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Students underwhelmed by Super Bowl ads

Barry McNamara
New England quarterback Tom Brady, who would go on to win a sixth NFL championship ring later in the evening, was one of the football players featured in this year's top-ranked Super Bowl ad.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Roughly half of the students in an advertising class at Monmouth College used the word “disappointing” to describe the commercials aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII.

Others in professor Tom Prince’s class were similarly let down by this year’s crop, calling them “mediocre” and “safe.”

The 15 students, many of them business majors, were part of the estimated television audience of 98.2 million who viewed the Super Bowl. Even that number was disappointing, said Prince, as advertisers are typically promised at least 100 million viewers. He said the viewership figure was the lowest for a Super Bowl in 11 years, and it was the lowest-rated title game in 16 years, in terms of the percentage of households who viewed the event.

“A lot of people started checking out other things,” said Prince of the game, which was the lowest-scoring in Super Bowl history. “As the game progressed, people got bored with it.”

Prince shared with his students the rankings of all 58 commercials that aired strictly during the play of the game – from kickoff to final whistle – using data compiled by USA Today.

At the bottom of the list was Burger King’s “Eat Like Andy” ad, which was discussed during the class as a prime example of “wasted money,” considering the price tag of $5 million for 30 seconds.

“We could do a better job for Burger King than their agency,” said Prince. “If you’re going to play in that arena, you’d better bring it.”

He said another company that should have been a major player in the rankings, Michelob Ultra, also disappointed, coming in 51st with its “The Pure Experience” ad.

“The creative director for that ad is probably handing out his résumé today,” said Prince.

However, it was another beer company that might have been the most disappointing. Although Bud Light aired several ads, none of them cracked the top 15. Two of their ads – “Trojan Horse Occupants” and “Medieval Barbers” – ranked in the bottom half.

When asked to name the worst ads they saw, the first ads mentioned by Monmouth students were Bud Light’s commercials, which stressed that their beer is not produced with corn syrup.

“Doritos, which usually has a really good spot, really dropped the ball this year,” said Prince. “So did Bud Light. Whether you use corn syrup or rice to create the sugar needed to brew beer is not really a big point of differentiation.”

Prince said he was looking forward to this year’s ad for Avocados from Mexico, “which is usually a top-five spot, but this year they were only 34th.”

The class also discussed ads that did work. Students mentioned three of the top six when asked to name their favorite commercial of the day. Those choices included Amazon’s “Not Everything Makes the Cut” ad with Harrison Ford (ranked second); Microsoft’s “We All Win” (third); and the fighting M&Ms in a car with Christina Applegate, titled “Bad Passengers” (sixth).

Prince told the class that the National Football League’s ad announcing its upcoming 100th anniversary was the top-ranked commercial. “The 100-Year Game” spot featured 100 NFL stars, who trashed an elegant anniversary celebration by playing football.

The other ads that made USA Today’s top five: Hyundai’s “Elevator” ad featuring Jason Bateman as the operator, and the first responder ad featuring Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, titled “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here.”

Although the ads left a sour taste, for the most part, at least it wasn’t a literal sour taste, unlike the 53rd-ranked commercial – “Chunky Milk” by Mint Mobile – which drew cringes from Prince and his students.