The Best and Worst Super Bowl Ads of 2014—Plus More Superlatives

Including: "Widest Gap Between Sophistication of Commercial and YouTube Comments," "Commercial Most Likely to Appeal to House Republicans," and "Worst Use of an Animal"
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RadioShack

The game was horrible. The commercials were slightly better than horrible.

According to the USA Today Ad Meter, the most popular Super Bowl commercial yesterday was Budweiser's perfectly Budweisery spot, "Puppy Love." The worst ad, naturally, was the "GoDaddy" ad, because GoDaddy ads are, axiomatically, the worst. But best and worst is boring. Below I hand out slightly more dubious and convoluted awards for yesterday's commercials.

Most Impressive Use of Non Sequitur
Best Advertisement of Business That Defies Advertising
TurboTax

The spot: Watching the Super Bowl when your team isn't playing is like going to high school prom and watching your crush dance with some hotshot, while you assemble an analytical breakdown of his on-floor performance, so go ahead and do your taxes online, because getting a refund from the IRS is the only proper revenge in this heartless world. On the one hand, what? One the other hand, can you can come up with a better conceit for an online tax company?

Most Honest Ad
Most Cheerful 
Acknowledgment of Impending Doom, Bankruptcy
Best Use of Alf
RadioShack

The electronics retail industry is getting creamed by Amazon and Walmart, and RadioShack's stock has fallen from $20 to $2 in the last three years. When you're that low, all humor is gallows humor. So a company everybody forgot about after the 1980s invited a bunch of celebrities everybody forgot about after the 1980s to gleefully destroy a RadioShack store. It's whacky, it's self-aware, and Erik Estrada gives his best performance since the Reagan administration.

Most Likely to Inspire Insipid Cable-News Discussion on Multiculturalism
Widest Gap Between Sophistication of Commercial and YouTube Comments
Safest Ad to Call Your Favorite (Except on YouTube)

Coca-Cola

Coke is quietly the world's best advertiser (its Happiness Machine series was brilliant) and this spot—a multilingual rendition of "America the Beautiful"—is simply lovely. Just like the adorable Cheerios ad everybody was talking about before the game, it's a gem that acknowledges and embraces an America where fewer than 50 percent of young children are white. Watch it again, and do not scroll down to read the comments unless you want your Monday ruined.

Sweetest Revenge
Best Performance by a Broncos Quarterback in the Super Bowl

T-Mobile

Tim Tebow behaving ridiculously is an old joke now, but an old joke told well is better than most commercials. The former Broncos quarterback, who can't get a contract in the NFL, talks up the benefits of not having one, and in the process shows that he's better behind the camera than in the pocket. Even so, he probably finished with a better Super Bowl than Peyton Manning, the guy who took his job at Denver.

Best Use of Dogs
Commercial Most Likely to Appeal to House Republicans
Audi

Compromise. It's Washington's longest four-letter word. And, according to Audi, it leads to rabid monster-head dogs attacking your children in cars, just like the Tea Party warned us. The transition to Audi cars is a little cheesy (Audi doesn't compromise on "quality") but the montage of tiny canine beasts attacking little kids is good old-fashioned fun.

Worst Use of Bob Dylan
Worst Use of Tautology
Best Explanation of Globalization
Most Apt Meta-Statement of American Decline
Chrysler

"Is there anything more American ... than America?" Deep stuff from Bob Dylan there. But Chrysler is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fiat, an Italian car company, which will change its name to "Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV" and relocate to the Netherlands. Is there anything more American than a subsidiary of an Italian car company based in the Netherlands? Under the strictest definitions of American, yes, probably. In any case, the jingoism quickly fades. "Let Germany brew your beer," Dylan continues. "Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car." A brazenly patriotic commercial telling you to buy German beer and Swiss watches? Things have changed, indeed.

Best Argument for Buying a Car
Best Use of Pan-Out

Honda

I don't have anything snarky to say about this ad. I think it's smart and cute and makes a good point simply.

Best Understanding of Super Bowl Marketing Studies: I
Best Use of the Inside of a Car

"Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee"

Economic research has shown that Super Bowl ads, while ineffective at moving market share for established brands like sodas and beer, are nonetheless effective at introducing new products and driving curiosity. This Seinfeld reunion isn't knee-slappingly funny, but it was a smart way to introduce 120 million people to an under-the-radar comedy series.

Best Understanding of Super Bowl Marketing Studies: II
Most Delightfully Insane Reminder of the Early 2000s
Best Screaming

"24"

This astoundingly over-the-top "24" promo was the only time I laughed out loud during the entire Super Bowl. To be fair, as a Broncos fan, I was delirious with anger and confusion at the time.

Worst Use of an Animal
Worst Use of a Window
Worst Use of a Greek Yogurt

Chobani

If it comes out that Chobani was instructed, by FDA mandate, to produce a Super Bowl commercial in late January, and, lacking the time or resources to hire a professional ad agency, decided to rent a bear, build a fake store, film the mayhem, and slap a tagline on the end, then they really did a nice job pulling this commercial together, and I commend them. Indeed, it is the only excuse I can imagine for this ad.

Best Use of Social Media
Best Use of Old English
Best Use of Hashtags
Worst Apology

JCPenney 

Last year, Oreo delighted fans a clever, timely tweet about eating cookies in the dark after the Super Bowl lights went out. This year, JCPenney delighted fans with a ... quote from Chaucer? an excerpt from the original Beowulf Nowell Codex? It was hard to say. "Who kkmew theis was ghiong tob e a baweball ghamle," asked the JCP corporate account in a string of deliciously incomprehensible typos that looked more like an ancient Anglo-Saxon curse than a tweet.

A few moments and several thousand retweets later, the company responded by blaming "mittens." Mittens. Mittens explain one mistyped word, maybe two, but not a string of elfin nonsense spelling only three of its ten words in acceptably modern English, nor the decision to hit the send button. Fat fingers might cause imprecise typing, but they don't cause blindness. In any case, JCPenney paid nothing for this ad, and here we are talking about it, so if publicity is worth anything, the company's ROI on Sunday was extraordinary.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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