hfa Insights, News & Awards


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So Many Second Bananas, So Little Time:
The 2017 Super Bowl Commercials

Yes, for once we had the Super Bowl we've all dreamed about — the one where the game was actually more compelling than the commercials. The drama on the field, including the first overtime in Super Bowl history, took a little pressure off of advertisers. This year, the ads didn't have to function as the main attraction.

But there was still plenty to see during the commercial breaks. This year's ads fell into two general groups: Comedy and Kumbaya. Going for a laugh is still a tried and true strategy, but this year saw a surge in "message" spots, as several brands braved a turbulent political climate to celebrate diversity and tolerance at a time when those terms (including "climate," come to think of it) are divisive, incendiary and in some cases, even boycott-provoking.

A few of the highlights:

Budweiser — "Born the Hard Way"

Budweiser tells the classic story of an immigrant overcoming adversity to achieve the American dream. In this case we see the story of how Anheuser met Busch and the tale is well told — high production values and cinematic staging create the feel of a short film rather than a television spot. Budweiser has found itself the subject of a boycott due to what some perceive as a political statement regarding immigration; too bad they aren't being congratulated for coming up with something more memorable than their usual "blue collar bonding over a classic rock soundtrack" aesthetic.

Audi — "#DriveProgress"

Audi sends a message of its own with this spot focusing on equal pay. A voiceover reveals the thoughts of a father, wondering if he'll have to tell his daughter she's not as good as a man. With the hashtag #DriveProgress, Audi literally aligns its brand with the idea of progressive thinking, whether it be automotive technology or employment practices. For those not mortified by the gender politics, the spot tells a poignant story. Hopefully they can avoid a boycott.

Bai — "BaiBaiBai"

There's nothing wrong with a good dad joke, especially if it's executed well. Granted, your dad probably isn't Christopher Walken or Justin Timberlake, so you probably aren't used to this level of skill. Bai Beverage uses an unforgettable Walken recital of *NSYNC lyrics that delivers the funny while acting as a handy mnemonic device for the pronunciation of the product name. There's enough casual cool here to at least make one curious as to what the stuff tastes like — maybe you can get your dad to pick some up at the store.

Buick — "Cam Newton/Miranda Kerr"

Buick is still trying to convince the world of their hipness and relevance, and they inched closer with this surprisingly funny spot featuring Cam Newton. Seeing the 6'5" quarterback dominate a grade school football game brings to mind a skit Peyton Manning once starred in on Saturday Night Live, but the Buick spot uses some fun special effects to take this version to the next level.

Ford — "Go Further"

2016 was a strong year for auto manufacturer ads. Ford joins the party with a very un-Ford-like entry, evolving their brand into a sort of automotive GE. Beginning with a montage of everyday life fails, the spot shows an array of Ford technological solutions including electric vehicles, bike sharing and self-driving cars. Can Buick become cool? Can Ford be cutting edge? We shall see. Regardless, it's good to see established brands pushing to reinvent themselves.

Skittles — "Romance"

Sometimes funny is good enough. Skittles is a fortunate brand — they don't have to save the world, they just have to be a sugar rush. Watching people (and animals) line up to have Skittles thrown down their gullets was a quick bit of fun and a crowd-pleaser — just like a handful of Skittles.


We live in a society obsessed with quotables. We quote movies, song lyrics, self-help posters and sometimes, TV commercials. Busch resurrects an old marketing gimmick and takes it to a ludicrous and eminently quotable extreme. Dive bars across the country will see a spike in orders from patrons who just want the excuse to say "Buschhhhhhhhh"

Air BnB — "We Accept"

You can debate whether or not it was strategically sound, but you have to at least admit that Air BnB offered up one of the ballsiest spots of the night. Mostly message with just a sprinkle of brand, a simple statement about acceptance is punctuated with a fleeting glimpse of the Air BnB logo. Those unfamiliar with the brand would have no way to even know what service is being provided. This is a brand in tune with its existing consumers, acting to strengthen and validate relationships. It's a subtly revolutionary moment: a brand self-confident enough to simply talk rather than sell.