by Matt Kamer

At $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime, investing in a Super Bowl ad is calculated risk… in your strategy, your message, your ad agency. Not unlike bourbon, where you put a lot of expertise, art and science into the barrel, and then store it away in a rickhouse for years before you know exactly what you have.

So let’s review the Super Bowl ads the same way we Louisvillians review our bourbons. We’ll assess the nose, palate and finish, and then we’ll assign each a rating. Here’s the scale:

  • Rotgut: on the bottom shelf and should stay there.
  • Let-down: lots of hype, but not worth the price you paid.
  • High Proof: comes in hot and packs a punch; but some like it and some don’t.
  • Your House Pour: this gets the job done; it’s what you’ve come to know and love.
  • Limited Release: cream of the crop; you’d camp overnight outside the store for this one.

So here’s a look at the notable ads, from the bottom shelf to the top.


Popeyes – The Wait Is Over:  Only one ad in the Rotgut category and it came from Popeyes (love it) selling wings (love them) and featuring Ken Jeong (love him). But it loses me when Jeong comes out of cryogenic deep freeze and wonders what has changed, and the answer, sadly, is that Popeyes now serves wings… in addition to the invention of the Roomba, Goldendoodles, drones, self-driving cars and more. Feels like we’ve seen this before, plus the whole frozen scenario makes me think of frozen chicken, not fresh, which isn’t the right brand message.


BMW – Talkin’ Like Walken:  Watching people jab Christopher Walken with impersonations of his linguistic style was entertaining, but it was a good idea for the wrong product. The humorous spot felt off brand for the Ultimate Driving Machine and seemed better suited to a snack food or light beer ad.

Budweiser – Old School Delivery:  When the neon sign fizzles out during the snowstorm, it can only mean one thing… an epic delivery from the King of Beers and the kings of all horses, the Clydesdales. But somehow this missed the mark. I needed more emotion, more story exposition, more dog, more cowbell… something. We know you can do better, Bud.

High Proof

Lindt – Life is a Ball – Cuts through the clutter with a somewhat mesmerizing song and visual production that had me momentarily enthralled. But I’m sorry, Lindt; I don’t think that’s enough for this crowd to give up their M&M’s, Doritos and Drumsticks for your fancy, individually wrapped gourmet chocolates. Right ad, wrong placement.

Hellmann’s – Mayo Cat:  Talking animals have long been an ad trope and, in this rendition, Hellmann’s is literally the cat’s meow. It was effective in that I’ll never hear a cat again without thinking of mayonnaise. But, it was when SNL veteran Kate McKinnon spooned mayo into her mouth directly from the jar that I became a mustard man.

Pluto TV – Couch Potato Farms:  Part of the emerging streaming category, free ad-supported television, Pluto TV is poking fun at its own product and its own customers… by featuring people transformed into couch potatoes–like something from a Grotesque art movement painting–while they share the guilty-pleasure shows they enjoy watching. This was like the trainwreck you can’t turn away from.

He Gets Us – Feet Washing:  Jesus showed up to the Super Bowl for the second time and caused quite a stir. This ad had many wondering whether they wanted religion thrown at them during the big game, but nevertheless got people talking. And that’s just what the strategists behind this one wanted.

Your House Pour

Kawasaki – Mullets:  An archetypal Super Bowl ad, but from a non-traditional Super Bowl advertiser. Everyone who the Ridge ATV zooms past is graced with the legendary mullet hairstyle. All-American eagles, dogs, even Stone Cold Steve Austin get the “business in the front, party in the back” treatment, and we’re all better for it.

Google Pixel – In Frame:  It started as another touching ad about how a mobile phone’s cool features improve someone’s life. But this one took it to a higher level as the viewer directly experienced how the Google Pixel helps people with blindness or low-vision take the ubiquitous selfie. We watched the lead character get better and better at centering his phone to capture his own face in the selfie, then two faces as he found his partner, and then–boom–three faces, after they had a baby. And, that’s where they had me.

Dunkin’ – The DunKings:  A joy to watch as earnest Ben Affleck tries to impress his ex, J. Lo., by  teaming with his Boston ride-or-die Matt Damon along with Tom Brady, who at this point just wants to contribute. A smart cameo from Jack Harlow, too, who thinks maybe this whole thing isn’t the best idea. This spot is a reprise of Affleck and J.Lo’s appearance together in another Dunkin’ spot last year, potentially signaling the start of a new Super Bowl ad dynasty.

Dove – Hard Knocks:  The Taylor Swift Effect is real, and some pundits were projecting more female viewers than males for this Super Bowl. And beauty brands came in strong with non-traditional Big Game advertisers like Cetaphil, CeraVe and e.l.f. Beauty joining the fray. The best of this bunch, unsurprisingly, came from Dove… always there with the right spot at the right time, and only adding to the brand’s marketing street cred it’s developed since launching the “Real Beauty” campaign and social movement.

Pfizer – Here’s to Science:  To the tune of Queen’s triumphant “Don’t Stop Me Now,” this spot is a rapid-fire showcase of historic figures and moments in medical history, as part of a victory lap, per se, for Pfizer’s 175th anniversary. Just when you think they’re going to close with a big high-five about the pandemic, it transitions powerfully to their next fight… the Outdo Yesterday initiative to defeat cancer. Well done.

Limited Release

Volkswagen – American Love Story: My top pick gripped my attention with black-and-white footage, old-school 4:3 aspect ratio, and a Neil Diamond backing track… and it never let go. Scene after scene of vintage VWs cruised ahead through time. I saw a Scirocco, replicating my college roommate’s, tricked out like a racecar and all. Then I saw my silver Jetta, the first car I ever actually owned. And then Bart Simpson exclaimed “punch buggy red” as he knuckle-sandwiched Lisa on the arm… and we were transported. Nearly everyone has some emotional connection to a VW at some point in their life and if you haven’t, well, maybe that’s the point. Your time can still come. Then they wrapped it with the best-written line of the game, “We shape its metal. You shape its soul.”

All in all, this year’s batch of ads brought some old favorites and some new classics; some anthemics along with some antics, with a twist of extra Flashdance. Cheers to that.

Matt Kamer is partner at BCH Agency, a Louisville-based advertising and public relations firm.