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Thrown for a Quesalupa: The Best, Worst and Just Okay-est Of The 2016 Super Bowl Commercials

This article first appeared at AAF Cleveland.

A small but enthusiastic group of advertising professionals. A fridge full of beer. And the 2016 Super Bowl on the TV. Our mission? Talk during the game, shut up during the ads and be very judgmental.

After all, any ad that can survive such a gauntlet of snark must be a true winner, right? With that in mind, each ad was also held up to a simple but important filter—can you remember who or what the ad was promoting? (And if there was a filter 1a., it was "Do you have a positive feeling about that product after seeing the ad?")

So let's look at some of the most notable ads that played Sunday night and see who made the cut and who should've stayed on the bench.

Winner, Winner, Quesalupas For Dinner

Taco Bell Quesalupa — Local Ad Takeover

Whether or not you ever plan to take another bite of Taco Bell's food, anyone from Northeast Ohio has to admit there was some serious stopping power to seeing a Norton Furniture commercial suddenly morph into a promo for the new Taco Bell Quesalupa.

Marc Brown, the raspy-voiced pitchman for Norton Furniture, is a television mainstay for anyone in the Cleveland area with a bedtime after 11 p.m. His surreal, low-budget ads play like drug-fueled performance art designed to make late-night viewers ask themselves "Did I just see that?"

When the ad came on during our viewing, everyone immediately stopped and began laughing, wondering how, even during a local ad break, the Norton Furniture guy had somehow landed a spot. Which means Taco Bell had our undivided attention when Brown's schtick suddenly shifted from tacky furniture to the new Quesalupa. The confusion in the room was gradually replaced by laughter, especially the final shot of the Taco Bell logo reverberating on top of Brown's ponytailed head.

This ingenious tactic was used in just five markets, leveraging well-known local advertisers with similar reputations for eccentric, so-awful-it's-awesome advertising. So if you don't happen to live near Cleveland, Fort Worth, Minneapolis, Virginia Beach or Eugene, Oregon (known in ad circles as the Not Very Big Five), you didn't get to have the same WTF moment as the rest of us.

However, in the age of viral video and shared content, this move makes a lot of sense in terms of the investment. Pay for local, score nationally. Smart stuff. Watch for these ads to be shared socially in the coming days as the sheer weirdness is sure to get them millions of views. On a night when most ads garner praise for punchlines and CGI, the big winner of the night turned heads with a media placement. Even our forum of industry-hardened skeptics was impressed.

Other Things That Were Good, From PuppyMonkeyBaby to Regular Babies

Mountain Dew: "PuppyMonkeyBaby"

You probably hated this spot but you probably don't drink a lot of Mountain Dew, either. Combining three ad clichés into one horrific ad-bomination and pairing it with an irritatingly repetitive earworm-of-a-song added up to a spot that is sure to be, as one member of our viewing party put it, "big tomorrow in the eighth grade." Say what you want, but the ad knew its audience and unleashed a memorable spokescreature with some legs. Some chubby, disturbing little legs.

MINI Cooper: "Defy Labels"

Starting with Serena Williams and ending with Harvey Keitel (and with Abby Wambach lending even more intensity than either of them), MINI teaches a lesson in the proper use of celebrity endorsements.

NFL: "Super Bowl Babies"

The :60 version of this spot that aired during the game was fun, but for the total experience watch the full-length video online. A simple idea played out on a grand scale—and it's got Seal. Seal for the win.

Honda: "A New Truck To Love"

Speaking of music, Honda sort of cheats by using Queen, because who doesn't like Queen? (Bad people, that's who.) Nice piece of storytelling, as the reason for a field of singing sheep is revealed to be the truck-bed speakers featured on the Honda Ridgeline. This made the rounds online before the game but was still a highlight of the telecast.

Things That Should Have Been Poured Out Like A Flavorless, Nondescript Beverage


Apparently Anheuser-Busch, much like the Carolina Panthers football team, wasn't quite up to the Super Bowl challenge.

Mich Ultra: "Breathe"

This nondescript spot for Mich Ultra could have been an ad for Gatorade. Or Under Armour. Or Powerade. Or Nike. Or FitBit. Multiple dramatic shots of athletes panting after a workout was as bland and flavorless as the product itself. It's a bad sign when a spot makes you think about how much the placement cost and how that money could have fed hungry people instead. They led off the night with this… ugh.

Bud Light: "The Bud Light Party"

Yelling, yelling, yelling, wiener jokes, yelling. I guess there may be some people who still think Bud Light is the last word in party brands, but I can't even think of the last time I saw somebody order a Bud Light. Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer squander some street cred with a spot built to capitalize on the election year that just blends in with every other ‘woooo-hoooo'-type spot Bud Light has put out in the last 15 years. Your brand is losing touch. Don't drag Paul Rudd down with you.

Budweiser: "Not Backing Down" and "Give A Damn"

Budweiser uses pictures of horses, breweries and rock bands covered with giant type to make some sort of anthem statement about how they are number one. This spot gave the impression that someone drank too much Budweiser and lost the spot they were originally supposed to run, so they had to make a brand new one the night before the game.

Budweiser whiffed a second time with Helen Mirren giving some pseudo-edgy straight talk about not driving drunk. I feel like the Creative Director wrote the spot and everyone was afraid to tell them it was weak. "Oh yeah, I get it, because she has an English accent but she's being abusive. Nice dichotomy, boss." Hopefully no one drove drunk just to spite this ad.

Random Thoughts On Everything Else

We liked the Jeep spot with the dramatic voiceover and the "We don't make Jeep. You do." tag line. Then someone called it a cheap knock-off of Dodge Ram's "God Made A Farmer" ad and ruined it for everyone. Never watch this stuff with a bunch of advertising people. Unruly savages, every one of ‘em.

Lady Gaga crushed the anthem, by the way. Despite being dressed like a Christmas ornament. And halftime was headlined by Bruno Mars and Beyoncé, not Coldplay. Coldplay was just the opener.

Kevin Hart for Hyundai was way overcooked and, as someone pointed out, a less funny version of the same situation from Bad Boys 2. When your ad rips off Bad Boys 2, you have an issue.

The Willem Dafoe/Marilyn Monroe ad for Snickers should have been so much better, right? That had to look amazing on paper, and then you shoot the thing and … it's just okay. Snickers has done far better—the Betty White/Abe Vigoda (cheers) football game and Joe Pesci/Don Rickles party scene were classics. This one was just okay. However, one or two bonus points for the callback aired during the Late Show with Stephen Colbert … Eugene Levy still manning the fan below the grate after everyone is gone, realizing he is the only one there. And again, it sounds funnier on paper than it was.

The avocados spot drew a lot of laughs, particularly the random placement of Scott Baio, but does anyone really know what that spot was trying to say about avocados? Something about how aliens like them? Close but no cigar, avocados.

Apartments.com—wow. Try a little harder next time, why don't you? Jeff Goldblum singing the theme for the Jeffersons, with a cameo by Lil Wayne. Finally, a spot that will send both kids and parents to Google for cultural reference explanations. A garbled mess that made me feel bad for Jeff Goldblum, even as I respected his commitment to the bit.

Audi: too soon to leverage Bowie. Stop it.

Taco Bell: the actual Quesalupa commercial was a train wreck. Barrage of cultural references and then George Takei laughing. Your food only makes sense at 2 a.m.; your ads don't have to follow suit.

Shocktop: TJ Miller is hilarious but this whole concept is ripped off from The 40-Year-Old Virgin and the gag reels from every comedy made in the past 10 years.

Buick: Yes, it does too look like a Buick.

Acura used David Lee Roth; Skittles used Steven Tyler. Decided advantage: Acura.

Ryan Reynolds for Hyundai: Thought this might elicit some ohs and ahs but instead drew a disinterested "He's no Chris Pratt."

Anthony Hopkins for TurboTax.com: Strangely popular at this gathering. Maybe some of the refreshments were taking a toll.

"Walken Closet" for KIA: Title of the spot was funnier than the spot itself.

Drake for T-Mobile: surprisingly funny look at what it's like to run your creative work past a legal team. Resonated quite a bit with our crowd.

Jublia toenail fungus treatment with Howie Long, Deion Sanders and Phil Simms: Did that actually happen or was it just an awful dream?