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What Makes a Great Super Bowl Ad (and an Awful One)

The five best and the five worst Super Bowl commercials

By Drew Magary
|  Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014  |  Updated 4:24 PM CDT
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What Makes a Great Super Bowl Ad (and an Awful One)

If you miss a Super Bowl ad because you wanted to go to the bathroom, well now you can view online the following Monday while you're hung over at your desk.


We're long past the days of considering Super Bowl ads to be appointment viewing.

The game itself is usually more entertaining now. Furthermore, many advertisers release their Super Bowl ads to the web before the game, so you may have already seen them by the time the game has aired. And if you miss an ad because you wanted to go to the bathroom, well now you can view online the following Monday while you're hung over at your desk.

But above all else, the reason you don't need to stick around for the ads these days is because they've gotten worse. To prove it, I want to show you a list of my five favorite Super Bowl ads. Here we go:

1. "When I Grow Up",

Brilliantly conceived and executed, and it aired before people realized that surfing meant being referred to the same terrible paralegal job in Topeka again and again and again.

2. "Mosquito", Tobasco

Man eats pizza with Tobasco. Mosquito drinks mans blood. Mosquito explodes in giant fireball. Notice that the ad doesn't tell you WHY the mosquito blew up. It trusts that you can make the connection on your own. 98% of current SB ads don't do this.

3. "Test Pattern," FedEx

This was the first meta Super Bowl ad. Nowadays, most Super Bowls ads refer to the bigness of Super Bowl ads. Only this one did it in a clever fashion.

4. "Hal," Apple

Everyone says that "1984" is the best Apple spot ever. Watch this and you'll change your mind. One shot. One slow, creepy close up.

5. "Stain," Tide

Now, here are the five worst spots from Super Bowls of yore.

1. "Cuba Gooding," Pepsi One

This one has it all: a failed product, cliched music, a ripoff of the slow walk from "Reservoir Dogs," unfunny jokes, explosions, and Cuba. It's like nine terrible ads folded into a single minute.

2. "The Contract,"

SPOILER: They don't get naked.

3. "Christopher Reeve," Nuveen Investments 


This is the one where they CGI Chris Reeve out of his wheelchair and walking around, with everyone giving him a standing O. All to sell you financial products. So, so icky.

4. "Cindy Crawford," Pepsi

This one, bafflingly, makes virtually every "Best Super Bowl commercials" TV special. This is because Pepsi almost certainly paid for the slotting. I can't believe our list of best commercials would be commercialized like that.

5. That one Accenture ad where they CGI the crowd out of MLK's "I have a dream" speech

It's not online, but trust me. It's awful.

All of these bad ads have a few things in common: They have no actual creative ideas behind them, they lack a compelling story, and they rely on celebs to be interesting.

The best Super Bowl ads don't try to be events. They just feature the smartest idea possible. Advertisers don't bother much with that kind of thing anymore, so stay tuned this year for another round of Coors Light mini coaches and Danica Patrick with makeup on.

Follow the latest Super Bowl XLVI news and watch Super Bowl commercials from over the years.

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