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Football? For some of us, the big event on Sunday will be watching whatever advertisers think will motivate us to buy their products or believe in their brand. Advertising succeeds only when it hits a nerve, lining up the target audience’s values with just the right creative and narrative punch. The cultural climate surrounding the game also shapes how viewers react.

Brands are all producing their best stuff in order to keep us focused on the screen and not the meatballs. What are the elements that make that happen? Monday morning (and real-time tweeting) will bring a full load of commentary, but already brands have begun the ritual leaking and posting of their ads. To get a head start on the big game (call this a pre-pre-pre-game), here’s what to watch for:

You Do You

America is nearly a minority majority. Thousands are rising up to fight for justice, equality, representation, and inclusion. How do advertisers acknowledge our national ethos of e pluribus unum?

Axe reworks their brand, effectively playing against expectations with this fantastic piece asking men to rethink masculinity. They celebrate hipsters, drag queens, nerds, streakers and tough guys with “Who needs some other thing when you’ve got your thing?”

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Mini Clubman’s entry is #DefyLabels pointing out just how wrong labels and stereotypes can be. “Defy labels and define yourself.” Serena Williams opens the commercial, and Harvey Keitel closes it up with “This car doesn’t care what you call it.”

Pokemon is celebrating 20 years by embracing everyone with a powerful “I can do this” aspirational mantra for setting your sights and winning. Heart-pumping. It’s Pikachu meets Kobe as Pokemon makes like Nike. #Pokemon20

Babes (Puh-lease)

Victoria’s Secret. I know, I know. Supermodels are part of their brand, but none of us look like them except, well, them. And this campaign is a groaner. Why couldn’t Victoria’s Secret use real athletes and support the strong and the beautiful the way New York Magazine did with Serena and Gatorade did with girls who are proud to throw like girls?   Go ahead; call me a prude or a killjoy! (But, did anyone really think those suited up figures playing catch were real athletes?)

Do Good

The Super Bowl is supposed to be fun right? No one wants a tear-jerking downer of a PSA in the middle of their cheese dip. But Corporate Social Responsibility still drives business, employment, and loyalty. Advertisers walk a fine line as they strive to be authentic and effective. Here are a few that pulled it off:

Water scarcity is a global crisis that’s hitting home (see California’s mega drought). What can each of us do? Colgate’s excellent piece shows the very real uses for all that water wasted as you run it while you brush your teeth. Turn the water off.


Helen Mirren delivers Budweiser’s PSA about drunk driving, saying that if you choose to drive drunk you are a “short-sighted utterly useless oxygen-wasting human form of pollution, a Darwin award-deserving selfish coward”— as only she can do. Included: A $1 donation for safe ride programs for every use of #GiveADamn

The Dad-Do. Pantene has three NFL players give their daughters a Dad-Do. Pantene’s research shows that “Girls who spend quality time with their dads grow up to be stronger women.” Deangelo Williams tells his daughter “THAT strong is beautiful.” Adorable strong Dads and adorable strong daughters.



Humor is the stock-in-trade of Super Bowl commercials. This is where the heavyweights strut their stuff year in and year out. Game day will likely have more entries in the comedy category, and I hope there are lots more. We all could use a really, really good laugh.

Shock Top Belgian White and TJ Miller trade trash talk over a beer. Great comebacks. Pure fun. (But what was the beer again?)

Squarespace teams up with the brilliant comedy duo Key and Peele to create Real Talk, their live commentary during the game.

Bud Light Party with Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen. In this seemingly endless political campaign cycle (someone, please win — quick!) two comedic superstars have created this spot as a 2-part parody; the Bud Light Party prep and campaign event. The real-people, eeww factor is very effective.

Doritos Ultrasound and Doritos Dogs. A Super Bowl mainstay, Doritos always comes through with great material. This year is no different. Both of these commercials hit just the right note. Neither dogs nor a fetus can be denied Doritos.


There are always cute puppies or gorgeous babies, but we haven’t seen much of them in the roundup of ads that have been released ahead of the big game. Darn. These spots typically are the feel good, soul-soothing, sweetness breaks in all the bone-crunching action. We need that. Here’s a single weiner dog stalwart to tide you over:

The Heinz Weiner Stampede makes its way toward the best-tasting ketchups to the soundtrack of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.”

Super Solutions

Isn’t life hard enough? A few advertisers make their case by trying to make your life easier:

SunTrust gets it. They know that financial stress can wreck your life and they use the simple idea of holding your breath to make their point. Their OnUp piece is a beautiful, visceral depiction of what financial stress feels like and how they can help you breath easier.

In an era of swiping left (or right), helps you find out if you’re “great.” Great enough for a loan that is. But — in yet another example of our bankless world — they’re not actually a bank.

There’s new money in town, and it’s PayPal. New money is always open. PayPal manages to make the dry business of dollars and cents energetic, cinematic and…fun.



We love our heroes and our icons. Old-time icons offer safe and familiar harbor no matter how uncertain the times.

Steven Tyler reminds us that he still has a few minds left to twist and values to warp. But first he’s going to view his talking Skittles portrait and we’ll be asked to Dream On

Snickers builds on the success of last year’s Steve Buscemi spot. This year, Willam Defoe gives us a new look at Marilyn Monroe.

In reminders from beyond from Audi R8 we hear David Bowie’s Starman as the backdrop for their new rocket ride. And Alan Rickman is the voiceover for the movie Alice Through the Looking Glass. What a voice!

In his wonderfully twisted style (and with his hand up a sock) Christopher Walken (in the Walken Closet) demonstrates the “dangers of a beige sock lifestyle.” Of course, it so happens that the new Kia Optima is the antidote. The spot closes with Walken in the passenger side, nudging the driver to “punch it”. Am I the only one reminded of the scene from Annie Hall?

In a nutshell some good humor, plenty of #hashtags but no drones. At least not yet. For that, we thank you, advertisers.