The Worst Super Bowl Commercials of All Time

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The Worst Super Bowl Commercials of All Time

As far as I can tell, the first bad, terrible, no-good Super Bowl commercial debuted in 1970. Brand? Gillette. Product? The Techmatic Razor. The bit? Well, the Gillette Techmatic Razor had a little dial on it that let you adjust the setting depending on how thick your beard was. In the commercial (no need to watch it, please), the Gillette Techmatic Razor is a cute little living thing, chattering about its brand-new settings. As the giant man-hand holding the Gillette Techmatic Razor switches the dial up and up and up, the Gillette Techmatic Razor’s voice gets deeper and deeper and deeper, until it boasts, at Vin Diesel’s octave, that it can shave EVEN HEAVIER BEARDS!

Again, please: don’t watch it. Bad Super Bowl commercials aren’t as memorable as they are a regrettable tattoo on your brain, bound to live there forever until removed via craniotomy. (I now think of the squeaky Gillette Techmatic Razor every time I pick up my Norelco.) But Mr. Gillette Techmatic Razor was pioneering in one respect. He fronted the first truly awful Super Bowl commercial, inspiring decades of regrettable advertisements during the game. You know, the big football thing watched by millions of people, making its advertising space highly coveted and worth millions of dollars. But that’s the business end. Today, we’re merely here to analyze what happens when a marketing department gets a once-a-year shot to make an impression on your wallet. Usually? The result is a very bad advertisement, typically falling into six categories: Celebrity, Baby/Dog/Cute Animal, Problematic, Sentimental, Weird, and Movie Trailer. These classifications should be self-explanatory, but if you’re having trouble, don’t worry—you will come to recognize them as we parse through the rich history of the bad Super Bowl commercial.

Before we get to the bad ones, we must briefly discuss what makes a good Super Bowl spot. Good Super Bowl commercials usually fall in the Celebrity category, with a little bit of Weird, and a dash of Baby/Dog/Cute Animal. You should remember the ad, but not be scarred by it. Find it funny, but not feel compelled to ever speak about it to another human. Take Tide’s 2021 spot. The ad centers around a teenager’s dirty Jason Alexander hoodie, showing all the nasty things that happen to said Jason Alexander hoodie when it’s owned by a pubescent boy. You have Jason Alexander, a beloved celeb we haven’t heard from in a while. (Celebrity.) A flesh-colored hoodie capable of emoting. (Weird.) And a dog slobbering on it. (Baby/Dog/Cute.). It’s not that hard. Stir up that many emotions in my brain and I’ll probably buy your damn detergent next time I’m at Rite Aid. The chips are usually good at this game, your Doritos and Cheetos, even if they’re heavier on the Weird. Tech companies have been making a run at the Sentimental crown lately—with Google managing to rip our hearts out in “Loretta.”

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That’s about it, because most Super Bowl commercials are bad. The bad Super Bowl commercial is almost always Weird. I guess the idea is to make your ad so goddamn weird and stupid that no one will ever forget it. You can thank our little razor friend for that. Remember when the Android android had surgery to attach gray, dead thumbs on his cucumber-colored body? Or when there was implied butt-chugging in a Bud Light spot? Truly inspired work, all of it. Don’t get it wrong, though. Things get really fun when we start mixing and matching categories. When Weird mixes with Celebrity, you get Skinny Jason Momoa burned into your brain. The rare combination of Weird and Sentimental came from GoDaddy, which tried to make a funny out of selling a lost puppy. When Weird meets Movie Trailer—which, for the record, is usually just a trailer for a movie you don’t want to see, a la Transformers—you get 30 seconds of Minions.

But the hybrid of bad Super Bowl commercial you’re most likely to come across in the wild? It’s when Weird crosses over with Baby/Dog/Cute. Actually, you can draw a straight line from the Gillette Techmatic Razor to the worst Super Bowl ad of 2020. Baby Fucking Nut. It’s where we found out that Mr. Peanut, of Planter’s fame, died in a car crash. And reincarnated as a wee infant nut. Or something like that. Both firmly fall into Weird (Baby Nut followed up his immaculate conception with a live-streamed, dabbing dance party from his playroom) with a miserable shot at Baby/Dog/Cute. I’m not sure if I’ve eaten a single nut since the birth of that dumb little legume. Or if I even want to. Anyway, weird mashing up with Baby/Dog/Cute is more accurately characterized by the Talking ETrade Babies, a series of ads where babies give stock advice. I hate every second of these ads. I hate this little barfing baby with a man voice. I hate his little baby friends, who show up in subsequent ads. I will never, ever use ETrade, even if the fate of GameStop depends on it.

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Now, things get really messed up when we start getting Problematic. Most of the spots in this category are racist, sexist, or depict some kind of animal/child abuse, meaning they were likely pulled before airing. The Problematic one you’ve probably heard of is when Kendall Jenner ended racism with a Pepsi can. Lost to history, but sins we certainly haven’t forgotten: GoDaddy’s “Smart Meets Sexy” campaign. Jesus. Gerbils getting shot out of a cannon. Babies flying at walls. SalesGenie’s 2008 ad was so racist that it pretty much led to the death of the company. Last, but certainly not least, there’s the suicidal GM robot. Oh, and the Fiatt ad where a sports car gets a boner is in the Problematic group too, right?

If I may, I’d like to end by making an impassioned plea to 2021’s slate of ads. Please, no talking babies. No Minions. No puppies. No solving racism with soda. If there is beer that must be sipped or chugged, please let it be through the mouth. Nothing racist, for the love of God. And if Mr. Peanut re-reincarnates into Baby Nut II, I will never watch a Super Bowl again.

Mike Kim

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