Recent reports estimate the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial spot to be upwards of 4 million dollars, to be seen by some 114 million viewers. Here is how some of the world's biggest companies chose to make the most of that investment.
Ram Trucks, "Farmer"
Brian Phillips: GOD SAID I need someone to till the soil, harvest the crops, and tend to the bounty of the land. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID I need someone to wake before dawn, plow a furrow, and build a fence from the fallen wood in the peach orchard. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID I'm thinking salade Niçoise. I mean, use your imagination, but nothing too heavy, OK? Thing is, I've got yoga at 2:30 and, not to get into details here, but the instructor is hot. Like, insanely. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID If you do go with the Niçoise, just make sure the anchovies were sustainably harvested, because I've heard some of the fisheries aren't a hundred percent ethical, you know? Lot of high-mercury shit going down at the margins of that industry. I'm not an idiot. I've got an app. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID I need someone to refill my Weston. And could I get less ice this time? Honestly, this place was way better back when it was Miyabi. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID Or wait, was Miyabi that place down the street that's now Pearl? I think this place might have been Muttonchop Eatery before I did that year in Amsterdam. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID Jesus, I totally forgot about that place. I used to eat there all the time. That was back when everything was Kobe beef this, Kobe beef that. They had a $39 Kobe beef burger that wasn't too bad. One of their hostesses had these big, sad blue eyes; I'll never forget her. Was that even here, though? So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID Someone should totally come out with a Yelp only to like match up dead restaurants with their current spaces. I see it as a niche application, but hey; you bring in the right sponsors, it could make money. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID I never did figure out why her eyes were always so sad. Genevieve, I think her name was. She's probably out of design school by now. Muttonchop Eatery. Fuck. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID Shit on a stick, I have the conference call with KPMG in 40 minutes. Excuse me, could you hurry up with the salad? So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID No, wait, it was Jacqueline. She was always so sad. She looked just like a Bond girl, only, like, classy, you know? I don't know where the time goes. You eat sustainable anchovies, you feel like you're a decent guy, it's like you're trying to hang on to the wind. The world just gets away from you. You wake up one day and you barely recognize yourself. So God created a farmer.
GOD SAID Siri, cancel my yoga class. So God created a farmer.
Bar Refaeli Kisses a Nerd for GoDaddy
Tess Lynch: This commercial makes people uncomfortable! CBS censored it and, admittedly, it's pretty potent looxist napalm. Such a long, wet kiss. It's hard not to wonder what the vibe on set was like, if Bar's handlers were standing around with their arms crossed while the bagels growing stale on the craft services table diverted their poppy-seed eyes. How did it feel to be cast as Walter? Someone I know auditioned for the role and dove into the restroom before he went on tape to try to look as puffy and bedraggled as possible. Commercial auditions often require the sublimation of pride in order to make enough scrillz to qualify for health care, but being cast in the role of a person whose perceived hideousness is a visual gag has got to yield some pretty bitter-tasting residual checks. The commercial's ripples — the Twitter "ick" reactions and the question of how much Refaeli was paid — extend beyond the ad itself and create a sort of sad statement that doesn't make me want to purchase a domain. I just hope Walter qualified for SAG Tier 1 coverage, with dental and vision. I hope he has six dependents and never has to go COBRA.
Psy for Wonderful Pistachios
Carles: The marketing campaign implemented by Wonderful Pistachios somehow managed to be progressively dated. The idea of using 'the most viewed man in the world' (according to YouTube), and even having a 'totally original flash mob break out on Bourbon Street' to produce viral coverage, seems like it was a campaign envisioned by someone really old who was reading a book called Viral Marketing for Dummies: Winning the Web With Crossover Content that was published in 2002. Truthfully, I hate Psy because he represents our current iteration of society's excessive desire to 'stay on-trend' to the point that we don't even regulate the quality of the meme. The actual quality of the song 'Gangnam Style' isn't inherently catchy like 'The Macarena,' 'Ice Ice Baby,' or even Right Said Fred's 'I'm Too Sexy.' Psy is just some random foreign dude about whom every one is supposed to know, but who even likes him?
Soon, a YouTube auditor will come around and expose Psy as having created numerous bots to generate YouTube views, tricking everyone into thinking he was important by exploiting the excessive importance we place on web analytics. Psy will become a hybrid Lance Armstrong–Milli Vanilli where he 'doped' the music industry using performance-enhancing web tools. Wonderful Pistachios will join the class action lawsuit against him to recoup the money they wasted on him during the Super Bowl. I'll probably never have a pistachio again.
Budweiser's Clydesdales, "Brotherhood"
Molly Lambert: "Best was the Clydesdale makes me want to get one." — @JoseCanseco There you have it, folks. Jose Canseco thought the Budweiser ad with the Clydesdale horse was the best, and so follows America. I liked the Clydesdale spot because it was relatively low-concept, didn't insult me with sexism or racism or novelty songs, and showed us a beautiful animal who wasn't wearing a bikini.
Maybe I'm just a sucker, made nostalgic by ads for other ads invoking fictional turn-of-the-century bullshit, just like some Don Draper predicted I would while pitching this spot. It didn't so much sell beer as it sold horses, the way Terrence Malick movies sell sunlight. Or maybe I'm just a regular idiot who likes looking at pretty animals, because of course. Who doesn't like horses with leg-warmers?
Sarah Larimer: Oof. Give me a minute. It’s just this is a commercial that features a horse hug. And adorable footage of a tiny baby horse. And a horse owner who is all sad when his tiny baby horse grows up and moves on to a happy and successful career as a participant in St. Louis Cardinals World Series celebrations. My only complaint is that the advertising team decided to have the Grown-Up Clydesdale and Lonely Former Owner reunite in Chicago, which is really uncool, because the Clydesdales live in St. Louis, dudes, and would it have killed you InBev bros to figure out a way to be like, St. Louis! That place is solid. Sorry about that buyout. I mean seriously. Does Chicago have to get EVERYTHING? Then I watched the spot online, checked Twitter, and saw something that made it all better.
— Budweiser (@Budweiser) February 4, 2013
You guys. We get to name the tiny baby horse. Was this a thing that I missed on the regular commercial, because I was so pissed that Chicago got to be King of the Midwest again? Entirely possible. AMERICA. We get to name a tiny baby horse! Using the Internet! (We’re calling it Stan, right? I will also accept Musial.)
What Stevie Wonder Deserves
Sean Fennessey: Stevie Wonder is 63 years old. For 50 of those years he has been an unimpeachable human. Ever since he burst into the national consciousness at 13, blowing on a harmonica and rhythmically swinging his body like he was hooked to marionette strings for "Fingertips — Pt. 2," — my favorite song for the rest of time and the purest sound of joyful youth ever recorded — he was a success story. Ingenuity, talent, charm, blinding good cheer. The guy smiles better than most anyone. He's got 10 no. 1 singles, 22 Grammys, and the greatest double LP of all time to his name. He's considered by Billboard to be the third-most successful male artist ever. Hell, the United Nations named him a Messenger of Peace in 2009. He's not my favorite musician, but he might be my favorite American.
So last night's Stevie Wonder commercial was, well, odd. Stevland Hardaway Morris was born in Saginaw, Michigan, and made his bones with Motown. Stevie is Michigan, through and through. And yes, he did perform at the Super Bowl pre-concert that few watched. But he doesn't practice voodoo and he is not a Creole shaman and he should never, ever wear an all-white suit. (I am assuming Zoe Saldana talked him into some of this.) Stevie Wonder is more than entitled to all the Anheuser–Busch money he can gather, and if that involves inscrutably cackling while wearing a top hat, go and get it. (Though I can't imagine he needs it.) But these commercials are insolvable mysteries. Chairs and dolls and passwords and luck and football. What? Stevie deserves coherence.
Taco Bell, "Viva Young"
Mark Lisanti: I don't know how they did it, but Taco Bell has somehow captured every provision of my living will and translated it into a 30-second Super Bowl spot. On my final night at whatever elder-living gulag to which my ungrateful future children have consigned me (against my wishes — let me be clear about this), I will steal away into the night with my Twilight Gang cohorts, Cocoon it up in the pool until the icy claw of hypothermia begins to squeeze my heart, enjoy a round of lust-drenched, foam-lubricated carnality on the dance floor of a terrible club, attempt to goad some unsuspecting diners into a fistfight by threatening them with an exposed nipple, and commemorate the unholy adventure with some tasteful ink. And when it feels as if I have lived as mas as my shuddering mortal coil can sustain, it will be time to run for the border and Kevorkian down as many Cheesy Gordita Crunches as it takes to put an infarction-inducing exclamation point on a life sort-of-well-lived. There will be no giddy return trip to the home, and no nurses to taunt with the story of a wild, AWOL night; there will be only a smiling man spread-eagled on the hood of a Dodge Dart, a nacho cheese gun with its chamber emptied clattering to the asphalt. We all die in the Taco Bell parking lot eventually. But only some of us do it on our own terms.
Oh, and the soundtrack will not be fun. I'm thinking Metallica's "Jump in the Fire."
Oreo, "Whisper Fight"
Dan Fierman: Is is a total rip-off of the Tastes Great/Less Filling Miller Lite Super Bowl commercials of yore? Oh, sure. Was the whole, "They're geniuses! They Photoshopped a quick gag about the blackout" totally overblown on Twitter? Amen. Are Oreos really pretty mediocre cookies once you grow up and realize the true cornucopia of confection available to us in this world, ranging from glorious macarons to tasty sugar tuiles? There can be no doubt.
THEY DESTROY A LIBRARY WHILE WHISPER-YELLING BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK IN LIBRARIES.
Budweiser Black Crown, "Celebration"
Spike Friedman: Don't you just wish you could live in that Budweiser Black Crown ad, with its black rhinestones, masks, bass guitar slides, and implicit 2 Broke Girls references, forever? I certainly felt like I was being spoken to, like the television was telling me exactly what to drink when I'm out with my edgy poor friends wearing all black and dancing on tables, which I, as a hip young gentleman, am so often wont to do. (Note: not Beck's Sapphire; nice try, Beck's, but you'll never have anything in common with good ol' American Budweiser.) But how to know if that televised Budweiser Black Crown euphoria is real? I consider myself far too savvy a consumer to be swayed by a single advertisement. I mean, Budweiser probably paid for that ad to look as hip as it did.
Well, would you believe that not minutes after seeing that ad, a friend of a friend rolled into the house (in particularly hip Silver Lake, no less!) where I was watching the big game, with two six-packs of Black Crown? How lucky was I? And after I got over my shame of not being dressed for the occasion (trust me, that's the last time I leave the house without my dress mask), I had a sip. And how did it taste? Kinda like that black Guinness. But how did I feel? Different. Actualized. Like my taste buds and my outward appearance had finally coalesced into the true essence of self I've been intending to project all these years I've stumbled awkwardly through life. Like suddenly I was finally living the life I wanted to live, dancing like no one was watching, loving like I'll never be hurt. And for just that moment, all the bowls were super. But then, like so many Budweiser Black Crown ads, 30 seconds later I was left with only the memory, an echo of a feeling. And now here I am, a man having touched the face of God, sitting on a couch, wearing the wrong mask.
Kia, "Space Babies"
Emily Yoshida: Don't let the sheer number of CGI baby pandas in this ad let you forget how you felt in its opening moments, when the kid asks his parents "Where do babies come from?" approximately 30 seconds after we just saw that guy try to peel that Gildan T-shirt off the girl passed out in his bed. The entire Super Bowl is about where babies come from. Kudos to Kia for being less veiled about it than most.
Amos Barshad: If there's any one aspect of America's self-image that comes almost truly as advertised, it's competence: a sheer, undiluted, unceasing, all-encompassing brawny competence, the kind that produces goggling mass spectacle like the Super Bowl as effortlessly as if it were nodding its head. Well, is supposed to, at least. Last night's blackout was, ultimately, an aberration, so crazy exactly because that kind of thing never, ever happens. But if you are feeling panicky that that hiccup was something along the lines of The Dawning of the Collapse of the American Soft Empire, look no further than Fast 6's Super Bowl trailer for reassurance. At some point, a couple of years back, with every shrugged-out installment making roughly enough money to fund the terraforming of Mars, the producers of the Fast and the Furious franchise realized they were locked into this till bitter death: Every few years, it was now mandated, a new one would have to come, to top the inanity and insanity of the one before. They might not enjoy doing so; note the grim effectiveness of the Fast [insert number] naming system. But, bless their hearts, they do what they are supposed to. Here, in just over a minute, we get the coining of the overly apt phrase "vehicular warfare," a levitating Rock air-punching the very soul out of some poor muscle mass, and, quite possibly the greatest thing my eyes have ever seen, a felled plane ejaculating a car. America forever!
Doritos. "Goat 4 Sale"
Zach Lowe: When you attend a Super Bowl party, you are forfeiting some things — the right to hear all the game commentary without interruption, and the 100 percent guarantee you'll hear/see every commercial without having to make small talk or missing a key shot when someone walks by the TV to grab some snacks. So the best Super Bowl commercials have to:
- be no longer than 30 seconds. Those one-minute ads — the farmer one, and the good-hearted Jeep veterans ad — are just too long to endure against a crowded room sure to include some non-fans.
- have a very simple, funny hook
The Doritos goat ad qualifies on both counts. Here's the hook: Animals are awesome, and exaggerated/crazy animal sounds are funny. The Simpsons really hammered home the latter theme for me during its prime, when the writers got shockingly long mileage out of various creatures — Stampy the pet elephant, the captured Loch Ness monster — making strange noises that doubled as indicators of emotion.
Which is to say: The ad won the night for me the moment that wide-eyed goat let out an addict's distressed screech. The whole room erupted in unison, a response no other ad managed to capture.
CBS "Thank You" Promo
Juliet Litman: Some may remember Super Bowl XXXVIII because of Janet Jackson's epic wardrobe malfunction, but I remember it because CBS used the broadcast to launch Season 8 of Survivor. It was the epic All Stars season — the one where Boston Rob and Amber Brkich met. (They are now married with three daughters, and their wedding was also televised on CBS.) Survivor is not the juggernaut that it once was, but it still routinely pulls in 12 million viewers, and the 26th season will premiere on February 13. Isn't its longevity alone enough to warrant inclusion in CBS's house ads celebrating how great the network is? Apparently not. David Spade is in this commercial. Scott Pelley is in this commercial. But somehow Jeff Probst is not in this commercial. I guess defining an entire genre of television is not sufficient in the eyes of CBS's marketing team.