Is the age of good Super Bowl commercials long past?

Let me just say that I’ve been predicting the death of the Super Bowl commercial for about ten years. And you could argue it both ways; how many really memorable ads have there been since 2006? I’ll actually argue that the Super Bowl in general lost its edge in 2004 when we all saw just a little too much Janet Jackson and it’s been pretty tame since then.

When we think of great Super Bowl commercials, we often think of Mean Joe Greene’s turn selling Coke, Apple’s “1984” ad or any of the tearjerking Budweiser ads of the 2000s. It’s probably fair to say there have been a lot of super bowl clunkers that we’ve forgotten, so maybe the problem isn’t that the commercials are bad, it’s that we don’t remember that they’ve always been bad.

This year, though, I’ll call them just forgettable. Among my group, the memorable one was the alien “Earth museum” featuring Scott Baio, but no one could remember who it was for. (I won’t spoil it for you if you can’t remember either.) For the most part a lot of ads were just someone wasting time on screen for 57 seconds before the company logo showed up… notably Budweiser and Kia did these non-sequitur ads that had very little to do with their products for most of the 60 seconds. (And to be fair, the “Walken Closet” pun was cute.)

It’s gotten to the point, I think, that advertisers simply don’t know what do do when 60 seconds of airtime costs $5 million. They’re paralyzed with fear of failure, of having wasted all that money, and they can’t create anything that really works. They’ve also learned that selling using sex isn’t going to win them any points, since more than half of viewers aren’t hetero males. The problem is that we’re in this sort of creative free-fall where the people who are really capable of telling compelling stories aren’t doing that, and advertisers are trying to create buzz by condensing the entire spirit of an ad into a few words that people just might remember the next day. Like “puppymonkeybaby.” That’s not really how you make good short films and it doesn’t really tie the content to your brand.

I’m going to come out and say it – the days of the all-important Super Bowl commercial are over. It’s impossible to justify that much money, and if you look at the big advertisers you mostly saw the same companies who have invested in the past, and maybe they’re just doing it out of habit. Some companies like GoDaddy skipped the broadcast and advertised on the stream instead, and we really didn’t see a lot of new companies jumping in as we have before. Maybe we’ll look back and see that 2016 was the year that commercials finally became irrelevant in the Super Bowl and we’ll see that in the future, commercials might make a little more sense.

If you’re looking for a list of the commercials that did air, I found the most complete to be this one from DigitalTrends.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.