2022 was a good year for the Super Bowl. The game: good! The halftime show: also good! The ads: by and large, pretty good! Or at least not as off-key and awkward as they were last year, when half of the commercials tried to invoke the pandemic while not explicitly mentioning the pandemic (so as not to alienate any viewers who happened to think it was all a hoax), and the other half pretended that February 2021 was a perfectly normal time in American history. This year’s ads, by and large, simply didn’t bother trying to make any kind of big unifying statements—and just about all of them, it must be said, seemed to exist in a present where there is not now nor has there ever been a public health emergency. Instead, they looked toward the future, while also rooting themselves in the past.
What can we expect from the future, according to the ads of Super Bowl LVI? The bad news: In the future we will all lose all our money on sports betting apps and cryptocurrency schemes. The good news, though, is that we’ll be able to drive electric vehicles to Planet Fitness and Sam’s Club. There will also be a metaverse, and if Facebook has its way, we will all be inside of it. Don’t worry, though: Bud Light NEXT will be there, too!
Perhaps the fact that this future is very unappealing is why this year’s ads also looked back in time: to the glorious 1990s, that is, when Mike Myers and Jim Carrey dominated the comedic box office and the dot-com bubble hadn’t yet popped and taught us that speculative investments based on promises made in television advertisements are a really, really bad idea. Come to think of it, the past and the future depicted in this year’s ads might not be so different. Here are a few of the commercials—not all of them, my God, I am literally just one man—that proved to be the most transporting.
Here’s my question: Did the Chevrolet ad that mirrored the Sopranos opening credits and featured Jamie-Lynn “Meadow Soprano” Sigler driving an all-electric Chevy Silverado take place within the official continuity of the show? I’m going to take a strong stand here and say that it’s Sopranos canon. If so, the mystery is solved: Sigler’s hug with co-star Robert “A.J. Soprano” Iler does not look like the sad, deflated embrace of two kids whose dad got whacked. Tony lives!
ClickUp, a project management/cloud collaboration thingy, ran its first Super Bowl spot this year, and it was the most memorable of a bunch of similar ads from companies whose products are tailored for the needs of the COVID-derived virtual-office revolution. The commercial was set at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which would have been a much more effective process if the Framers had used ClickUp instead of quill pens and parchment paper. I’m a sucker for Framer humor, though I will say that ClickUp missed a reeeeal opportunity to appeal to the 1776 heads in the audience, all 12 of us, by casting William Daniels to reprise his role as John Adams. Yes, yes, Daniels is 94 right now, but he’s a robust 94. Next year, guys!
I didn’t think the Expedia ad in the first quarter was particularly memorable, but I’m still happy for Wreckless Eric, the forgotten man of the 1970s pub-rock movement, who can probably book himself a very nice luxury vacation with the money he earned from this ad using his great song “Whole Wide World.” Maybe he can even book it using Expedia? He probably won’t.
It has recently become a bit of a Super Bowl trend for advertisers to reunite the casts of beloved movies for spots that function as mini-sequels to—or at least exist in the same universe as—the original films. While these sorts of ads always attract attention, a brand can risk alienating viewers if their spot feels demonstrably crappier than the source material, or feels in any way exploitative of the original characters. General Motors, I am pleased to report, did its source material proud with its pitch-perfect riff on the Austin Powers films. In the commercial, Dr. Evil and his team, now in charge of GM, resolve to save the world with electric vehicles before destroying it at some later, unspecified date. The plan makes no sense, but, then again, neither did any of Dr. Evil’s plans in the actual movies. Yeah, baby: It’s one of the top ads of the night.
Greenlight, a new Super Bowl advertiser this year, is a financial technology company that makes debit cards and budgeting apps for children and families. While its ad, starring Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, was very funny, I also found it sort of self-serving. In it, Burrell played a spendthrift version of himself who wastes all of his money on frivolous purchases, such as a Fabergé egg, a suit of armor, and a hot air balloon with his headshot on it. “What do you mean I’m broke?” he says at the end of the ad, as an onlooker tells his children that “this is why Mom and I use Greenlight: to teach you about money.” Fair, but also, two things: 1) Parents have taught their children about money for countless generations without Greenlight’s help, and 2) do kids actually need debit cards? The real lesson here is that if you have a very stupid product to peddle, you should try to sell it to Ty Burrell.
I thought that the Lay’s ad with Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen, in which the two actors recount the many life moments they’ve shared with a bag of Lay’s, was very funny, and also true to the inherent nature of Lay’s. It’s a replacement-level potato chip that tends to get eaten because it’s there, not because anyone has made an active choice to seek out a bag of Lay’s. This spot was a good example of the “hey, remember us?” subgenre of Super Bowl ad, in which long-lived brands remind you of their existence. Since Lay’s are perhaps the most forgettable potato chips on the market, this spot was probably money well spent.
McDonald’s gently satirized the indecision we all feel when faced with the tyranny of choice that is the modern-day fast-food menu. The punchy spot cut between a bunch of different customers, each of whom, when asked for their order, responded by mumbling an inarticulate “Uhhhhhhhh.” Who hasn’t been there? Anyway, I thought I knew what this commercial was until, 20 seconds into it, Kanye West showed up for literally three seconds in what appeared to be some sort of tank, equally as indecisive as everyone else in the ad. I was confused for a bit until I realized that not only do I buy that Kanye West might eat at McDonald’s, I also buy that he’d take a tank into the drive-thru, and that he would then probably clog it up for 20 minutes, refusing to leave until and unless they agreed to sell him an out-of-season Shamrock Shake.
Nissan enlists Eugene Levy for a refreshingly old-fashioned Super Bowl ad premised not on the notion that, like, investing in Nissancoin will make you rich, but on the simple idea that driving a cool, fast car will make you feel like an action hero. How quaint! I don’t know what this ad will do for Nissan’s sales, but I do know that I would absolutely watch an action movie called Thrill Driver starring a long-haired Levy as a John Wick type whose catchphrase is “Well, cock-a-doodle-doo.” Make it happen, Hollywood!
Planet Fitness ran a Super Bowl ad this year, and it was a good one, presenting a world in which noted celebrity train wreck Lindsay Lohan turns her life around simply by joining the budget gym located in the strip mall. One smart decision begets others, the ad suggests, and it follows Lohan through a daily routine that sees her defeating Dennis Rodman on a very strange episode of Jeopardy! and bedazzling Danny Trejo’s anklet. It’s actually very smart for a chain of gyms to advertise during the third quarter of the Super Bowl, I think, given that most people watching the game will by that point have the “chicken wing sweats” and may be thinking that come Tuesday morning they should really do something to turn their lives around.
A lot of Super Bowl ads tend to presume that Americans are always on the verge of coming to blows with one another over the right and wrong ways to eat junk food. Perhaps I’m hanging out in the wrong places or just have unusually tolerant friends, but I’ve never once found myself in a heated disagreement over candy, nuts, or chips. So while I couldn’t directly relate to this year’s solid Planters ad, featuring Joel McHale and Ken Jeong busting on each other’s mixed-nut consumption method of choice, I did find myself laughing at it, as well as at the very idea that “nuts” would bother advertising during the Super Bowl in the first place.
Sam’s Club pulls off a neat trick in producing an ad starring one of the few celebrities whom I could actually see shopping at Sam’s Club in real life: Kevin Hart. As per the ad, I can also imagine him spending his real-life Sam’s Club shopping trips accosting other shoppers to brag about the fact that he, celebrity Kevin Hart, is shopping at Sam’s Club. “Guys, he’s doing it again,” a Sam’s Club employee says in the ad as Hart plops down on some patio furniture in the patio furniture section, which he thinks is a VIP lounge. I would not be surprised to learn that this ad was cobbled together out of real-life Sam’s Club security camera footage.
Samuel Adams returns to the Super Bowl with a funny ad that answers the question that nobody was asking: What would happen if “your cousin from Boston”—the brand’s Masshole pitchman—got a bunch of those terrifying Boston Dynamics robots drunk? According to the ad, this scenario ends with a beer-soaked human-robot dance party. According to me, if this scenario were to play out in real life, the drunk robots would probably decapitate your cousin from Boston. Frankly, I like my scenario a little bit better.
I enjoyed this year’s spot from Uber Eats, which fell into one of my favorite Super Bowl ad subgenres: ads which posit that all celebrities are hapless simpletons. The ad begins with Jennifer Coolidge pulling a roll of aluminum foil out of an Uber Eats bag. “Wait. If it was delivered by Uber Eats … does that mean I can eats it?” she asks, and then a bunch of other celebrities try and fail to eat things that aren’t food. “This candle tastes funny. Not bad, but funny,” says Gwyneth Paltrow, as she attempts to eat a candle labeled “This Smells Like My Vagina.” (This is an actual candle sold by Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop.) “This tastes bad,” says Succession’s Cousin Greg, as he squirts dish soap in his mouth. This ad effectively communicated the fact that you can use the food-delivery service to order other, nonfood items. I did not know this before the Super Bowl, and I know it now, which means that the ad did its job. Looking forward to the thrilling resolution to the Cousin Greg Gets Pica storyline in Season 4 of Succession!
BMW cast Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek as Zeus and Hera, who grow tired of life on Olympus and decide to retire to Palm Springs. Bad choice! Zeus’ obnoxious neighbors beset him night and day asking him to use his lightning fingers to charge things for them. I found this ad to be both unfunny and sort of confusing: If Zeus’ whole thing is that he hates charging things, then why would he get excited about driving an electric BMW that he’ll just have to keep charging over and over? On the other hand, I did think this ad did a great job in capturing just how depressed someone would be if they actually did decide to move from actual Olympus to Palm Springs.
Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda brings viewers into the Land of Loud Flavors, a dystopian realm in which tyrannical mayor Guy Fieri has forced his signature hairstyle onto all those unfortunate enough to live there. He also apparently dispatches his minions throughout the multiverse to bring him cans of seltzer hard soda, in hopes of finding the most flavorful seltzer hard soda of them all, thus fulfilling the prophecy. (What prophecy? It doesn’t matter.) While this spot certainly has a clear message—Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda is here, and it tastes like something—I wonder whether Anheuser-Busch InBev might not be drastically overestimating the overlap between the sorts of people who want a robustly flavorful malt beverage and the sorts of people who might order a Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda. This is, I suppose, the canard of all mass-market beer commercials: the notion that beer brands that we all know taste like water actually taste like flavor.
Irish Spring soap makes its Super Bowl debut with a spot that posits a world in which Irish people in cable-knit sweaters will ostracize you if you smell bad. I’m not sure if this ad was particularly effective—a soap company should never produce an ad that holds any chance of making people scared of bathing—but it sure helps explain why my trip to Donegal a few years ago went so poorly.
If you already hate and fear the metaverse, then this year’s ad from Facebook—excuse me, Meta—probably won’t do anything to change your mind. It stars a discarded animatronic figure, far removed from its glory days in the house band of robots at a birthday-pizza restaurant, that dons a pair of VR goggles and finds new life—sans lower body for some reason—in Horizon Worlds, Meta’s VR platform. The clear implication is that Facebook’s metaverse will hasten the decline and fall of the outside world, and that we will flock to Meta’s garish virtual space to live out our days as crude cartoon torsos.
Michelob Ultra’s first spot this year was scored to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Showdown” and takes place at a magical bowling alley owned by Steve Buscemi that caters exclusively to sports celebrities. While it was fun to watch Peyton Manning bowl against Jimmy Butler, and thus give life to a scenario I’ve envisioned hundreds of times on my celebrity matchup bowling fanfiction Substack, it really says something about just how much nobody cares about baseball anymore that this ad couldn’t find a spot for L.A. Dodgers star Mookie Betts—an actual great bowler with multiple 300 games to his name. Anyway, not quite sure what this ad had to do with low-carb beer, but at least it didn’t pretend that Michelob Ultra tastes like something.
Verizon tapped Jim Carrey to reprise his eponymous character from the very much not beloved 1996 movie The Cable Guy, as a means of underscoring that 1) cable is annoying, and 2) you won’t need it anymore if you sign up for Verizon 5G internet, which can do all the things that cable can do, minus the long-term contracts, hidden fees, and installation appointments. A straightforward and effective commercial, though I do feel like it seriously overestimated the cultural penetration of Carrey’s Cable Guy character. My bet is that most people watching will have missed the reference entirely and just interpreted Carrey’s appearance as a random celebrity cameo. Which, in a way, it was!
Just when you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to Super Bowl ads, here comes Wallbox with an ad that incorporates real-life footage of some dude actually getting struck by lightning in his driveway. “Yeah, that’s me,” the poor guy says in voice-over. “And since that day, electricity and I—we don’t get along very well.” Thank God for Wallbox, then, which offers a “safe and smart way” to charge an electric car. Hooray? Points to Wallbox for breaking new ground with its debut Super Bowl spot, but in my opinion it committed two errors in both not being very relatable and feeling a little too much like a snuff film. “Striking” in the worst way.
On the one hand, this year’s WeatherTech ad, unlike some previous years’ entries, did not feature WeatherTech owner David MacNeil’s dog. On the other hand, it instead featured helmeted storm troopers descending from a black ops helicopter to install floor mats and mud flaps into some suburban dude’s SUV. When I sat down to dig into the possible reasons for this, erm, jarring tonal shift, I learned that MacNeil’s dog died in 2020, which may well explain his company’s apparent turn to the dark side. Someone get this guy another dog, quick, before his squad of remorseless floor mat installers comes for us all!
It feels like Caesars Sportsbook’s incredibly annoying ads for online sports betting have been everywhere this year, giving us all ample opportunity to wonder why in the world Caesars would bother casting Halle Berry as Cleopatra in its ads and then barely ever give her any lines. My take is that it’s deliberately conspicuous consumption. Caesars wants you to know that they have so much money that they can afford to throw it away by hiring Halle Berry to just sit there—perhaps such an ostentatiously cash-wasting entity would throw some money at you, too? Anyway, they gave her a line this time, but it wasn’t as funny as the bit that they gave to Peyton Manning’s brother Cooper, whom Caesars can also afford to waste money on.
Coinbase, an exchange for buying and selling cryptocurrency, ran a first quarter ad that followed the grand tech-company tradition of wasting tons and tons of money on audaciously inscrutable Super Bowl commercials. This particular spot raised the bar for screw-it ad spending, consisting entirely of a QR code changing colors and bouncing around the screen like a Pong ball, followed by a brief acknowledgment that Coinbase had produced this deliberately confusing thing. Since my sense is that much of cryptocurrency’s growth has been largely driven by low-information speculators who might decide to buy some crypto solely because they scanned a QR code they saw in a Super Bowl ad, this qualifies as a very effective spot!
Another five minutes gone by in Super Bowl LVI, another very effective and very cynical cryptocurrency ad. This one, for Crypto.com, stars LeBron James, who has traveled back in time to 2003 to apprise his younger self of all the marvels that the future holds in store. Cordless headphones! Electric cars! And, implicitly, the chance to use some dumb app to invest in cryptocurrency! “If you want to make history, you’ve got to call your own shots,” Old LeBron says to Young LeBron. Here’s some advice that I’d give to my younger self: Don’t take your investment advice from Super Bowl ads.
The cryptocurrency exchange FTX hired Larry David to star in an ad that sent him traveling through time, casting a skeptical eye on various inventions that altered the course of history, such as the wheel (David: “Eh … I don’t think so. This is a miss”) and the lightbulb (“Edison, can I be honest with you? It stinks”) and the portable music player (“You’ll always be looking for batteries!”). The kicker, of course, is that David also thinks that FTX—“a safe and easy way to get into crypto”—is a stupid idea. “And I’m never wrong about this stuff. Never!” he says. This was one of the funniest ads of the night, but, man, I can’t be the only one getting major turn-of-the-century dot-com vibes from all these triumphalist crypto ads. By the logic of this ad, Larry David would have been skeptical about Pets.com, too—and you know what? He would have been right!
Google ran an ad touting the Real Tone photo feature on its Pixel 6 smartphone. It noted that, historically, “camera technology hasn’t accurately represented darker skin tones,” offered some anecdotal evidence to that effect, and then presented its Real Tone feature as a possible solution. While this spot articulated an actual problem that rarely gets discussed on television, and did so in a way that didn’t seem pandering or cheap, it is also worth noting that, within recent memory, Google’s Photos app mislabeled two Black people as “gorillas.” In 2018, Wired found that, rather than fix the algorithm that produced the mistake, Google may have just made it impossible to search for monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees within Google Photos. The point, I guess, is this: Be very skeptical of any Super Bowl ad that claims that its product will make the world a better place. The only ads you should trust are the ones that want you to fight with your friends about junk food.