Super Bowl Ads 2015–Good, Bad, Ugly

Soda. Beer. Tax software. Cars and car insurance. Films and TV shows. Toenail fungus meds. Those are just a few of the things that were pitched in advertisements that?ran during the 2015 Super Bowl on Sunday, February 1. And just as the football game between the victorious New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks generated plenty of media coverage and analysis, the ads purchased and aired during the Super Bowl were also scrutinized for their tone and effectiveness.

This year the price for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl cost around $4.5 million, according to NBC, which aired the game. Keep in mind that there were 15, 30, and 60 second ads, and that some companies bought multiple ads and would have been given a bulk discount. Altogether that is a lot of money: in general, Super Bowl spots cost a great deal more than regular prime-time viewing spots.

Photo by Bruce Tonge for
Photo by Bruce Tonge for

The ads themselves also can be very expensive to produce. Among the images we were treated to in these many ads were puppies and ponies, children, urban and rural sights around the world, and several celebrities such as? Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel, Steve Buscemi, Kim Kardashian, and Mindy Kaling. However, many ads included nameless average people, and some had few or no people and focused instead on animals such as a puppy and a Clydesdale, or cartoon characters such as the Minions.

Several media outlets have weighed in on which ads they liked and disliked, and why. Reading these accounts, one realizes how subjective taste is. Time Magazine liked the Puppy ad from Budweiser, giving it an A, but gave the gross-out on an airplane Doritos ad an F. Forbes Magazine gave a thumb’s up to the Turbo Tax Boston Tea Party ad and especially enjoyed the bizarre Snickers ad that shoehorned the Brady Bunch TV show with Steve Buscemi and Danny Trejo. The New Yorker lauded the Squarespace ad with Jeff Bridges playing a Tibetan singing bowl, but panned the Nationwide “Make Safe Happen” ad about a boy who drowned. In fact that one garnered widespread negative reviews.

Surveying family, friends and colleagues on their reactions to these ads, a few spots stood out as particularly popular. My older daughter Jess liked the Human Pac Man ad for Bud Light, but didn’t remember the product association, as well as the #DontTouchYourBalls ad for auto insurance. This ad was probably a hit with teenagers for its vaguely naughty connotations. Fellow LA writer Carissa liked the #LikeAGirl campaign for Always, which combined a serious message with frank but light-hearted depictions. Holly from LA also liked the Snickers ad. My friends Luis and Gabrielle liked the Mindy ad, although Gabrielle may have liked it since her mother’s name is Mindy.

Among my personal favorites were the Turbo Tax alternative Boston Tea Party ad, a nod to my high school social studies teacher past;? the Human Pac Man ad, for its wild-dreams energy; the First Draft Avocados from Mexico ad, especially because it featured a sloth; and the Mindy Kaling ad for Nationwide Insurance, because it was both absurd and ground-breaking for highlight the experience of a South Asian woman. Unlike Time Magazine, I laughed a lot at the silly Doritos ad but I don’t think it was as funny as the ad a few years back, which featured a tough-talking tyke. And unlike the New Yorker, I deemed the Jeff Bridges ad strange and didn’t even remember what it promoted, until I read the essay. I tend to prefer humorous ads, in general, and find them both more enjoyable–and more memorable. Ultimately, that is part of what any advertiser hopes for: that viewers will remember the ads, and thus be motivated to purchase their product or service.


Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.