Super Bowl LIII: 5-Star Microsoft Is The Game Night Winner

“We All Win” was the big-hearted tagline of Microsoft’s big-hearted Super Bowl ad. But some of us win more than others – the tech giant ended the night on top of our Super Bowl LIII game night rankings.

Microsoft’s ad starred limited mobility gamers – kids who’d been born with disabilities or lost limbs. Gaming gives these kids the freedom to hang with their friends, play and compete. But to do that they need help to work the tech they love. Enter Microsoft’s Xbox, and its Adaptive Controller, a piece of kit which looks a bit like an 80s drum machine but performs miracles for these gamers.

The ad was straightforward but deeply emotional: a really good example of how to combine product claims, real innovation, and a big shot of inspirational joy. We’re always happy at System1 when a commercial gets 5-Stars, but there were cheers and high fives in the “war room” when this one took the top spot. As a parent of an Xbox-loving kid, it brought a tear even to my battle-hardened eye. Thanks, Microsoft, and congratulations on a well-deserved win.

Microsoft wasn’t the only strong showing by a tech brand. Amazon’s Alexa came tantalisingly close to a 5-Star score, ending up as our strongest 4-Star ad with a commercial that jumped from Harrison Ford’s hungry hound to shenanigans in space without missing a beat. And Google showed off its translation capabilities in another 4-Star ad.

Built online these brands may have been, but they also appreciate the power of a Super Bowl commercial to deliver mass reach and humanise sometimes distant or even suspect companies. It’s ironic that these very human tech ads did well at a Super Bowl where so many brands featured robots or other AI or voice-activated tools.

What about the other 5-Star ads on the night? Norwegian Cruise Lines celebrated vacation freedom with a commercial that hit 5-Stars mostly by dint of showing people having a really good time. Manufacturing company WeatherTech made a 5-Star Super Bowl debut with a twist on the old “show the founder in the ad” trick – they showed the founder’s dog, an adorable Golden Retriever called Scout. Scout was this year’s MVP (Most Valuable Pet), elevating an otherwise straightforward product ad with his canine charisma.

And the NFL can breathe a sigh of relief themselves. With their brand rocked by political controversy all year, some commentators suggested the Super Bowl would be a showcase of “activist advertising”. Unlike Scout, that dog didn’t bark. And a second 5-Star ad in a row for the NFL shows the brand hasn’t been dented by the attention, either.

You might think it’s easy for the NFL to score well on its biggest night – but you also can’t accuse it of not making an effort, with a fabulously indulgent 2-minute ad starring over 40 football veterans. Like the game itself, the ad battle wasn’t decided until late in the 4th Quarter, when the NFL ad was toppled from the top spot by Microsoft. This game night, it was the gamers that won.

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