Super Bowl LI Ads Worth a Replay

The big game featured some memorable commercials – serious and funny alike

Super Bowl ads usually offer brief opportunities for escapism – from both reality and the big game.

This year’s commercial crop did an OK job of entertaining between plays. But some of the most memorable spots touched on current events in both serious (84 Lumber’s Mexican mother-and-daughter immigration story) and comedic ways (Melissa McCarthy’s painful world-saving adventures). Other standout ads focused on football (injured Patriots tight end Ron Gronkowski and quarterback Tom Brady earned chuckles, before they went home thrilled).

No matter what the type of commercial, the test is, to paraphrase the refs, whether the spots warrant further review after the final whistle. The stakes are high: Advertisers reportedly gave Fox $5 million per 30 seconds to broadcast productions that, in many cases, hit the Internet days before kickoff.

Here are some Super Bowl LI commercials worthy of a replay:

Melissa McCarthy Saves Comedy

Forget Super Bowl mania: The weekend belonged to Melissa McCarthy. Her surprise performance on “Saturday Night Live” as presidential spokesman Sean Spicer proved an instant classic. She also stole the show on Super Sunday with her slapstick Kia commercial, which shows her trying to save the world – and suffering grievous bodily harm in the process.

Immigration Stories

The 84 Lumber tale of a mother and her young daughter leaving Mexico (go here to see how their story ends) represented a pure heart-tugger – and a potential political button-pusher. Ditto for Budweiser’s movie trailer-like rendering of German-born co-founder Adolphus Busch’s 19th century American odyssey.

Gronkowski Floods the Field

The injured Patriot didn’t stalk the gridiron, but he put on a small-screen performance for T-Mobile (sharing camera time with Justin Bieber and Terrell Owens) and Tide, even if he ceded the starring role to Terry Bradshaw.

Bathroom Humor

Gronkowski’s teammate Brady didn’t do much scrambling in Intel’s 360-video spot, which captured his mundane morning routine – until he drew the line at the bathroom door. Febreze didn’t display near as much modesty in its Super Bowl-themed toilet extravaganza.

Sprint for Customers

A dad fakes his death – complete with pushing his car off a cliff ­– to get out of his Verizon contract. The mercilessly funny execution scored for Sprint.

Something the Air

All Airbnb sold was harmony in its stark and effective “We all belong” ad, which featured a multicultural collection of faces and a hashtag: #weaccept. The commercial’s biggest asset – and jumping-off point for controversy – was its timeliness, coming in the wake of President Trump’s travel ban order. 

Women March On

Controversy also seems likely to trail Audi’s ad, showing a grade-school-aged girl competing in a downhill cart race as her dad wonders, in a voiceover, how he’ll explain gender inequality to her.

High School Heroes

Yearbook photos of stars-to-be – among them Tina Fey, Missy Elliot, Robert Redford and Stan Lee – come to life, courtesy of Honda, offering a sweet mix of humor and inspiration.

Cam-eo Newton

Carolina Panthers quarterback turns up – along with model Miranda Kerr – in this Buick commercial where a kiddie football game suddenly gets very adult (but in a wholesome way). Other notable celebrity pitch-teams included Justin Timberlake and Christopher Walken – and old pals Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart.

When You Say Spuds

The ghost of beer spokesdog Spuds McKenzie casts a comic specter in this Bud Light laugher that evokes Dickens – and made veteran big-game ad fans nostalgic for Super Sunday commercials that better lived up to the billing.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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