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Can a Super Bowl ad that costs nearly $6 million be worth it?

That’s a question worth debating if you’re in marketing, so let’s take a look at some of the Super Bowl marketing strategies behind the ads from this year’s big game and see which ones were the biggest winners and losers. For longtime readers, you know I’ve done this before but in past years when I was working at a large agency, I would tread carefully when doing my Super Bowl recaps to make sure I didn’t accidentally mention a client.

Thankfully, being out on my own means I don’t have to measure my words, so what follows is entirely my unfiltered opinion about the ads that worked and the ones that didn’t. Let’s start with the worst strategies of the big game …

Worst Strategy: Discover Card


Doubling down with two ads focusing on two features of credit cards most people take for granted would probably be more meaningful if people ever thought about these two things. There are dozens of credit cards with no annual fees and most people never even consider their card might not be accepted everywhere. Unless they have a Discover card apparently, in which case both of those things must be a big deal.

Worst Strategy: Planters


Relying on people watching a pre-game ad in order to have the storyline for your in-game ad make sense isn’t a good bet. Neither is hoping people still have an emotional attachment to a long-forgotten monocle-wearing mascot from 1916.

Worst Strategy: Facebook


One of the richest companies in the world that has daily issues with ethics, privacy and morality chooses to run an ad reminding us all that there are Facebook groups for people who have niche interests? We need this platform to do a lot more in the world than this. Focusing on promoting groups while ignoring their many issues was weak and just plain disappointing.

Worst Strategy: Pepsi


While rival Coke used their Super Bowl spot to strategically and entertainingly introduce their new energy drink, this Pepsi spot was a forgettable song remake that shows a red can inexplicably being painted black because … well, just because. This is all to introduce Pepsi Zero Sugar – but unfortunately it makes zero sense too.

Worst Strategy: Walmart


I’m not sure why any brand would pay more money to take a pretty good creative concept they already used last year and remake it to be worse and more confusing … but that’s exactly what Walmart managed to do this year. The spot from last year was clever and original to introduce their grocery pickup feature using many different cars. This year’s remake using spaceships was a sad and less effective redo that should never have been approved.

Best Strategy: Dashlane


I am a HUGE fan of using the platform of the Super Bowl to introduce people to a new product or service they haven’t heard of yet. This one for Dashlane does it in a clever, funny and totally relatable way.

Best Strategy: P&G


This ad was so clever I was envious. I mean, using one spot to feature at least half a dozen different brands, including the branded campaign icons for each was just so smart. I counted Troy Polamalu for Head & Shoulders, the Old Spice guy, Mr. Clean, the Charmin bear, a weird appearance by Rob Riggle for Bounce, a product shot for Fabreze and an Olay reference. This was probably the strategy winner of the night for me.

Best Strategy: Microsoft


The brand already provides the sideline technology for the NFL, so it was a masterful move to do something that just about any other brand could have done … celebrate the first woman to coach in an NFL team in the Super Bowl. This spot was on trend, emotionally powerful and (unlike the entertaining but unstrategic spot from Olay), it was also right on brand.

Best Strategy: Google


The storytelling in this spot was probably the best of the night for me, reminding people of the vital connection between technology and humans. Ironically, Google was promoting the same idea as Facebook … yet unlike Facebook, their spot managed to be human, emotional, real and not vaguely self-promotional.

Best Strategy: Hyundai


I loved the idea of introducing the “Smaht Pahk” feature by using a collection of actors with the New England accent. It was a fun and memorable way to introduce a great feature of the new Hyundai Sonata, and a gag that carried through even to the brand’s tagline: “Bettah Drives Us.” Nice idea and great execution.

Best Strategy: Reese’s Take 5 Bar


Similar to the upside for Dashlane of introducing a new product, this spot made the idea of a bar you’ve never heard of fun and helped get the point across that there’s a new candy bar you should know about and might want to try. Unless you have your head up your own ass, of course.

Want to read the full list of my Super Bowl Marketing strategy recaps from previous years?

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