The Winners & Losers of Ad Bowl LI

A big thank you to my co-author, PadillaCRT Chief Creative Officer Heath Rudduck (@HeathRudduck)!


20141118_PadillaCRT_Richmond_Parrotte_0010Nikki: Each year, we marketers anxiously await the Ad Bowl (and the chance to write about it: 2016, 2015). It’s an invaluable opportunity to callously throw around judgment be entertained and educated. The ads that score excite and inspire us, while the ads that flop… well, same. And these days there’s so much more to witness than the good, bad and ugly commercials on TV thanks to brands’ bold adoption of the second screen. Like the good marketer I am, I was extending my ad-viewing experience not on my smartphone, but my laptop, frantically taking notes with one hand, clasping a glass of wine in the other. My colleague Heath was tuning in, too:

20141112_PadillaCRT_MNPLS_Rudduck_0040Heath: What a game. Despite the fact I was hoping for a different result, I couldn’t in any way discount the incredible effort a comeback of that magnitude took. What a brilliant game. Strangely enough, the advertising left me feeling a little the same way. I had high hopes for the showing of some brands. Was I going to be entertained or enticed? Who will grab my attention and have me “wishing I’d made that spot”?

Nikki: I hear you, Heath. For me, much like the Super Bowl, the Ad Bowl started slow, with all the real action happening in the second half. It was right before and after Lady Gaga’s performance that my fingers started flying with nonsensical notes about the variety of strange and satisfying ads before my eyes. Here’s a sample: “Tide – Tambor was a nice touch. 84 Lumber – Prize for First Immigration Commercial of the Night. Audi – Prize for First Feminist Commercial of the Night. Sexy Mr. Clean. Bill Nye is still alive? STRANGER THINGS 2.” And then Melissa McCarthy graced us with her hilarious presence for the second time this weekend. It. Was. Gold.

But just when I thought the Ad Bowl was turning around, the game heated up and the ads cooled down. I have to say, I was expecting more. I thought I’d see some more brands making statements, sending messages of unity and equality. Now, I intentionally stayed away from the ad previews, so it’s my own fault for being disappointed in this, as well as the fact that not a single Clydesdale, bag of Doritos or Peyton Manning made an appearance. That said, the disappointment made my picks a bit easier. Here are my nominees for Ad Bowl LI winners and losers.

Heath: I can already tell we’re going to have some differing opinions, here, Nikki. 

Nikki: Bring it on!

WINNER: 84 Lumber

Regardless of what side you’re on, you can’t deny 84 Lumber’s ability to create buzz. Sure, it was controversial. Sure, it made people uncomfortable. Sure, it drew our attention away from the mindlessness of football to a very difficult and polarizing political discussion. It confused some and enraged others. It broke the Internet. This is why you buy a Super Bowl ad spot. Many will argue that humor is the way to go, and in many cases it is, but a big stage deserves a big statement, and this was the biggest statement of the night by far. I know this will be debated even among my own colleagues, but I stand by my statement that if the Ad Bowl is won by getting the biggest bang for your brand buck – no matter how controversial – 84 Lumber did just that.

Heath, do you agree?

Heath: You’re spot on, Nikki. I second this nomination. Out of the blue came a piece that seriously moved me. I was totally captivated by this story and wanted to know more. For me, this 60-year-old company just south of Pittsburgh, PA, run by Maggie Hardy Magerko, daughter of Joe Hardy the founder, totally stole the show. This spot is a beautiful piece of film-making and storytelling. Why does this win for me? The company’s website attracted so much traffic, it broke. It made a lot of news because Fox and the NFL chose to censor it. Ultimately, 84 Lumber made me a big fan of the brand and I haven’t been to a store.

Stepping outside of the politically driven spots, I also liked the National Geographic’s debut piece for its new Genius series. 

WINNER: National Geographic

The series should prove to be quite captivating, especially given Einstein is played by brilliant Australian actor Geoffrey Rush. That in itself is fascinating. A world class actor featured in a Nat Geo series. 

Nikki: Agreed! Let’s see if we can keep up this consensus. Here’s my next pick.

WINNER: Kia Niro

Kia made a phenomenal decision in hiring Melissa McCarthy to represent them in their ad for the Niro. Not only was it downright hilarious, the message was just so gosh darn relatable. It’s SO HARD for the average consumer to figure out how to go green, and Kia served up your solution on a silver platter. This one had me laughing – and thinking.

Heath: Now, here’s where you’re wrong, Nikki. In the automotive rankings, I must admit to laughing hard at Melissa McCarthy, but the slapstick gags strung together with Kia product shots fell short for me. But then there was Audi.


I wanted to love it. As a human, and dad of a 15-year-old daughter, I nodded, agreed and empathized. It prompted discussion amongst our group, then I Googled the Audi executive team. And I wasn’t the only one. Shortly after my own tweet, the social sphere began to bubble. Audi, good for you for taking a stance. Now I want to know what you’re doing to affect that change internally. I want to believe you.

Nikki: Fair enough. I’ll admit I liked it, but didn’t love it.

Heath: All right, then. What’d you think about Airbnb?

WINNER: Airbnb

The Airbnb spot caught my eye, and I appreciated their stance on inclusion and acceptance. I loved that it didn’t expect anything of me, and all I could do was agree and wish we all felt this way.

Nikki: That’s a great point, Heath. I’m on board with that. Were there any others that surprised you?

Heath: Yes! How about It’s A 10!?

WINNER: It’s A 10

It’s A 10 haircare delivered some stunning imagery with their wacky ‘dos and a few don’ts. For me, this was the surprise of the evening.

Nikki: Yes, sure, surprising, but not memorable for me. Can we move on to the losers?

Heath: You’re leaving out one “big” spot! What about Budweiser?

WINNER: Budweiser

Budweiser made a fabulous and surprisingly bold stance reminding us that we are by default a melting pot. It was possibly the strongest story told on the night. As a first generation newcomer to the U.S., it certainly resonated, but, the political motivation was clear. Thanks, Budweiser.

Nikki: OK, I’m with you on that. Let’s see how well we align with our picks for the disappointments of the evening.

LOSER: Google

I’m not saying I don’t like these ads, I’m just saying Google missed out on a big opportunity. By running similar if not the same ads they’ve been running for the past couple of months, they basically told the viewer it’s OK for them to tune out. I know I was tempted. Some, however, didn’t have the option to tune out because of the fact that their Google Homes started responding to the TV. I’m actually not mad at this at all – maybe because it didn’t happen to me. So, for the record, this loses for me not because it was the worst ad, but because I had higher hopes for Google.

Heath: These didn’t much bother me, but you know what did…?

LOSER: T-Mobile

On the comedy front, T-Mobile left me cold. Kristen Schaal starred as “Kristen Schaal” and all I saw was an incredible spend with little to truly laugh about.

On the other hand, Mr. Clean was a bit of fun and left me with a chuckle. I saw plenty of haters on Twitter grasping at straws to rip it up, but I think Mr. Clean worked hard as a spot. It was one of the few I instantly recalled in my Monday morning test of which brand made an impact.

Nikki: I totally disagree! Mr. Clean was one of my nominees for worst of the night.

LOSER: Mr. Clean

Everything about this ad made me uncomfortable. Including the way Mr. Clean started trolling all the other ads on Twitter. Bleh to the stereotype that women are clean and men aren’t. Bleh to a sexualized cartoon spokesman. Bleh to a desperate housewife. Bleh to how many people actually still liked it. I don’t have anything else to add, but bleh. Not my most eloquent commentary. (Hi, Mom & Dad!)

Heath: Agree to disagree.

So there you go. Heath and I agreed on some, and agreed to disagree on others. Which ads do you think stood out? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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