Huh. Where’d all the cryptocurrency go?
That’s my takeaway from the 2023 Super Bowl commercials, which were different from last year and had a tough opponent they couldn’t do much about. The game itself was just too interesting. A boring Super Bowl automatically hands off viewer interest to the commercials, but with a really good game at stake, the ads have to do more than throw some celebrities and titans of nostalgia (”Grease”; “Caddyshack”) against the walls of our minds to see what sticks.
Here are some highs and lows along the advertising quality spectrum, with this proviso: I’m writing from the perspective of someone who will be the last person in America to “scan now” during a commercial. So. The whole interactivity thing, it’s for other people, not this people. Also, I didn’t bet on the outcome of the Molson Coors smackdown between Coors and Miller Lite, though the culminating Super Bowl ad was, well, we’ll get to that. But first …
Hit: Ram’s all-electric 1500 REV truck, aka “Premature Electrification.” Among the various EV commercials rolling through the NFL’s big night, this was the wittiest — an artfully sustained double entendre, treating fear of electric vehicle charge duration as a common affliction but treatable, if you can wait for the promised Ram’s arrival in late 2024.
Hit: Bud Light on hold, with Miles Teller and Keleigh Sperry. Amid the usual slew of frantic, overpacked spots straining for gags, this one relaxed into its premise. The married couple at home, on hold for an estimated hour or so during a service call; Miles brings the beers and gets the dance party started, scored by hold music. A nice break from all the dubious pop throwbacks, such as …
Miss: Some PopCorners to go with your meth? Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul jump from “Breaking Bad” to “Breaking Open a Snack” in this almost-funny-but-not-quite approach to cultural recycling. I have no beef with the source material, or the actors, but you never know which spoof is going to come off a little … off. On the other hand …
Hit: Steve Martin and Ben Stiller sell me Pepsi Zero. And I’m buying! Ad money can buy a company just about anybody, from Snoop Dogg (Skechers) to Ben Affleck (Dunkin’) to Serena Williams (twice). It cannot buy comic timing. Martin and Stiller? They have that covered, 9 times out of 10, and in separate, equally droll art-of-acting fakeouts, the results were sharply edited and performer-driven enough to get real laughs. Stiller as Zoolander, dousing himself with diet soda in slow motion: That’s reason enough for the Pepsi Zero campaign to exist.
Miss: Top talent in that Michelob Ultra “Caddyshack” homage, to be sure, with Serena Williams disrupting the stuffy establishment (Brian Cox in the Ted Knight role) on the golf course. Results, with Tony Romo’s Bill Murray shtick? Just OK. Still, it was more fun than the “Any Given Sunday” commercial peddling Remy Martin cognac, with Serena Williams exhorting her players at halftime, using Al Pacino’s dialogue, that life is a game of inches, and you gotta claw and fight for everything, and the tone and emphasis of this spot did many things, none of them well suited to selling liquor. But later we got …
Hit: Crown Royal and an ode to Canada. This whiskey commercial, snappy and deft, made me proud to be a Canadian. And I’m not even Canadian. Does Wisconsin count?
Hit: A high-stakes beer ad triumphs, and I would’ve bet against it and lost. This Molson Coors campaign shouldn’t work at all; call me a skeptic regarding the DraftKings sports-betting platform offering half a million total winnings to those who, per Forbes, “correctly predicted details of the ‘high stakes beer ad.’” Who will triumph in the bar fight between Coors and Miller Lite, squaring off “John Wick” style? Wait, it’s Blue Moon! All they’re all Molson Coors brands. And somehow the big reveal got the laugh it needed, and the commercial served as a micro-action-comedy unto itself.
Miss: Downy McBride. Not my kind of “funny” celeb. The ad copy? Not persuasive in the fabric-softening-selling part.
Hit: Jennifer Coolidge, applying e.l.f. Cosmetics. Coolidge and her “White Lotus” writer-director Mike White reteamed for this darling showcase of a product I probably won’t be buying, but my god this woman is funny as hell. It’s worth seeking out the longer version; that’s true of all the Super Bowl ads that went for the joke and actually found it, including the Pepsi Zero cycle.
Hit: “The Farmer’s Dog Super Bowl Commercial Will Make You CRY!” That was the headline in Parade’s recap, and Parade was right. This was a fiendishly affecting dog’s-point-of-view assessment of his human companions through the years, filmed and edited in a style braking right at the edge of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” frenzy. A quietly dazzling spot. We don’t have a dog anymore and I still ordered the dog food.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.