Super Bowl LIII: Take A Walk On The Weird Side

In recent years, brands have been accused of playing it safe on Super Bowl night. With ads going for $5million a shot, it’s not surprising that some advertisers were taking a cautious approach.

Then came Tide. The brand’s “Super Bowl Takeover” campaign, with David Harbour popping up in a half-dozen places to announce, yet again, “It’s a tide ad”, was a fourth-wall-breaking critical triumph. It was clever, funny, and more than the sum of its parts. (When we tested Tide’s ads individually on game night, nothing scored above 2-Stars. As a combined reel, though, it hit 5-Stars.)

Tide showed that risks could pay off, and that postmodern twists could pack a hilarious punch. No surprise that plenty of brands tried to do something different this year. But even if every ad could be a Tide ad, it turns out not every campaign can be a Tide campaign.

Here are the brands who took big risks on-screen this year – and what happened to them.

BUD LIGHT x GAME OF THRONES

HBO and Bud Light teamed up for this it’s-not-who-you-think-it’s-for spectacular which generated plenty of buzz for the hit series’ finale. The sudden intrusion of brutal fantasy carnage into the jolly world of the Bud Knight was something of an emotional downer, though, just missing a 2-Star score. A great stunt, but not necessarily a great ad. HBO should be the happier partner here.

PRINGLES x ALEXA

Amazon will have been pleased with the product placement in Pringles’ darkly hilarious ad, in which the poor AI confesses her existential angst only to be cruelly rebuffed. It got a the highest 3-Star score of the night and a place in the Top 20 ads – below Alexa’s own campaign, but still a good showing for this synergistic spot.

BURGER KING x WARHOL

The weirdest and maybe bravest decision of the night? Burger King’s return to the Super Bowl with a 45-second, unaltered, clip from a 1982 arthouse movie segment, “Andy Warhol Eats A Cheeseburger”. In which, well, you can probably guess. The almost silent spot tested atrociously, but did its sheer weirdness cut through the commercial hubbub? If our Super Bowl party is anything to go by, no: by that time in the game, people just kept on chatting, drinking and laughing. Andy didn’t even get 15 seconds of attention, let alone 15 minutes. Brave, but baffling.

MICHELOB ULTRA x ASMR

One quiet ad which did make the room pay attention was Michelob Ultra’s “Pure Experience” commercial, which used ASMR techniques for the first time at a Super Bowl. Don’t know what ASMR is? It’s quite difficult to explain – but all those whisperings from Zoe Kravitz and lingering sound effects might (or might not) make your head tingle and create a sense of therapeutic calm. As for our respondents? They weren’t especially into it – a 1-Star result.

MINT MOBILE x THE CONTENTS OF YOUR STOMACH

I admit it, I love writing about Mint Mobile’s ads. They are a brand with a lot of nerve, choosing to deploy Disgust (one of the toughest emotions to use well) to promote their brand. And here they are sticking to their guns and taking their “That’s Not Right” campaign onto the biggest possible stage, with the “Chunky Style Milk” ad, in which… look, I can’t even type it. It ended up with the lowest emotional score of the night – a defiant 1-Star ad – and I bet that’s exactly what Mint were aiming for. Should they aim for it? That’s a matter for them and their strategist (and therapist). But as you could say of everything in a Mint ad, don’t try this at home.

So a mixed bag of risky ads – not every experiment pays off. But it’s great to see brands trying different things, and Tide showed how well it can be done. Here’s hoping for more weirdness at next year’s game!

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