The Best and Worst of Super Bowl LIV

Posted on February 5th, 2020 by Michelle Benson

Sunday was a big day for advertising. Reports indicate that 99.9 million people tuned in to Super Bowl LIV — a record viewership number that is reversing the downward trend from the last five years. Ad prices were reported $5.6M per spot, up from $5.3M in 2019; and for the first time in 30 years, there were fewer commercial breaks with only four per quarter rather than five.

Monday morning brought a lot of conversation surrounding this topic. Cory Hepola and I talked in-depth about the commercials that made an appearance Sunday night on Minneapolis AM830, WCCO Radio. In addition to our conversation, here are the themes and trends I noticed, along with my picks for winners and losers of the night.

Celebrities: Including celebrities is a tried and true theme for Super Bowl advertisers. In fact, four of the top five commercials used celebrities and approximately half of all the commercials used a celebrity in some way. This year, I think it worked really well for Hyundai Smart Pahk, and people loved the Little Nas X and Sam Elliott mashup for Doritos The Cool Ranch as well as the ironically uncomfortable Jason Momoa bit for Rocket Mortgage Comfortable. It didn’t work as well for Genesis Going Away Party or Coca-Cola Show Up. One of the more under-rated spots on the list was Bud Light Inside Post’s Brain.

Social Issues: Gender continues to be a relevant and timely topic. Microsoft Be The One did it right, highlighting the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl, as did the Secret Let’s Kick Inequality ad. However, Olay Make Space For Women could have been better. Unlike the other commercials, the “funny” portrayal of the women in space seemed to diminish the message that women are smart and capable.

Cause: The other most under-rated spot on the list goes to SodaStream Discovers Water On Mars – in a really clever way, it ties in celebrity (Bill Nye), cause (reducing single-use plastics), and humor (“Oh! I thought it said Mark’s water.”). Others in this category are Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, which focused on organic farming, which was fine, and Audi Let It Go focusing on sustainability, which was somewhat confusing. What an odd mashup of Game of Thrones with Maisie Williams (let’s face it – for now, most people still associate her with that role) and Disney’s 2013 Frozen earworm song, Let it Go.

Heartstrings: Making us feel ALL the feels was Google Loretta. There were several others in this category – NFL Next 100 and the kid’s pause by the flag-adorned Pat Tillman statue, Kia Tough Never Quits focused on youth homelessness, Budweiser Typical American, New York Life Love Takes Action, and Verizon The Amazing Things 5G Won’t Do all fall into this category as well. But Loretta is the one that had all of America tearing up. People generally tend to like this type of ad – each of the commercials listed in this category was in the top one-third of favorite commercials.


Nostalgia: There is no doubt in my mind, the best commercial of the night was Jeep Groundhog Day, and it had a huge helping of nostalgia (and celebrity) with Bill Murray. Then there was Cheetos Can’t Touch This with MC Hammer, Walmart Famous Visitors with a plethora of old movie references, and Mountain Dew As Good As The Original riffing on the classic Stephen King movie, The Shining. Another winner for me in the nostalgia category hands down goes to State Farm Back In The Office – the fresh spin on the classic Jake from State Farm spot was perfect!

Not so great: Unfortunately, there are a few on this list. First, the Squarespace Winona in Winona spot. As a Minnesotan, I probably have some bias here; the community of Winona Minnesota looks nothing like they portrayed it and that felt like such a disservice to the town. I also wasn’t expecting to see political ads – of which we got one each from Michael Bloomberg and President Trump. These New York billionaires appear to be gearing up for a schoolyard brawl, and because most people are looking to be entertained, the political interruption seemed unnecessary. The other commercial that came across somewhat tone-deaf, but people surprisingly seemed to generally like, was #SnickersFixTheWorld. Really? A Snickers is going to fix the world? And finally, the Quibi Bank Heist spot was just a head shaker and left most people clueless to what they were trying to accomplish with this spot.

Huh. Well, that’s new: Clearly trying to set itself apart from the traditional 30- and 60-second commercials, Tide took a unique approach with a total of four sequential spots running once per quarter of the game. They kicked off their #LaundryLater story with 60-second Super Bowl Now, #LaundryLater, followed by 15-second Bud Knight Now, #LaundryLater in the second quarter (with a Bud Light tie-in), 15-second Wonder Woman Now, #LaundryLater in the third quarter (with a DC movie trailer tie-in), and wrapped it up with 15-second Finally Later, #LaundryLater in fourth quarter. Tide’s innovative approach to these spots is appreciated and definitely stood out amongst other commercials. 

Check out the USA Today Ad Meter to see all the ads that ran and where they were ranked. You can also look back at all the ads that ran each year as far back as the 2015 Super Bowl, as well as the top commercial from each year all the way back to 1989.With nearly 20 years of experience, Michelle is an accomplished media planner, buyer, strategist, client advisor and project manager.  Michelle was recognized in 2012 by the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM MN) as one of the Top 25 in Media. She is currently the President of the Advertising Federation of Minnesota (AdFed MN) board of directors, and is the Chair of Alexandra House’s annual Hope Gala fundraiser.