The Super Bowl has become a cultural event that transcends football fandom. Thanks to the massive audiences and hype surrounding the big game, even watching the commercials has become an event.
The Super Bowl has given culture some of the most influential—and controversial—ads of all time, but for the most part, this year seemed pretty tame. Instead of anything truly innovative, we mostly got more of the same proven elements that have worked in years past: Celebrities, cute animals, babies, slapstick humor and cars driving fast.
Here are a few of our favorites, and a few that left us scratching our heads.
T-Mobile: “Drop the Balls” / “Restricted Bling”
OK, so it’s probably cheating including two ads here, but they both play so well on the same idea. T-Mobile gets the award for being the most pop-culture savvy of all of the Super Bowl advertisers, essentially appropriating pre-existing memes for two funny spots. By poking fun at the Steve Harvey Miss Universe gaffe and Drake’s goofy Hotline Bling video, they demonstrated the best thing about jokes in the Internet era: They can continually be told with different new punchlines and still be funny.
Mountain Dew: “Puppymonkeybaby”
If there’s anything that we’ve learned from years of Super Bowl ad-watching, it’s that audiences love three things: Cute puppies, babies and monkies. So, what could possibly be more adorable—or hideously nightmare inducing—than combining all three into one grotesque hellspawn? Mountain Dew’s Puppymonkeybaby provided both a weirdly memorable hashtag and some subversive commentary about the ad industry.
TurboTax: “Never a Sellout”
This one may not be a big-budget crowdpleaser, but watching Sir Anthony Hopkins make fun of himself for appearing in a TurboTax commercial is a funny concept—especially as the ad gets more and more committed to the joke: Not only does he now wear TurboTax-branded apparel, but he also renamed his own dog TurboTax.com. And, his “Actoring” online bonus clips continue to up the ante on a joke that is only moderately funny without the unflinching commitment to the same punchline.
Heinz: “Wiener Stampede”
There’s really no good reason to include this one other than the undeniable fact that there is something deeply embedded in human nature that wants to watch a bunch of wiener dogs running through a field. It’s just science.
Hyundai: “First Date”
It’s impossible for Kevin Hart not to be hilarious. Sure, the ad makes an easy joke that’s not exactly original—an over-protective dad spying on his daughter during a date—but Hart is a master of over-the-top, overreaction, and here, it all just works.
For a commercial that’s essentially just a harmless, weird visual joke, this one from Doritos sparked a surprising amount of controversy. Plus, a baby attempting to jump through the birth canal isn’t exactly appetite-inducing.
Who would have thought that a disemboweled anthropomorphized internal organ anti-diarrhea mascot could have been such a misfire? This is usually just the kind of lovable character people want to see while eating plates full of hot wings and nachos.
NFL: “Super Bowl Babies”
Just in case you needed a reason to have the birds and bees talk with your confused kids during half time, there’s this creepy campaign that can help spark some uncomfortable questions.
Rocket Mortgage: “What We Were Thinking”
The message behind this one just seems so tone-deaf: It’s a product that makes debt so easy to incur that even a child could do it! Also, once everyone starts taking out mortgages (because what could go wrong?!) think of all of the other stuff they’ll need to buy!
Kia: Walken Closet
With a title/concept/pun like “Walken Closet” this ad had so much potential, but offered so little payoff.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.