I don’t get it. If none of us will “look back on our lives and regret the things we didn’t buy,” as celebrity spokesperson Ewan McGregor purred in the Super Bowl Expedia commercial, then why am I so vexed by which cryptocurrency to hoard? Or which electric vehicle to plug in? And doesn’t anyone sell gasoline anymore? I feel bad for gas. I don’t think I saw a single oil tanker on air Sunday.
Actually, I do know which virtual currency exchange I’m tempted by: Larry David’s, otherwise known as FTX. In a lavish, very funny sprint through a cavalcade of key historical inventions, Mr. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” plays a series of congenital naysayers deriding freakish novelties like the wheel, or the light bulb (“it stinks,” he tells Thomas Edison).
In the final vignette, David dismisses cryptocurrency as a vague and perplexing fad. “Don’t be like Larry,” the voice-over warns. “Don’t miss out on the next big thing.” This was mud in the eye of Crypto.com brand ambassador Matt Damon, lately and in a vaguely untrustworthy way selling the line that your shimmering crypto fortune is simply a matter of a calm mind and steeled nerves. FTX’s Super Bowl spot shone as infinitely craftier salesmanship.
Other hits and a few misses from the Super Bowl LVI ad lineup, broadcast on NBC:
Hit: “I’ll Take It,” Greenlight. “Modern Family” star Ty Burrell’s shopping spree (jet packs, an octopus-like massage machine) renders him broke but is also a useful teaching moment for parents who use the financial app to school their offspring in spending and saving do’s and don’ts. Witty, perfectly paced. I’ll take it.
Miss: Liquid Death Mountain Water. Funny is hard. This spot for the Austrian mountain H2O sold in 16.9 oz. tallboys tries for laughs with preteens going wild, in slow-motion, pounding waters like they were beers in a “Bad Moms” montage. Oh, well! It’s never too early to coach children in sloppy alcoholic excess, with or without alcohol.
Miss: Matthew McConaughey in “The New Frontier,” Salesforce. “It’s not time to escape. It’s time to engage,” McConaughey tells us, floating high above mere mortals in a magical hot air balloon symbolizing the software org focused on customer relationship management that will somehow focus our attention on what the planet needs, and maximize our awareness of the environment. I had to look up what Salesforce was, because I am dumb, and I am not Salesforce’s sales target. Still, I wonder if analytics nerds got much out of the spot, either.
Hit: McKeever Brothers and Toyota. Toyota had a strong showing overall during the Super Bowl, notably with the “Keeping Up With the Joneses” Toyota Tundra pickup spot featuring Tommy Lee Jones, Rashida Jones, Leslie Jones and Nick “Punching Bag for Tommy Lee Jones” Jonas. But the fantastically economical and nakedly emotional storytelling of Brian and Robin and the McKeever brothers’ road to Paralympic glory won hearts by the millions, in the evening’s most effective bid for seriousness.
Hit, minimalist division: Coinbase QR code. Paced, daringly, like a methodical sample of 1973-era “Pong,” crypto exchange Coinbase Global Inc. bounced a QR code around for a weirdly compelling lesson in forcibly adjusting a viewer’s attention span. Scanning the code took you to the Coinbase website. At our Super Bowl party Sunday the younger viewers went for it. So did University of Illinois College of Media junior Michelle Husain, majoring in advertising and cognitive psychology. “Having a QR code on a screen for one minute is a great way to measure efficacy,” she emailed Sunday. “It definitely helped that nobody knew what brand the code was advertising. I think it was necessary for the ad to be (a full) minute to break down the viewer to eventually scan the code.” She added that Coinbase’s risky strategy likely “had the reach that Miller Lite was expecting with their Metaverse ad.”
Not quite hit, not quite miss: “A Clydesdale’s Journey,” Budweiser. Restrained yet shameless, this stark bit of schmaltz came from Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao (“The Eternals,” but more to the point, “Nomadland” and the unsung greatness that is “The Rider”). It tells the micro-tale of a horse suffering a rough injury; enduring a lengthy recovery; and then, in triumph, galloping like a horse born to sell beer, at the spiritual behest of the dog who misses his friend most of all. I can’t help but feel sad that so many millions who’ve never seen “The Rider” have seen this. Which is a film critic’s way of saying: See “The Rider” sometime.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
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