What Do Super Bowl Ads Say About America?

What will Super Bowl ads say about us when cultural anthropologists in the future view them? They will discover we love beer, cars and our digital assistants and don’t like the smell of poop.

What will Super Bowl ads say about us when cultural anthropologists in the future view them? They will discover we love beer, cars and our digital assistants and don’t like the smell of poop.

If future cultural anthropologists only have Super Bowl ads to analyze, they may draw some interesting conclusions about American lifestyles in the 21st Century. They might conclude we’re schmaltzy nut cases addicted to beer, cars and movies who fret over the smell of poop and when our digital assistant goes mum.

The NFL’s Super Bowl, despite concerns over concussions and players kneeling during the National Anthem, has achieved (or assumed) the status of a national gathering, celebrated with chips and salsa and spicy hot wings. Many people curl up on their couch to ensure the game so they can watch the commercials, which have achieved their own legendary status, at an average cost of $5 million per 30 seconds for advertisers.

While sports announcers breathlessly described each play, others were quietly rating the commercials. One team wins the football game. Five advertisers win the Super Bowl of ads.

Fans question officiating that can turn the fortunes of the game in one team’s favor. Judging Super Bowl commercials has some of the same subjectivity. Here is how CBS sports writer Pete Blackburn judged the winners and losers of Sunday’s big ad game:

Amazon may have scored the most game-day views on YouTube AdBlitz with its “Did Alexa Lose Her Voice” spot. CEO Jeff Bezos is confronted with the news Alexa, the uber-digital assistant, has lost her voice and his aides are ready to plug in replacements that range from Cardi B to Anthony Hopkins. It’s pretty funny, but also like a bad dream because Alexa returns by the end of the commercial.

Heartstrings were plucked by ads from Budweiser and Toyota. The “Stand By You” Bud ad starts with a company executive awakened from sleep to head to the brewery where he turns beer production lines into water dispensers to send to areas impacted by hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Budweiser says its Cartersville, Georgia brewery produced 2 million cans of water last year from people in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California.

Toyota’s “Good Odds” ad celebrated the perseverance of Canadian alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft, an eight-time Paralympic gold medalist, who was born without legs below her knees and only a partial left arm. No Toyota vehicles appeared in the ad, which instead leveraged the car company’s sponsorship of the upcoming Winter Olympics. “Stand By You” received the tenth most views during the game. “Good Odds” wasn’t in the top 10.

The other “winners” declared by Blackburn were Tide’s “It’s a Tide Ad” featuring David Harbour and the NFL’s “Touchdowns to Come” that starred Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. Neither of those ads made the top 10 viewership list.

Blackburn ranked movie trailer ads separately, and they were four of the most viewed. They included HBO’s “Westworld Season 2,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War” and Prime Video’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”

Topping the loser list was the Ram Truck ad “Built to Serve” that used a voiceover from a Martin Luther King speech about the value of service. Even though the MLK Estate approved the use, critics said the ad was in poor taste and, ironically, exhibited the kind of “deceptive tactics by advertisers” that King warned of in the same speech.

The Bud Knight” was judged a jousting dud, with too little of Bud Light’s new “Dilly Dilly” slogan and an underwhelming amount of humor that has become the hallmark of its previous ads. Based on the comic reputation of earlier ads, “The Bud Knight” was the fourth most watched ad of the night.

Hyundai’s “Hope Detector” centered on bringing together car buyers and cancer survivors in what Blackburn panned as faux sentimentality. While Hyundai didn’t picture any of its vehicles, Blackburn said the well-intentioned ad turned people into props.

Febreze’s “The Only Man Whose Bleep Don’t Stink” ad, according to Blackburn, actually did stink. It could be Blackburn just disapproves of bathroom humor.

He also panned another car ad, Kia’s “Feel Something Again,” which shows Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler driving and aging in reverse, so when he exits the car he is greeted by an adoring groupie. Blackburn said the ad was creepy and promoted a lot of online questions on Google about how old Tyler actually is.

Other “insights” shared by Blackburn:

  • YouTube viewership of Super Bowl ads increased 16 percent over last year, but “viewership in the living room” popped up by 52 percent.
  • Justin Timberlake’s half-time music on YouTube peaked at more than 500,000 views per hour during the game. Timberlake also was the subject of many online questions, including about his age and marital status.