Super Bowl Ad Recap

Sentimentality and cheeky humor prevail in the spots for big c-store brands

GLENDALE, Ariz.-- While this year’s Super Bowl ad game had a heavy dose of maudlin (see Nationwide’s widely discussed mellow-harsher) the big convenience-store brands that paid their way into the big game largely followed one of two themes: goofy humor or heart-tugging sentimentality.

Snickers brought back its “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign, which was born during the 2010 Super Bowl. The 2010 spot featured a football player whose hunger transformed him into Betty White. This year, it rebooted the famous scene from “Brady Bunch” when Marcia breaks her nose—but instead of Marcia it’s burly actor Danny Trejo, with Steve Buscemi as a distraught Jan. As Slate noted, the entire campaign is smartly positioned around the practical sustenance that the candy bar provides, rather than the pure indulgence. Let’s hear it for the protein craze!

Skittles delivered the quirky irreverence the brand has become known for in its first-ever Super Bowl ad, in which two men start a dispute over who gets the last yellow Skittle. They decide to “settle it the usual way”—which in this town means an arm-wrestling match. As the town gathers to watch the battle, you see everyone’s developed massive, bulging right-arm biceps, even the babies and dogs.

Doritos rolled out its annual “Crash the Super Bowl,” a contest for consumer-created ads that resulted in two winners aired for a global Super Bowl audience. The winning ads were selected from 4,900 submissions from 29 countries. The runner-up showed a sweet farm kid strapping a rocket to the back of a pig so his (presumably) big brother would hand over the bag of Doritos he promised to share “when pigs fly.” The winner saw a man doing everything in his power to detract people from taking the middle seat next to him on a plane—from incessant recorder playing to flossing—until a cute woman boards the plane. To woo her he pulls out a bag of Doritos, and she’s hooked. He’s pumped, until he sees she has a baby strapped to her. “When you’re mom wakes up, can you tell her about me?” he asks the baby as they share the bag of chips.

Now, on to the sentimental ads. Viewers saw the return of last year’s Budweiser puppy, who this year gets lost and finds its way back to its loving owner and protective Clydesdales set to a slowed-down version of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” The ad won USA Today’s annual Ad Meter consumer panel of 6,703 voters; the fluffy puppy helped Budweiser win last year’s contest as well.

Anheuser-Busch InBev took a much more targeted, aggressive approach with another ad. Over a strong beat and images Budweiser being brewed and people enjoying it are the words “Proudly a macro beer. It's not brewed to be fussed over. It's brewed for a crisp, smooth finish. … It's brewed for drinking. Not dissecting. The people who drink our beer are people who like drinking beer.” It’s addressing the growth of craft beers in a way that doesn’t quite invite craft-beer drinkers in open-armed, but rather tells them: When you tire of your pumpkin ales and tasting flights, we’ll be right here waiting for you.

The company turned back to fun-loving with its Bud Light spot, which saw the return of the “Up for Whatever” campaign. This time, a real Bud-Light-drinking bar patron was surprised with a life-sized game of Pac Man—which he played amongst scores of cheering strangers. It delivered on charismatic fun along with a bit of nostalgia.

The Coca-Cola Co. likewise went the emotional route with its critique of the harshness of our Internet society. It shows people being cruel to one another from behind the safety of their computer and phone screens, until someone accidentally tips a Coke bottle onto a server farm. The spilled Coke trickles through the web, turning the snark and bullying of the Internet to compliments and warm-and-fuzzies.

McDonald’s used its air time to announce its “Pay with Lovin’” promotion: Through Feb. 14, randomly picked customers will be able to pay through random acts of “lovin.’” The spot shows guests calling their mom to say I love you, doing a dance, giving a group hug.

It added to the heart-tugging sentimentality felt in a striking number of ads this Super Bowl season, reflecting what our biggest brands think today’s consumers want, which is to smile—and laugh at Danny Trejo as Marcia Brady.