If you’re an entrepreneur, you probably get more excited about the commercials during the Super Bowl than you do about the big game itself.

Airing a Super Bowl commercial the riskiest (and potentially most rewarding) single-use advertising channel out there. With 30-seconds of airtime coming in at a cool $5-million (and production costs that can easily exceed an additional $5-million), it’s exciting to see which companies are willing to take the risk.

Since most of the Super Bowl commercial breakdowns out there are not based in any business logic, I decided to do it myself.

How I Ranked the Commercials

When it comes to marketing, who you target determines the effectiveness of your pitch. So we first need to think about who actually watches these commercials.

Each Super Bowl frequently breaks the record for the most watched television event of all time, with the latest clocking it at 111.3-million live viewers. The demographics reflect the makeup of the United States itself across a wide array of demographics.

In short, when you’re doing a Super Bowl commercial – you’re advertising to everybody. You have a little bit of skew towards males, adults, and conservative political leanings. Beyond that, there’s no real targeting…

You should also take into account where people watch these commercials. Most are viewed in loud environments with friends, alcohol, and a whole lot of distractions. These commercials need to be entertaining, attention-grabbing, and memorable.

You’re also competing with tens-of-millions of competing advertising dollars, so these commercials also need to be better than the others.

Ranking Beyond the Demographics

One of the keys to a winning Super Bowl commercial this year was to not get too political. People are exhausted by politics, and they’re absolutely not tuning into the Super Bowl to see how much corporate America understands our struggles.

Going political is always a risky route when it comes to mass marketing, and this year it was particularly risky. But many chose to take that risk…

I also tried to take into account the market positions and campaign strategies of the companies airing these commercials. You’ll see this in my analysis under each video.

Also – please keep in mind that I am analyzing these commercials from a marketing perspective. Just because a commercial has a righteous message does not mean that it’s an effective marketing message. So please don’t freak out when you see my picks for the worst commercials below…

Enjoy 🙂

#3 Worst: Inspiration Drops (LIFEWTR)

I’m pretty sure I just watched a commercial for acid. Really not sure what Pepsi was thinking with this, but it doesn’t seem like a great way to sell this premium water bottles…

People watching this commercial during the Super Bowl most likely spaced out, as this is just music and pretty colors (great background noise for a party). There’s a reason the best Super Bowl commercials aim to be memorable through humor, jingle, and/or emotional impact. It’s so people will actually remember this thing in the morning.

This commercial absolutely won’t be remembered (or sell water bottles).

#2 Worst: We Accept (Airbnb)

I’ll probably catch some flak for this one, but this is was a terrible marketing blunder for Airbnb. The founding team decided (less than a week before the game) to spend $5-million to make a political statement. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the message they’re pushing here, I undoubtedly think this $5-million could have been better spent.

Airbnb’s customer base is not strictly liberal, so it was an incredibly bad move to make a direct statement against the current conservative demigod. On top of that, they did it during the Super Bowl – they chose to do this in the most expensive way possible, and pushed it to an audience whose core skews conservative.

Airbnb is a company who is desperate for exposure to the exact audience the Super Bowl provides. Instead of highlighting what people love about Airbnb or giving us any incentive to actually try Airbnb, they decided to make a political statement in a temple that worships the conservative demigod himself.

This is BAD guys. They didn’t give us a call-to-action, or even a freaking website to go to at the end. If I were an investor, I would be pissed…

#1 Worst Commercial of Super Bowl 51:
Drive Progress (Audi)

This commercial took the risk of going political, and it failed spectacularly. This commercial is guilty of everything the Airbnb commerical is guilty of, and then lots more.

This is not a good commercial. Of course I agree with the message, but Audi should not be the company delivering it. In a market becoming more competitive, Audi decided to make a political statement rather than any type of pitch on why anybody should buy an Audi.

At least Airbnb only managed to isolate politically charged conservatives – Audi managed to isolate an entire gender along with them. There’s also a huge disconnect between the message and the $60,000 car they drive off in at the end.

It feels like the marketing agency that cooked this concept up has never spoken to an Audi owner. Simply put – I don’t think this was an effective use of $5-million.

#3 Best: Cleaner of Your Dreams (Mr. Clean)

This commercial has a lot going for it. Great pattern interrupt (it certainly grabs attention, whether you like it or not). It’s funny in and of itself, and only gets funnier with the twist at the end.

I think this commercial will speak to the target demographic well, and I think they’ll remember it. This is the type of campaign that will get mentioned in the cleaning aisle by many couples, and likely help sell more Mr. Clean products.

#2 Best: Bai Bai Bai (Bai)

Brilliant concept here to latch onto such a deeply embedded cultural jingle (Nsync’s Bye Bye Bye) to increase brand awareness. This one has a lot going for it – it’s funny and extremely memorable.

Bai is a relatively small company with $300-million in annual revenue at the time of this article, so it’s a cockroach compared to the larger beverage players. I think many more people will remember Bai after seeing this commercial – so it achieves it’s goal.

Fun fact – Justin Timberlake recently invested in this company, so it’s not surprising to see him leveraging his star power to push it 🙂

#1 Best Commercial of Super Bowl 51:
Born the Hard Way (Budweiser)

Budweiser really hit it out of the park with this one. In a time when personal brands are becoming stronger than ever, Anheuser-Busch managed to create an emotional connection between their customers and their original founding story.

When you look at who is giving this massive beer conglomerate the most trouble (small independent breweries), it’s no wonder they took a shot at reminding people that they too were once a small independent brewery.

This was one of the most powerful, most popular, and likely most effective commercials of Super Bowl 51.

Honorable Mentions

Another one from Budweiser, who is known for having the most consistently solid Super Bowl commercials.

This one is probably the most emotionally gripping commercial of this Super Bowl, however I don’t think it makes many people want to drink beer (let alone Budweiser). It’s an incredible short story, but I don’t know if it’s an effective way to sell beer.

Maybe they were just going for ‘Best Commercial’ with this one, because it’s got a lot of viral potential.

This one is funny and memorable, while also pushing the value proposition of the product (healthy fats in Avacado’s). So it’s certainly an effective commercial.

However, I don’t think it can compare with the top 3 that made it – although it was close.

Beautiful ad (must have cost them a fortune).

It will probably get people to download the game, but this game genre is so spent I think they’re going to run into diminishing returns.

One last general theme I noticed – TONS of celebrities this year.

I’ve had a theory for a while that as personal brands become bigger (and major ‘faceless’ brands become harder to emotionally connect with), you’ll see more companies bringing in celebrities to simply communicate their value proposition to the viewer. People are simply done listening to your prototypical commercial – but they are still willing to listen to entertainers they know and like.

There was a lot of that this year, and I thought the ‘Yearbook’ commercial above was the ultimate example.

So that’s it for my Top 3 Best & Worst Super Bowl Commercials

Let me know what your favorites were in the comments below!


Will Mitchell

Will Mitchell is a serial entrepreneur and Founder of StartupBros. You can learn more about him at the StartupBros About Page. If you have any questions or comments for him, just send an email or leave a comment!