Twelve creative leaders from around the globe watched and judged the Super Bowl LI ads with Campaign US this year. While topical executions addressing the hottest political themes of the day—immigration and the pursuit of the American dream—were appreciated for their thought-provoking messages, celebrity-driven comedy still proved the most effective at cutting through the clutter.
(Tie) 10. Sprint, "Extreme Measures"
Jason Bagley, executive creative director, Wieden+Kennedy Portland: "Pushing a car off a cliff. Talking about death. A father breaking the law in front of his kids. What's not to love about this spot?! I love how straight they played it, and the casting was spot on. As an opening line to a commercial, it's hard to beat, "Well kids, daddy's dead." And like the Kia ad, the concept had an authentic connection to the product."
(Tie) 10. Snickers, "Live Super Bowl Commercial"
BBDO New York
Nils Leonard, former chairman and CCO of Grey London: "It was new. But not quite good (HUGE) enough."
9. Coca-Cola, "It's beautiful"
Tham Khai Meng, worldwide CCO, Ogilvy: "It was very smart of Coke to bring this back. They tapped into the zeitgeist once again. Amazingly, they did it with the exact same work as two years ago, but look how the meaning has changed. Coke told a beautiful story, filled with emotion and patriotism. They reminded us of our unity, and that's something we need now more than ever."
David Kolbusz, CCO, Droga5, London: "It's an oldie but a goodie. Credit to Coca Cola for re-running it in the wake of the country's current political climate."
8. 84 Lumber, "The Journey"
Amir Kassaei, global CCO, DDB Worldwide: "The best advertising is always based on a relevant truth. It is embedded in real life and does not want to please the so-called experts. It will connect to people and move them and will let them think. Advertising is only an expression of our culture and society and for that it has to be at the pulse like this ad is."
David Kolbusz, CCO, Droga5, London: "A brave, ambitious message at a time when sticking your neck out is tantamount to self-harm."
7. Airbnb, "We Accept"
David Kolbusz, CCO, Droga5, London: "An important, inclusive message that fits perfectly with the brand's 'Belong Anywhere' message."
Nils Leonard, former chairman and CCO of Grey London: "Great purpose. Wish the execution was bigger."
6. Kia "Hero's Journey"
David & Goliath
Jason Bagley, executive creative director, Wieden+Kennedy Portland: "This spot was great. Comedic violence is always funny, Melissa McCarthy is always hilarious, and unlike most of the spots in this year's Super Bowl, the story had a relevant connection to the product. Loved it."
Tham Khai Meng, worldwide CCO, Ogilvy: "Melissa McCarthy is having a good weekend. First she kills it on 'Saturday Night Live,' and then she's spot on introducing a new SUV from Kia. Eco car advertising tends to feel as much fun as drag racing a Prius, but McCarthy's great physical comedy gives that saturated and stale category some new life. The car companies haven't covered themselves in glory since that great Clint Eastwood ad for Chrysler, but this one stands out for flipping the sleek and sexy script that has become oh-so predictable. I'm looking at you, Alfa. (Nice car, though.)"
5. Honda, "Yearbooks"
Tham Khai Meng, worldwide CCO, Ogilvy: "Nearly a century into the era of TV advertising, it's hard to find approaches that feel genuinely new. Honda did just that with one of its two spots for the CR-V, celebrating the car's enduring appeal with buyers as well as its somewhat ungainly beginnings. The CR-V may not have always been the sleek ride it is today, but judging by the celebrity yearbook photos Honda animated, no one would have predicted great things from them either. Yikes ... Honda wins this on clever use of celebrity and innovative craft."
Raj Kamble, founder/CCO, Famous Innovations, India: "Genius use of celebrities and ties back in perfectly well with the brand's stance of "Power of Dreams," even though the specific product connect is weak. Unique execution breaks through the clutter of flashy, over-the-top ads."
Margaret Johnson, CCO, Goodby Silverstein & Partners: "Inspirational. Cool execution. Heavy-handed product shot at end, but the yearbook animations stuck with me."
4. Skittles, "Romance"
Jureeporn Thaidumrong, CCO, Grey NudeJeh, Thailand: "I can watch it again and again, and I don't get bored of it. Love the grandma's expression, and love that it doesn't require a huge production budget to hook the viewer. No Hollywood A-List, just perfect casting. And even though it's weird, it still sells a product benefit, delivered in a consistent Skittles tone of voice. So, not just weird for the sake of being weird."
Lars Bastholm, global CCO, Google Zoo: "Rounding out my top 3 is the Skittles spot, solely because it was cute and made me giggle. We need a bit of that too right now."
Fernando Machado, SVP, global brand management, Burger King: "Very consistent with past Skittles campaigns, very funny, crowd pleaser. Will definitely cut through and deliver strong branding."
3. Audi, "Daughter"
Venables Bell & Partners
Fernando Machado, SVP, global brand management, Burger King: "Rather than talking about the Audi, they've been talking about us—people. And this makes the brand admirable. And after watching the ad, even though they said nothing about how great the car is, it left me with a great feeling."
Raj Kamble, founder/CCO, Famous Innovations, India: "It's insightful, honest and aptly creative in its execution. Unlike many billion-dollar commercials we see during this time of the year, it isn't trying too hard and is still making the point effectively."
Josefine Richards, creative director, Ingo, Stockholm: "You would hope this is something everyone can get behind, but, observing the reactions, it turns out there are way more sexist trolls out there than I'd ever imagined. So a big applause to Audi for making their standpoint clear and for understanding that almost half of the audience at Super Bowl are women that know they deserve to be treated equally."
2. Budweiser, "Born the hard way"
Margaret Johnson, CCO, Goodby Silverstein & Partners: "Timely, heartfelt and gutsy to not water down the pro-immigration message. Bonus points for casting a Steve Bannon lookalike for the role of the guy who yells 'Go back home!' at the young Adolphus Busch."
Josefine Richards, creative director, Ingo, Stockholm: "This ad is beautifully told in a cinematic way that makes history impossible to ignore. If any brand can remind the masses what America is about, it's Budweiser."
Lars Bastholm, global CCO, Google Zoo: "Budweiser's immigrant tale nailed the theme of the US as a country built by immigrants."
1. Squarespace, "Get your domain before it's gone"
Tham Khai Meng, worldwide CCO, Ogilvy: "Giving John Malkovich a great script is like giving Matt Ryan the ball with great field position: You're going to get a touchdown. Squarespace reset the domain hosting genre, reclaiming it from years of silly spectacle and turning it into something relatable. Plus, they racked up a two-point conversion with the 'Being John Malkovich' reference."
Doerte Spengler-Ahrens, CCO, Jung von Matt/Elbe, Hamburg: "It is such an incredible pleasure to watch John performing being an annoyed customer full of self-irony."
Jureeporn Thaidumrong, CCO, Grey NudeJeh, Thailand: "John Malkovich's performance is gold. Could he win an Oscar for being himself?"