year was no exception. Sam Elliott’s dancing tash and the surreal genius of casting Lil Nas X as his nemesis was just brilliant.

But not quite as brilliant as Jeep getting BILL MURRAY IN AN AD, re-enacting Groundhog Day. Despite the cheesy driving shots, it was still incredible. And just like the Kansas City Chiefs, the other real winner on the night. 


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