Wow, the Super Bowl ads really sucked.
They’ve probably been bad for a while now, but to be honest I haven’t been paying any attention. This year I managed to check a bunch of them out. And they were . . . terrible.
I’m honestly surprised they were this bad. No intelligence or creativity at all. They just seemed like they were throwing around lots of money, big stars, and brand IP, and then hoping for the best. What was funny about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Selma Hayek playing retired Olympians (Zeus and Hera) who get an electric car? Do you think they might have written them actual jokes? What was funny about Mike Myers reprising his role as Dr. Evil to hawk an SUV (in an ad The Athletic rated the pick of this year’s crop)? What was funny about Ryan Reynolds recycling an old Mint ad upside-down? What was funny about Lindsay Lohan reinventing herself by going to the gym, along with a bunch of weird celeb cameos (Dennis Rodman, Danny Trejo, William Shatner)? There was nothing clever, noteworthy, or memorable about any of this. It was all trash.
Is ad culture now as exhausted for new ideas as Hollywood has long been? Because that’s what these ads felt like. Blockbuster commercials with A-list talent and no brains. Were these the ads we were supposed to be talking about the next day around the water cooler? Or is that itself an antiquated notion now?
Or perhaps I’m just being a curmudgeon. Writing in Slate, Justin Peters declared this year’s Super Bowl ads to be “by and large, pretty good.” So I watched all of the ads he ranked as the best. I was even more disappointed. The Chevy Silverado ad just mined The Sopranos for . . . what? That’s the ad? Meadow and AJ hugging after she drives through the opening credit sequence? It was only a minute long and I honestly had to skim through it to make it to the end. And I loved The Sopranos!
Next Peter had an ad for something called ClickUp, with the joke being that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were using a tablet and cloud computing. No laughs, not even a smile, and the whole idea is played out by now.
Then there was an Expedia ad which was sort of meta, poking fun at previous Super Bowl ads and ad culture in general. Another yawn.
A Lay’s Potato Chips ad which had Sexiest-Man-in-the-World Paul Rudd teamed up with Seth Rogen, as they reminisced over movies they’d been in together while sharing some Lay’s. Peters found this “very funny.” Huh?
Nissan “Thrill Driver.” Eugene Levy is funny in just about anything, but this is more of the blockbuster syndrome I was talking about. Big effects, big star cameos, and nothing else.
I sort of gave up at this point. Among the rest, Jim Carrey was back as the Cable Guy. I actually thought this was a little better than Mike Myers returning as Dr. Evil, though not much. Apparently there were a lot of not-good commercials trying to sell us on crypto. One of these just had a QR code bouncing around the screen. Larry David shilled for another, but his ad was way too long, dragging out a single joke to the point where it lost its edge before the hook at the end. LeBron James also pitched crypto, with the same FOMO message. As Matt Schimkowitz writing for Yahoo put it, “The [crypto] ads, disturbing and boring in their own ways, were met with derision online for basically the same reason: They suck because the thing they’re advertising sucks.” Yep.
Anyway, the only ad I sort of enjoyed was the Uber Eats one, which was weirdly riffing on “can you believe how stupid the people are who order Uber Eats?” You could say it fell into the category of so-dumb-it-was-kind-of-good, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s cameo was definitely off-putting. In a field of disposable formula and conspicuous waste, it’s the only moment that stood out.