The Super Bowl isn’t just the single biggest event in the NFL calendar, it’s also the annual showpiece moment for the American advertising industry, which ploughs huge sums of cash ($4.5 million for a 30-second commercial, to be exact, as per last year’s rates) into coercing you to buy stuff at a time when you’re probably in the toilet or grabbing a snack or something.
Much like the championship game, Super Bowl ads are a reflection of America itself: they’re packed with star names, seep with unsubtle humor, and borrow from the all-so-familiar, over-the-top aesthetic of Hollywood blockbusters. It’s the U.S. version of an opera, a swirling symphony of consumerism and a flexing of financial muscle that no other country can compete with in terms of scale and brawn. Grand and ostentatious, it’s the biggest stage in the world, which is ultimately what makes it worth watching.
A lot of commercials get packed into those quarterly breaks, so we’ve taken the time to compile some of the best that will grace U.S. TV screens this coming Sunday. Check them out below and stay tuned for more as they become available.
UPDATE: Check out a handful more of our favorite TV spots that premiered last night during #SuperBowl50
Toyota - The Longest Chase"
When would-be bank robbers are left in the clutch without a getaway ride, they have no choice but to burn rubber in a Toyota Prius, which turns out to be better suited to the job than anyone could have expected.
Wix - "Kung Fu Panda Disvoers the Power of Wix"
Jack Black stars as the voice of titular character Po the panda in this advertisement for web design platform Wix. Po takes a humorous dig at Old Spice's successful commercial campaign before unlocking "the power of Wix."
Audi R8 - "Commander"
German auto marque Audi pays homage to the golden years of America's space program in this extended cut from Super Bowl 50. While you can place your bets that there is more under the hood of a NASA space shuttle than the new Audi R8 V10 plus, the ad is still effectively touching and nostalgic.
Skittles - "The Portrait" (feat. Steven Tyler)
In this brief spot for Skittles, you can listen to a rendition of Aerosmith's 1973-hit "Dream On", performed by a living candy portrait. However it's unlikely you will catch this confectionary likeness on tour any time soon...
Hyundai – “#BaldwinBowl Party" (feat Alec Baldwin)
Alec Baldwin stars along former-Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, actor Jason Schwartzman, and American songwriter Missy Elliot in this advertisement for Amazon's Echo device. Baldwin touts all the cool features included in the Echo, while Elliot premieres a new song aptly titled "Pep Rally." Enjoy it above.
Hyundai – “First Date” (feat. Kevin Hart)
A word to the wise - if you ever find yourself taking Kevin Hart's daughter on a date, take the bus. In this spot for the Korean automaker, Hart uses Hyundai's "Car Finder" function for comedic effect, third-wheeling along on the special night.
T-Mobile – “Restricted Bling” (feat. Drake)
Working at an ad agency is actually the easiest job in the world if your budget is big enough to cast a celebrity. This T-Mobile ad is basically a reimagining of what Drake’s “Hotline Bling” would sound like if his ghostwriters were telecommunications executives.
NFL – “Super Bowl Babies Choir” (feat. Seal)
This one should be taught as a case study at ad school. To create an iconic ad you start with a strategic insight (residents of Super Bowl-winning cities celebrate with post-match unprotected sex), add in a sprinkling of humor (in this case, the progeny of that celebratory bunk up singing about their parents doing the nasty) and then top it off with a pop cultural hook that’s already ingrained in the mind of the viewer for familiarity (Seal’s velvety-smooth “Kiss From A Rose”).
A great ad, although watching kids sing about their parents doing it is a bit creepy.
Bud Light – “The Bud Light Party” (feat. Seth Rogen & Amy Schumer)
In an election year where the U.S. seems more divided than ever, Seth Rogen (a Canadian, lest we forget) and Amy Schumer get together to establish a party founded on two things that most of the country can agree on: Bud Light and lowest-common-denominator humor. We’ll need plenty of the former should Donald Trump somehow win the presidency.
Snickers – “Marilyn” (feat. Willem Defoe)
The first time we saw Willem Dafoe in a dress was 17 years ago, when he played a cross-dressing FBI agent in The Boondock Saints. Now, he does his best Marilyn Monroe impression and stands over a subway grate in a flowing skirt for Snickers money.
Avocados from Mexico – “#AvosInSpace”
At some point in the distant future, in a galaxy far away, aliens will have a museum filled with Earthly artifacts that serve to poke fun at the human race. One of those artifacts will be Mexican avocados, which are always fresh, even after lightyears have passed.
The soccer-mom humor is inoffensive but endearing, and will no doubt make it a fan favorite. It also has one of the greatest jingles ever.
Heinz Ketchup – “Wiener Stampede”
Super Bowl ads tend to go with Family Guy-esque random absurdity, which you can see vividly illustrated here by Heinz. The world’s leading ketchup brand dressed wiener dogs up in wiener suits then sent them sprinting across wide open plains to the sound of sentimental music in slow motion.
Pokemon – “#Pokemon20”
Super Bowl ads tend to fall into three camps: celebrity-driven, absurd or EPIC. And it has to be a caps-lock EPIC because a regular epic just won’t do. A lowercase epic won’t make your palms sweat or your pupils dilate. But this Pokemon ad, with its simmering suspense and crescendo-building tribal drum beat, will, because it’s truly EPIC.
Doritos – “Ultrasound”
The suits at Doritos have opted for the sort of unsubtly vulgar humor typically seen in movies like The Hangover, giving the impression that bros are the brand’s target consumer. In this commercial, an unborn child crawls out of its mother’s womb so it can chase down a stray Dorito.
Hyundai – “Ryanville” (feat. Ryan Reynolds)
Ryanville is some magical, nondescript suburbia somewhere funded by Hyundai where all men are Ryan Reynolds. There’s probably some product or a brand message to be found somewhere in this commercial, but it inevitably gets drowned out by Reynolds’ irrepressibly handsome face and beautiful eyes. We’re totally sold on Ryanville, though, and would move there in an instant.
Turbo Tax – “Michio Kaku Absolute Zero”
Michio Kaku, with his soothingly smooth baritone, is pretty much America’s answer to David Attenborough. The professor of theoretical physics muses on the concept of zero, of absolute nothingness, to promote Turbo Tax – a service that helps you file your tax returns for free, or nothing, rather. The smartest ad you’ll see this year.
Quicken Loans – “#RocketMortgage: What we were thinking”
Quicken Loans illustrate how little the U.S. financial sector learned from the 2008 market crash. With its quick and easy Rocket Mortgages, the retail loan provider seems to think that sparking a housing bubble is the best way to stimulate financial growth, and that buying household products is “the power of America itself.”
A myopic, unbridled salute to capitalism, all that’s missing is a closing sequence where Ted Nugent plays “The Star Spangled Banner” on a flame-throwing guitar.