Taylor Swift isn’t the only reason non-football fans tuned in to Super Bowl LVIII.
Millions endured the big game for the chance to watch the commercials. Sounds counter-intuitive in an age when most people pay big money to bypass ads altogether?
These ads are different. Big stars. Bigger budgets. Splashy effects. Nostalgia on steroids. Yet what we saw on Sunday reflects Hollywood in stark ways.
These over-produced ads threw everything possible at the audience and so little of it stuck.
This isn’t a new problem. We’ve seen it over the past decade or so. The bigger the ad buys, the larger the canvases in play.
You can’t go with clever or droll. It has to be big, bold and revolutionary. Companies spend millions to secure a 30-second ad spot, and doing so with a small-scale idea doesn’t make sense on paper.
So they go all in.
That leaves audiences unsure of what the products in question often are. That matters less when it’s a brand-affirming spot for a giant like Coke or Budweiser. Everybody knows the products in play. It’s about creating the biggest buzz.
Other commercials fail to leave an impression. And most, sadly, are just visual noise.
It’s not for lack of stars.
Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jennifer Aniston, Post Malone, Usher, Beyonce and many more populated the ads on Sunday night. Sports heroes made their presence known, too, with Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and other greats circling back for nostalgia’s sake.
And most of the commercials came and went without leaving a mark.
Christopher Walken leaned into his curious line readings in a killer spot for BMW.
Arnold Schwarzenegger spoofed his thick Austrian accent for State Farm, proving to be a good sport in the process. The commercial didn’t fly off in a hundred different directions.
It’s fine to produce a one-joke TV spot. You’ve only got 30 seconds. It’s impossible to push the gag too far. Recruiting Danny DeVito to appear at the State Farm ad for an unspoken “Twins” homage proved the perfect touch.
It also reminds us that the former Mr. Olympia remains a funny actor given the right material.
Google Pixel avoided big, splashy effects and celebrities in a winning clip promoting its phone technology. A sight-impaired man is able to capture his life in crystal-clear detail in the commercial, a point hammered home by a string of heartfelt snaps and selfies.
Simple is so often better.
Meanwhile, actor Michael Cera’s comic spot for CeraVe skincare products felt like a clever idea that needed several more rewrites to find the funny.
Reese’s also nailed the moment by introducing a new caramel-topped peanut butter cup. No stars. No massive effects. Just rich humor in the service of the brand’s loyal following.
It-actress Jenna Ortega barely factors in her Doritos spot. The clip, promoting the company’s Dinamita line, features two older Hispanic women who will stop at nothing to snag the chip.
It’s loud and boorish, and the laughs aren’t enough to paper over the flop sweat. And why pay Ortega a pretty penny when the commercial’s focus is on everyone but her?
Hollywood too often has a similar problem.
The industry opens up its wallet and/or purse to finance some of the biggest movies possible. Huge effects. Star-laden plots. Sequels that double, or triple, down on what preceded it.
The results are so often underwhelming. Remember “The Flash?” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny?” “The Marvels?” “Haunted Mansion?”
Along comes an import like “Godzilla Minus One” and puts them all the shame … for under $15 million.
At least Super Bowl VXIII lived up to the hype.