When companies are spending more than $5 million for a 30-second ad to play during the most-watched TV programming of the year, you’d think they would use the very best of the ad companies to create solid gold advertising that will appeal to viewers and sell the product.
And they do use the top ad companies, sometimes spending further millions in scripting and filming the ad itself, not to mention the cost of celebrity endorsements.
However, even the best can fail, and Super Bowl commercials are no exception. In fact, some of these commercials fail so hard, they actually hurt the brand.
Here is our list of the worst Super Bowl commercials ever.
Lifeminders.com Super Bowl Commercial, 2000
Aired During: Super Bowl XXXIV
Worst For: Running a unique Super Bowl ad that begins at the boredom line and ends up firmly in confusion’s endzone
Before you can sell a product, you have the get the audience’s attention. This is why companies use Ferraris, supermodels, puppies, babies, and Clint Eastwood. You don’t want the audience running to the fridge to pop open another beer and grab a fresh bag of pretzels.
The brands shelling out millions for a 30-second Super Bowl ad want viewers riveted to the screen. The LifeMinders.com spot did just that.
People were riveted, all right, gaping at the screen during this Super Bowl XXXIV commercial. But it was for all the wrong reasons.
This commercial consists visually of an unchanging yellow backdrop. Where are the pyrotechnics? Is there going to be a celebrity in this? Animals? Anything?
The mustard-yellow screen enjoys the audio accompaniment of choppy, poorly played piano music. Words appear. Words that claim, “This is the worst commercial on the Super Bowl.”
You’re beginning to agree.
A further statement in the commercial says, “We send highly personalized e-mails on topics you ask for.”
Umm…what? I get too many emails already, you think. And highly personalized? Creepy. Who are you again?
That scanty information fails to tell us in any significant detail what the company does and what the product—if any—is.
We were riveted because we kept figuring something great must be about to happen, right? This…can’t be it. Truly one of the most awkward wastes of $5 million dollars, like, ever.
The URL is now for sale.
Amazon Alexa Super Bowl Commercial, 2019
Aired During: Super Bowl LIII
Worst For: Working against the product
Alexa is an artificial intelligence life-enhancing product made by Amazon. Amazon engages in thorough testing of the Alexa product. Some tests fail. These are, understandably, the products that will not go to market.
Hey, says Amazon. Wouldn’t it make a great Super Bowl ad to show a bunch of epic Alexa fails in a variety of products where Alexa would be worse than useless?
The Super Bowl LIII Amazon Alexa ad that featured “failed” Alexa products was meant to be humorous, but it actually appeared to be making fun of the brand.
Harrison Ford was seen shouting at a dog that had the ability to order dog food via his Alexa collar. The dog goes nuts with this power, ordering gravy and sausages as he’s chased by an increasingly enraged Mr. Ford.
Forest Whitaker is using an Alexa-enabled electric toothbrush. He asks toothbrush-Alexa to play his favorite podcast. She complies, and he can hear the podcast for only a few seconds at a time since every time he puts the toothbrush back towards his molars, the podcast becomes muffled.
Some women soaking away the day in a hot tub ask the embedded Alexa to play music, which then blasts the women out of the hot tub apparently on the strength of the bass alone.
The point most prominently made by the ad is that there are many places/times/items where Alexa is neither reasonable nor desirable.
In fact, having Alexa everywhere, all the time, is just plain silly, according to the alternately irritated and confused demeanor of the celebrities and actors in the skits.
Some people did like the ad (because, celebrities and dogs), but it failed to show the product in a positive light and made Alexa look more like a ridiculous attempt to robotize things that simply don’t need it.
Also, it’s just not that funny.
You wouldn’t expect a company like Amazon to appear in a list of the worst ever Super Bowl commercials, but this ad deserves to be here.
Noxzema Super Bowl Commercial, 1973
Aired During: Super Bowl VII
Worst For: Being cringe-worthy
Let’s remember the Farrah Fawcett-Joe Namath Noxzema ad that aired during Super Bowl VII. Talk about celebrity saturation!
Farrah was an American sex symbol at the time, the ultimate Charlie’s Angel. And Joe Namath is a tough-talking, win-guaranteeing football icon.
Despite the impliedly testosterone-laden atmosphere, Joe’s voice is oddly high during this bad Super Bowl commercial. Was he huffing helium balloons before the shoot? Was Opie from the Andy Griffith show called in to do a surprise celebrity voiceover?
Whatever the reason, Joe grins and giggles like a 12-year-old boy who’s never been kissed. He practically squeals as he tells the camera that he’s “so excited” that he’s going to get “creamed” by Farrah.
Farrah then spreads Noxzema on Joe’s face while she wriggles and sighs with barely concealed (actually, not concealed at all) pleasure. When Joe shaves the Noxzema from his face, he bounces up and down and all around, exactly the way that any man who has ever actually wielded a razor would NOT do while shaving.
This lends further fuel to the 12-year-old boy comparison. Joe surely knows how to shave. Right? He must have shaved himself literally a thousand times at least. It’s…weird.
The “acting” is bad enough, but combined with the unsubtle sexual innuendo and Joe’s puppy-like energy and creepily gleeful expression, it’s just…time to get more snacks. Let me know when the game is back on.
Cash for Gold Super Bowl Commercial, 2009
Aired During: Super Bowl XLIII
Worst For: Highlighting the depressing financial situations of the actual celebrities used
Another cringe fest is a Super Bowl commercial “starring” Ed McMahon (does that make him a star?) and MC Hammer. The ad appears to be a home video, with a ring of fire burning shakily on the screen as Ed McMahon’s voice announces “Heeeere’s Money!”
This commercial aired during Super Bowl XLIII and had Ed touting the services of CashforGold.com, a quick-cash-fast outlet for gold owners desperate for funds.
McMahon is sitting in an elegant, paneled library, a la Masterpiece Theater. He is tucking his “unwanted” gold cufflinks into a plastic bag, preparing to send them away to the “mail-in refinery” in Florida that is Cash for Gold.
The scene cuts to an image of MC Hammer standing on stairs in his home in front of a large painting of himself that sports, in giant spray-painted letters, the word “HAMMER.” The name MC Hammer is emblazoned on the screen. The phrase “famous rap star” appears under his name.
The spray-painted “HAMMER” is not enough, it would seem, to identify this man.
MC Hammer is then seen with a drill, ready to unscrew his gold records from the wall, presumably to sell for some quick cash.
The fact that both men have been in financial straits makes this commercial more than a little sad.
In fact, even Cash for Gold filed for bankruptcy after this ad aired.
Oh, the irony.
Goodyear Super Bowl Commercial, 1967
Aired During: Super Bowl I
Worst For: Archaic attitude
One of the very worst Super Bowl ads appeared during the championship game of 1967. The 1960s are an era famous for what we now call “the Sexual Revolution.” However, in many places, and among many groups, it took a while for the revolution to catch on.
During Super Bowl I, called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, the Sexual Revolution would definitely not be televised.
The biggest football game ever to be played was on the television. The Packers and the Chiefs break for halftime.
Here come the ads targeted to all the musclebound men who would no doubt make up 100% of the viewing audience. (What? Other people watched it, too? “Impossible!” declares the advertising community. What are you, a freak?)
A commercial comes on screen. It’s nighttime, and a woman has pulled her car to the side of the road with a blown tire. She exits the car, looking Hitchcock-terrified.
The voiceover: “This flat tire needs a man!”
The woman then sets off down the dark road, walking unsteadily in her high heels.
“But when there’s no man around,” the voiceover continues as the wind sets up an eerie howling, “Goodyear should be!”
Nationwide Insurance Super Bowl Commercial, 2015
Aired During: Super Bowl XLIX
Worst For: Bringing football fans down, down, down
So, this terrible Super Bowl ad by insurance giant Nationwide starts with a cute kid on a tricycle failing to keep up with his bicycle-riding buddies. His despair is palpable. “I’ll never learn to ride a bike,” he thinks aloud.
Then he’s on a school bus, is kissed by a girl, and worries aloud that he’ll never get cooties.
Then he bemoans the fact that he’ll never fly, sail the ocean in a bathtub with a dog, or get married and live in a treehouse with toys and a tire swing.
We like this kid! We wish our spouses would consider living in a treehouse.
Then it turns out that this kid has been dead the whole time.
No one saw that coming. Viewers were in shock, letting the cheese drip off their nachos right onto the white carpet. No one noticed. No one cared. Because this cute little tyke was dead. Dead!
The only thing worse than this plot twist was the childhood preventable death statistics that followed.
The backlash to this utter downer of a commercial was pretty significant.
Just for Feet Super Bowl Commercial, 1999
Aired During: Super Bowl XXXIII
Worst For: “How Did This Get by the Quality Control People?”
Our final entry in the worst Super Bowl commercials ever is also probably our top pick (bottom pick?) for the prize. It’s 1999, a time of burgeoning awareness and sensitivity for all peoples and cultures.
Eighty-three million fans across America, in addition to fans all around the world, are watching Super Bowl XXXIII as things heat up between the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons.
Halftime arrives, and viewers prepare for an entertainment segment consisting of music by Gloria Estefan and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, interspersed with the best commercials of the year.
The scene: four white hunters in an off-road vehicle chase a black man who is on foot. From this opening scene, viewers are wide-eyed, gaping in shock.
The hunters have scanned the runner and run his information through a laptop, confirming that he’s “a match!” The barefoot African is given water laced with drugs. He staggers and falls to the ground.
By the time the runner comes out of the drug-induced coma, it is clear that the hunters have put running shoes on him.
The African runner is unable to dislodge the shoes from his feet, unable to return to his barefoot lifestyle. (Metaphor, anyone?)
This awful Super Bowl commercial was meant to promote Just for Feet, a chain of “friendly and responsible” shoe stores. Instead, the ad enraged millions of people, and Just for Feet sued the advertising company it had hired, claiming malpractice.
Not surprisingly, Just for Feet went bankrupt and closed up shop.
Wrapping Up the Worst Super Bowl Commercials of All Time
It’s frequently said that money doesn’t equal taste. We point to the facts in evidence here in this collection of the worst Super Bowl ads ever.
These advertisers spent, cumulatively, at least 30 million dollars. To put that into context, it’s roughly the amount required to send 210 students through expensive, private four-year universities.
Well, just like the bowl game itself, the impact of any given advertisement is hit or miss, and even the greats can trip and fall.
Our input: how about screening your Super Bowl commercial before a test audience to get feedback on the ad, rather than unveiling the commercial at the big game? Just a thought.
For a more positive take on Super Bowl ads, check out the following list.