One of the best tech ads in Super Bowl 49 came from a non-tech company.
Nine tech firms bought actual Super Bowl ad time, defined by Ad Age as, “national ads that ran between kick-off and the final whistle.” Corporate images were burnished (Microsoft). Goats were goaded (Sprint). And small business owners missed the game (GoDaddy).
But if the criteria for a great Super Bowl ad is the marketer’s mantra of memorable, unique and somehow actually tied to the product, only a handful of tech ads truly worked. They included one that was not from a tech firm, but celebrated a retro technology in an entirely new way. Here’s our rundown.
Intuit’s TurboTax went alternate-history wacky by suggesting that if free tax filing had been available in 1771, the Boston Tea Party and much of the American Revolution would have been, uh, prevented. Despite a premise that fit in the “be careful what you wish for” camp, the ad was revisionist fun, lushly photographed, with throw-away gag touches (see: bayonet).
Microsoft put two ads in the game, but the better of the pair was the touching and fascinating story of Braylon O’Neill and his prosthetics designed with the help of Microsoft technology. What could have been an overly corporate pitch was tempered by voice-work from hip-hop’s Common. The second ad, for Estella’s Brilliant Bus mobile edtech center, didn’t quite pack the same emotional punch.
Anheuser-Busch’s ad for Bud Light gets a top mention for bringing back Pac-Man in human-sized form, from giant quarters to open the game’s door, to life-size 3D ghosts, to a pounding techno soundtrack with hints of the original Pac-Man theme. Even for someone whose taste may tend to craft beer, it was awesome retro fun.
After a pre-kickoff ad that featured a stereotypical Lindsay Lohan playing an unrecognizable Lindsay Lohan, Esurance redeemed itself by bringing back Breaking Bad. Well, a sort-of Walter White filling in for a mysteriously missing pharmacist. The wonderfully creepy ad barely missed perfection by overwhelming the tie to the actual advertiser.
The Sprint/T-Mobile grudge match got grudgier in a stupid but hilarious ad by Sprint with a double dose of screaming goat. For its part, T-Mobile took the relative high ground (after scraping metaphorical bottom with Kim Kardashian in its first commercial) by a can-you-top-this Sarah Silverman/Chelsea Handler ad with some sharp dialogue (“Sorry, it’s a boy”).
After pulling its original Super Bowl spot due to online outrage about puppy mill implications, GoDaddy fell back perhaps a bit too far to go full boring. Its new ad focused on a small business owner working and missing the game. So GoDaddy is no longer offensive or sexually suggestive. It’s dull. GoDaddy, there is a middle path.
Smartphone accessory maker Mophie had God ignoring chaos on Earth while obsessing over battery life. Beautiful special effects (take note of the Ferris wheel rolling down the street, and the upright dog walking a man), but lame concept. An omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient Being should be able to foresee battery problems. OMG, indeed.
Squarespace and Wix are in roughly the same business: Helping small businesses create websites. What they are clearly not in is the business of creating coherent ads. Jeff Bridges meditating over a sleeping couple, Squarespace? Unidentified football players for an ad in a game millions who aren’t diehard sports fans watch, Wix? Well, at least you got your names got out there, even if the rest of it didn’t make a lot of sense.
As Seahawks fans will no doubt say, there’s always next year.