The Obligatory Super Hole VIII – The Uppity Armchair CD Edition


— 12:57 PM on February 3, 2014

Jason Fox, our resident Mac blogger, spends his days in the advertising business, and he has a tradition of rating the Superbowl commercials each year. We've made a tradition of running his post here at TR, because why not? Read on to see what a true professional thinks of this year's crop of Superbowl ads.

Oh, and please forgive the slow page loading. Pulling up a bunch of embedded YouTube videos ain't easy.

Welcome to the eighth annual edition of a futile exercise I call The Super Hole. This year, unlike Super Holes VI and VII, I'll return to passing out letter grades along with proffering tidbits on how the spots could've been better. Granted, I could take the easy way out for all of them and just say, "Step 1: Hire me. Step 2: Leave me alone. Step 3: Drink in the genius." But that would be rude. Very rude. Besides, some of these spots are actually quite good.

As usual: I only review ads shown during the four quarters of the game, so no pre- or post-game spots (although a couple sneak in). And no movie trailers, TV show promos, NFL ads or local ads.

Spots are arranged in alphabetical order according to brand. If I missed a couple, try one of the 8.3 million other blogs writing about this today.

And if you helped make one of the ads that I ream, take solace in the fact that you worked on a Super Bowl ad. I worked on a blog about Super Bowl ads.

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Audi, "Doberhuahua" – I love this spot, so I'll just pick some nits. The banter between the dog show commentators could've been funnier, in the vein of "Best in Show." I'm sure Fred Willard would've been available. The dog park scene could've used a smaller moment, perhaps between the doberhuahua and a bulldog. As it is, the "save yourselves" line feels forced. Don't quite believe the end of the fantasy where the doberhuahuas overrun the city, but whatever. Best scenes: Big Wheel kid and Sarah McLachlan spoofing her old PSAs. A-

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AXE Peace Bodyspray, "Call to Arms" – On the one hand, this spot is better than last year's "Astronaut." On the other, it's nice to see AXE take a step away from the "use this and get lucky" motif. On the other other hand, the first other hand is actually not true when you think about it. The overriding message of this spot is that getting a piece equals getting peace. Umm, no. And who, exactly, is the target for a classier AXE? Exactly. I'm guessing that's why that Kiefer Sutherland "Susan Glenn" spot from a couple years ago didn't lead to more. But what do I know? I was lonely in my youth. B-

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Bank of America, "U2" – A new song by U2. An opportunity to download it for free and help stem HIV infection in babies. Really, the only thing wrong about this spot is that it wasn't 15 minutes long and called The Pepsi Presents Pepsi Sponsoring the Pepsi-Cola Halftime Show. Man, I miss 2002. Sucking up to the band with an A

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Beats Audio, "Goldilocks" – This spot launches the new streaming service from Beats Audio. And while the production is a slick twist on Goldilocks, and Ellen Degeneres is her affably goofy self, I still have no idea why I should spend $15 a month for this service. Nor does the spot really invite me to find out that info for myself. In a world of Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Radio and a host of other streaming services, you better have something unique to bring to the party. Maybe Beats does, but this spot doesn't show it. C+

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Bud Light, "Ian Up for Whatever" – This spot officially launches Bud Light's new tag line "The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens." And while all the things that happen to Ian (I'm guess his last name in Grunberg, as in brother of Greg) in the spot are, well, nice for Ian, they don't seem terribly extreme or random enough for the "whatever happens" category. There's just no intrigue here. Everything is good and nothing is terribly unexpected. There's no tension to be resolved. And tension is the heart of any story, even happy ones. If this spot had gone off the deep end a little more (Ride the llama!) and kept Ian Greg a little more off-kilter, this spot could've had real repeat value instead of just being pleasant to watch once. I mean, you have Arnold Schwarzenegger channeling Bjorn Borg, Don Cheadle with a llama, Reggie Watts and Minka Kelly and the best you can do is end up at a OneRepublic concert? I like "Counting Stars," too, but I'd rather end up across the country with a tattoo I don't remember getting. Or is that more of a Busch Lite thing? B-

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Budweiser, "A Hero's Welcome" – I don't care what brand you are: If you use a soldier returning home in a way that doesn't feel scripted or contrived or opportunistic (even if it is), most people are going to get goose bumps and go along. I did. Yeah, I know, I know. Sue me. A-

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Budweiser, "Puppy Love" – Budweiser long ago reached the point where they don't even have to talk about their beer (which is probably for the best) and can, instead, evoke pure "brand affiliation" goodness. Usually, the means busting out at least one Clydesdales-themed spot during the Super Bowl. This entry into the canon is marred only by the song choice. Granted, I've never cared for this song, but even if I did I'd consider it a poor fit. The spot is about best buds (if the hashtag at the end is to be believed), but the song is obviously a ode to romantic love lost. I realize it's not easy finding a song about friendship instead of love, but I'm not sure the creators would have had to go that far. Just something that feels more appropriate than trendy is all. But at least they didn't have Dog Lady and Horse Man fall in love at the end. Even though we all know that's totally what happened. In which case, the song is really about them. Sweet Moses, I just blew my own mind. B

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Butterfinger, "Therapy" – And what does it say about me that I instantly recognized the therapist from the early-90s Fox sitcom "Herman's Head" which also co-starred the voice of Lisa Simpson, Yeardley Smith? Jeezo, I'm weird. The spot itself, however, actually made me want to not sample the candy. Which is saying something. C

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CarMax, "Slow Clap – Human Version" – While the spot has some nice details—Sean Astin popping up as his character from "Rudy" might be the best—most of the spot is just a slow build to nothing. The point of a slow clap is that it is either sarcastic, or it builds to a full ovation and celebration of a finally triumphant underdog. Neither happens here. Why are people slow clapping? Is the protagonist such a backwards boob that managing to get a decent deal on a used car counts as one of life's great victories? Is he such a psychopath that the townsfolk humor his every action with clapping? Why do they all look so bored? What in this spot would make me consider going to CarMax? Jackola, that's what. Assuming we keep with the slow clapping as our central theme (just to avoid the kneejerk "start over"), I'd just open on the scenes of the clappers with them commenting to one another about Car Guy's negotiating prowess, great taste, ability to beat Kasparov at chess, etc. before cutting to a flashback at the CarMax. CarMax makes him seem smarter, wiser, sexier(?) than he is. Yeah, it's still not great, but it could at least make a bit of sense. Keep Rudy, though. Hobbits gotta work. C-

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CarMax, "Slow Clap – Puppy Version" – They say the test of a great song is how it sounds with just a voice and an acoustic guitar. And they say the test of a great spot is how it plays when human actors are replaced with dogs. They are drunk. C

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Cheerios, "Gracie" – Cheerios returns with a sequel to a "controversial" spot from last year that featured a biracial couple and their young daughter. This sequel finds the family subtly acknowledging the internet trolls and then moving on to more important matters. It's beautifully written—an example of what "conversational dialog" really is and something so many spots fail at. And the acting is sublime, especially the little girl's. Now if only Cheerios would add some protein to the mix so I wouldn't be hungry 15 minutes after eating a bowl. And by protein I mean bacon. A-

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Chevrolet, "Life" – It's not easy doing a spot with real pathos. This piece, in support of World Cancer Day, nailed it. And nailed it square. Minor ding for not much replay value. Very minor. A-

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Chevrolet, "Romance (Silverado)" – The story is cute and nice spin on Chevy's recent "A man/woman and a truck" campaign. But there's absolutely nothing about the truck. And when your truck ad will be inevitably compared to last year's "God Made a Farmer" spot for Ram, well, you might want to step it up a bit. Also, a more current and/or ironic song than "You Sexy Thing" would've been nice. I've started a petition to ban that song from advertising for all eternity. B

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Chobani Yogurt, "Ransacked" – Bear? Good. Connection to natural ingredients? Tenuous. Joke of bear pausing to ring bell for assistance? Meh. Frankly, if you're going to go the bear route (and again, to avoid just tossing the concept, we'll go with that), this sort of spot yearns for a talking bear. Even if it's just a guy in a suit. He comes in, freaks people out, bad mouths the other snacks, then opts for the Chobani. What? You need an example? Okay, here. [Warning: Angry Squirrel] C+

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Chrysler, "Bob Dylan" – Dylan gives an interesting soliloquy, and the footage is great, but why does Chrysler keep trying to push the 200 down our throats as the ultimate expression of American automotive know-how? This should be a pure brand spot, not one for a particular model. Unless it was for Chevy and it was a Corvette. B

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Coca-Cola, "Going All the Way" – Hmmm. As always from Coke, great production values and direction. Just don't know what about this spot deserved a full 60 seconds. So the kid runs off the field all the way to Lambeau. I kept expecting him to morph into Adrian Peterson or something. Instead, we get a Mean Joe Green Lite Moment. And the kid doesn't feel like much of an underdog aside from his size and one comment from a teammate about "don't mess this up again." Needed a bigger setup and payoff. Maybe more fancy footwork razzamatazz or the aforementioned pro-player morph. Something guys. C'mon. You gave us Happiness Factory. Pick it up. B-

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Coca-Cola, "It's Beautiful" – Sorry. I know what Coke's going for in this spot, but I'm just not feeling it. I'm glad so many people want to come to America. I'm glad almost all of them bring delicious food for me to try. But a multi-culti montage of "America" in multiple languages doesn't exactly make me feel the love. B-

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Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt, "The Spill" – First, does anyone find yogurt sexy? Second, even when combined with The Stamos? Third, do we need a trouser-related reference in a Super Bowl spot? Fourth, isn't this the same spot they ran last year, but with Danny Tanner and Alanis Morissette's ex added to the mix? Fifth, dude, c'mon. If you're going to use the guys from "Full House" to pimp yogurt, the best you can probably do is have the three guys sitting around talking about how weird it is they're all sitting around eating yogurt together while the Olsens are off counting their billions. But at least the spot didn't promise to help me poo. D+

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Doritos, "Finger Cleaner" – Once again, Doritos has convinced production companies across the land to make hundreds of spots for them. While the results have been quite uneven in the past (and I'm being kind), this spot is actually pretty decent. It veers a bit into Skittles territory in its celebration of absurdity, but thank Ogilvy it doesn't rely on clichés and bad acting like so many Crash the Super Bowl entries do. The only part that rings false is the line "You ask too many questions, Billy" as it implies something menacing. That character should have embraced his ignorance of the situation—who cares how it works, it just does! Also, curly hair is not to be laughed at. So saith the J-Fro. B

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Doritos, "Time Machine" – Hey, look, a middle-aged dude in a hoodie who gets fooled by a kid and a cardboard box. Is this Dorito's target market? My head says yes, but the bag of Cool Ranch in our pantry says no. I own no hoodie. C-

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Ford, "Nearly Double" – The message came through loud and clear, so that's something. But special effects and tigers don't equal interesting. And frankly, I'd rather watch Rob Riggle than James Franco. B-

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GoDaddy, "Bodybuilder" – So confused. For the first time in years, I'm actually commenting on a GoDaddy spot instead of silently and ineffectually protesting its advertising's raunchicity. This spot would've worked even without the creepily buff Danica Patrick. It's not the most original execution (a play off old Yellow Pages spots of "advertise with us and the hordes will come"), but it is well executed. I would've made all the body builders pasty, though. Pastiness is always a plus. That's what I told my wife when we were dating. B

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GoDaddy, "Puppet Master" – While better than the GoDaddy fare of the past, you would think a spot with John Turturro and a woman quitting her job in front of 100 million people would be a little more exciting. Even the puppets were a let down. I mean, really. Boring puppets? Sacrilege. B-

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GoPro, "Red Bull Stratos" – Hey, guys, remember when that Austrian dude jumped out of a space balloon and, like, broke speed of mach barrier or something? Yeah, that was cool. In 2012. C-

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H&M, "Beckham" – A non-payoff to a tepid teaser campaign, this homage to Sir Beck's abs could have used some real element of (yes, faux) danger instead of the, gasp, drama of getting locked out of a photo shoot. Also, who doesn't notice their underwear getting ripped off? Is the man just that used to that happening that he really ignores the tugging and the breeze? Oy. C-

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Heinz Ketchup, "Hum" – For the first time in 16 years, Heinz Ketchup returns to the Super Bowl. Should've waited another year. The spot itself isn't horrible by any means, although the ending gag with grandma falls very, very flat, it's the strategy that lets the brand down. "Where there's happy it has to be Heinz." Seriously? Happiness is a tomato-based condiment imbued with a dollop or ten of HFCS? I love me some ketchup as much as the next Midwesterner, but come on. I thought advertising had moved past this sort of thing. Yes, the product itself may conjure up thoughts of baseball games, family reunions, picnics and float trips, but no one attributes the fun of those experiences to ketchup. It's a tagalong. And maybe, just maybe, that's what should been played up. It could still be fun and lighthearted without veering into ironic detachment. And it would actually ring true. Which, you know, is kind of important. C+

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Honda, "#hugfest" – People will watch Bruce Willis. People will listen to Bruce Willis. But will they remember anything about this ad 60 seconds from now? Fans of "Portlandia" notwithstanding? B-

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Hyundai, "Dad's Sixth Sense" – Awesome. Great idea, great CGI, great vignettes. All based in the truth of being a dad (trust me, non-papas). Even nailed the little things like the teen's voice being deep instead of going with a clichéd, pubescent squeal. Also glad the dad didn't come off like Phil Dunphy, as much as like Ty Burrell. A

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Hyundai, "Nice" – Why is "The Big Bang Theory" star Johnny Galecki driving an entry-level Hyundai? Has he really burned through all his BBT and "Roseanne" cash? Ignoring this puzzler, the spot is okay. It's fun and well produced, but doesn't make a whole lot of sense even in fantasyland. Although I guess the real question is, with her ability to speak things into existence, why isn't that woman flying an invisible jet? To improve this concept, Johnny should have the same powers, resulting in a battle of the witty-cum-physical retorts. Possibly ending with Richard Lewis on fire. B

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Intuit, "GoldieBlox" – It's hard to judge this spot impartially when you know the backstory of GoldieBlox jacking a Beastie Boys song and then pre-emptively suing the remaining Boys to use it under the pretense of parody speech. (Here's a hint: Real commercials are never considered parodies.) This spot, created by RPA, is pretty good, but I just can't get that taste of theft out of my mouth. Also, "Cum On Feel the Noize" should not ever be associated with children. Jeezo. C+

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Jaguar, "The Rendezvous" – This should have been awesome. A spot based on the question "Have you ever noticed how in Hollywood movies all the villains are played by Brits?" There are all sorts of ways to answer this question with all manner of past Brit villains making appearances. Instead, we get Sir Ben Kingsley dressing for cocktails, Tom "Loki" Hiddleston shuttling about in a chopper like the guy in those old Scottrade ads, and some dude I don't recognize. All reciting a script that was obviously written for a 30-second spot but stretched in a 60. And it shows. Badly. This is a spot that demanded more cash and even more charisma. The leads are wasted, there's not enough evil afoot, and the opening question actually isn't a true question—it's a rhetorical one. Which means everything that comes after isn't an answer so much as an example. Instead, the question should be WHY are villains always Brits, and the answer is because that lets them drive cool Jags. Throw in eight times the amount of villainy showed and you're done. You're welcome. C+

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Kia, "Morpheus" – If I didn't know anything about Kia's new K900 (and I do because I'm into such motorized things), this spot would not provide any reason to search out information. For something that's supposed to make us "never look at luxury the same way again," the product looks an awful lot like other luxury cars. Which wouldn't be so bad if, you know, Mr. Fishburne hadn't raised the issue. And as much as I love The Fish busting out a pitch pipe, I'm going to have to recommend scrapping the tie-in to a 15-year-old movie. That's right, "The Matrix" is 15 years old, people. Whoa. C+

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M&M's, "Delivery" – M&M's have a history of fairly strong Super Bowl spots. This brings down their average. A Russian(?) oligarch talking into a trunk is not the stuff of legend outside a Tarantino movie. C+

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Maserati "Now We Strike" – A manifest spot on the Super Bowl? No way, Garth. The verbiage may have been stirring, but I was so distracted by the disconnected visuals that I didn't pay close enough attention. Maserati, you are Italian. In a good way. Act like it. And not like "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Still want the car, though. B-

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MetLife, "National Anthem with Peanuts" – I cannot lie. I've loved Charlie Brown and the gang since I remember memories. Sure, I had flings with "Calvin & Hobbes," "Bloom County," "The Far Side," and, most recently, "Get Fuzzy," but I doubt any of those would have existed in the forms they did with the little round-headed kid leading the way. Naturally, I'm prone to like a spot featuring Snoopy, et al. But MetLife has licensed these characters for decades now, to varying degrees of effectiveness. This time, they got it right. A small(ish), patriotic, reflective moment just moments before the most bombastic sports and media event kicks off. And whoever did the animation work did a great job incorporating the 2D characters into the real world along with the lighting effects. To all involved, I can only offer a hearty wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. B+

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Microsoft, "Empowering" – There's nothing inherently wrong about this attempt at uplift by the folks in Redmond, except that there's nothing inherently great. The individual pieces are all worthy, but another montage about how technology makes our lives better just doesn't inspire like once did. Keeping the spot focused on the narrator could have produced a more powerful message. B-

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Old Spice, "Meeting" – For a brand that has spent the last several years producing work famous for cramming in as many jokes, bits, homages and meta-everything as possible, this spot feels a little tame. I like the weird hair, of course, which was well produced. And I can appreciate the more subtle approach taken than that of, say, Axe. But it felt like a long way to go for the punch line. I just wanted Isaiah Mustafa or Terry Crews to bust in and defeat the hair. Or eat it. Or, in Terry's case, make it his own. Something. B-

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Pepsi, "Pepsi Halftime Intro" – Technically, this 30-second piece was just an intro to the Pepsi-sponsored halftime show featuring a highly inaccurate hologram of Bruno Kirby. A nice idea and seamless effects, plus a lack of over-the-top tomfoolery helped this be a fairly decent bit of marketing for the brand in its own right. I would've used a bottle slide (as in blues guitar) on the opening bridge shot, though. B

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Radio Shack, "The 80s" – Great self-deprecating spot that is only marred by a lame "let's do this together" message at the end. Outstanding use of Mary Lou Retton. A-

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SodaStream, "ScarJo" – The entire point of this spot was to get pre-game media coverage for having to edit out a mention of Coke and Pepsi (as seen in the embed below). Ooooh, censorship! As if the NFL would let someone diss the main sponsor of their halftime show (Pepsi). Aside from that, this spot is all over the place. I'm supposed to use SodaStream to save the planet? To be like Scarlett Johansson? To make their spot go viral? To give a Barry White impersonator some work? I just don't know! Look, I have nothing against using Scarlett Johansson in an ad. But why all the unnecessary flash? If the product is basically anti-Coke and anti-Pepsi, shouldn't the spot reflect that ethos? Go simple. Like the E*Trade monkey in the garage. Only it's ScarJo sipping a soda for 30 seconds. So much better. Sorry, monkey. C

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Squarespace, "A Better Web Awaits" – My own ad blog is currently hosted on a Squarespace site. But maybe not much longer if my money is going towards this type of ad. How does building a website on Squarespace equal less duck lips and fail memes? If I go with another provider, are those atrocities built in? Why do I feel like this is a recycled AOL spot? The problem with this spot is the strategy. People aren't out there pining to create subjectively better websites as a bulwark against the gyrating lower-my-bills hordes. People want a simple way to produce a nice-looking site. Can you do that on Squarespace? After this spot, I do not know. Perhaps they should have gone with a message of "Ugly is easy. Now nice is easy, too." And feature bad design instead of bad content. C-

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Toyota, "Terry Crews and the Muppets" – It's hard to hate on the Muppets, and Terry Crews could pummel me by flexing a quad. Nonetheless, this spot left me somewhat wanting. I liked the premise and the payoff with Kermit. And Mr. Crews has nailed down his insane face after much practice pimping Old Spice. The big issue is: too much setup and not enough wackiness. "We ain't go no room for boring" is a great refrain, but why does it take 33 seconds to get the hilarity ensuing? More vignettes, bring on Fozzie and let's recut this thing. B-

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T-Mobile, "Tim Tebow – No Contract No. 1, No. 2 & No. 3" – Proof that the underlying idea doesn't have to be new for the work to be entertaining and relevant. Who knew Tebow could act? He gives Peyton a run for the money in the pitchman department. Fun stuff that's relevant to the media placement and the millions of wireless phone users out there who are tired of two-year stints with their carriers. Well done, Butler, Stern, Shine & Partners. A

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TurboTax, "Prom" – This spot's message: Your team didn't make the Super Bowl so you might was well do your taxes. Hey, I've used TurboTax for at least a decade. But no. Even with the Chiefs blowing that playoff game to Indy. No. C

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Volkswagen, "Wings" – As the proud owner of a 2012 Volkswagen GTI, I am predisposed to liking the brand's advertising. Not that that's been a difficult thing to do over the years. This spot is above average and would, in a non-Super Bowl environment, be considered quite good. The premise is a bit odd—I can't imagine ever telling my teenaged daughter that VW engineers get wings every time a VW passes 100,000 miles. But, the wackiness that ensues is generally well done. I don't like the scene in the elevator with the accidental wing-to-cheek contact as it's too cliché. ( know many will complain that that is the only scene featuring a female engineer, but let's be honest—has society reached the point where we can feature women and engineers and also mock them? I have. But society? Knickerbocker, please.) Anyway, I also wish the daughter hadn't used the word "butt." Yes, I'm that kind of dad. Now someone in VW PR give me a 2015 Golf R and I'll rewrite this. I'm not a journalist. My opinions can be bought. B

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WeatherTech, "You Can't Do That" – I've used WeatherTech products for years—a full set of their mats is protecting our sweet, sweet minivan as I type. With mace and a .45. So, I was interested to see what their first Super Bowl spot would be. (The brand is known for long-copy ads in every major car mag in America.) This spot didn't have the most original foundation in the world, but it was interesting enough to keep my attention, and the message rings very true in today's maker culutre. Not to shabby, pappy. B

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Wonderful Pistachios, "Stephen Colbert No. 1" – There's such a thing as being too subtle. And while I realize this was a setup to spot No. 2, it failed to make me anticipate the punch line. I prefered Colbert's Mr. Goodwrench spots of yore, to be imperfectly honest. C

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Wonderful Pistachios, "Stephen Colbert No. 2" – Oooooh, "branding." This spot would've worked if the eagle had flown off with Stephen's pistachio head. That's comedy. C+

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