Super Bowl Ad Winners and Losers for 2017

David Warschawski

This was a Super Bowl filled with lots of firsts both on the sporting side and on the advertising side. Here are 3 highlights followed by Warschawski’s top ten list of Super Bowl Winners and Losers.


As with most things recently, this year’s Super Bowl and its advertising were tinged by politics. Some references were subtle and others not so much. Just a few examples included spots by 84 Lumber, Airbnb, Audi, It’s a 10, and Budweiser.

In general, our agency would never recommend mixing marketing and political messages — no matter your personal politics and no matter how subtle the message may be. Especially on the one night a year when you get 115 million U.S. viewers who all want to have fun watching your ads and aren’t fast forwarding through them, this is a no-no.


Advertisers paid approximately $166,000 per second to air their ad, as this year the average thirty second spot cost about $5.5 million. Many small and mid-size companies spend about the same amount on marketing communications in one year that Super Bowl advertisers spend in one second.

Doritos, a Super Bowl advertising staple and sometimes standout, did not advertise during the SB this year for the first time in 10 years. Examples of other brands that sat on the bench this year include Visa, Heinz, Butterfinger, Taco Bell, Toyota and Mini USA. Is Doritos a bellwether for other brands? Are they beginning to sense that in the digital era there is a lot you can do with those SB advertising dollars that might get you a better ROI? It’s a trend that bears watching.


Most brands are now pre-spending to market their super bowl ad. If you’re already spending $5.5 million to run your ad nationally and perhaps you spent $1-3 million in producing that ad, you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck. That’s why so many companies today are releasing their ads in advance of the big game and doing all kinds of PR and marketing to leverage their SB appearance. Today, some companies are spending as much as 25% of their SB marcom budget on the pre-marketing.

Social Media tie-ins and integration are becoming the norm and another way to extend the reach of your ad and increase engagement with your target audience. You could see it on display a la T Mobile’s “post your moves” or 84 Lumber requiring viewers to go to their site to see the end of their ad. Caution — when you spend $10 Million on your first ever SB spot you want to make sure your site doesn’t go down, like 84 Lumber’s did.


On the whole, this was a pretty average year for Super Bowl advertising, with no brilliant stand-out spots and no shocking stinkers like we’ve had the last couple of years. To be sure, there were advertisers who rated well on Warschawski’s proprietary B.E.S.T. Model for scoring advertisements (see W-BEST Model explanation below), but no one wowed this year. Instead, more ads underwhelmed and disappointed this year than in years’ past.

This year’s Winners and Losers list is impacted more so than ever by mis-judgement in using political themes, by poor execution of digital tie-ins, and from brands forgetting their core target audience or confusing them (e.g. detergents being sold by men with Bill Nye the science guy as your celebrity endorser?).

The Warschawski BEST Model (W-BEST) is our company’s proprietary approach that we use to measure the success of any advertisement or marketing piece, and it’s how we scored this year’s Super Bowl ads.

We score each category on a scale of 1-10, with a total score of 40 being the highest.

Brand-centric— Does it clearly reinforce the brand & what makes the brand unique?

Emotional connection— Does it make an emotional connection with a specific target audience?

Stand out— Does it stand out from its competitors and is it memorable?

Target achieved— Does it have a clear target audience & does it achieve a business goal with that target?

Warschawski’s 10 Best Ads of Super Bowl LI in order:

  1. Michelob Ultra, “Our Bar”
  2. Alfa Romeo, “Riding Dragons”
  3. Bud Light, “Ghost Spuds”
  4. Bud Light, “Between Friends”
  5. Mercedes Benz, “Born to be Wild”
  6. Honda CR-V 17, “Yearbooks”
  7. WeatherTech, “Tech Team”
  8. Busch Beer, “BUSCHHHHH”
  9. Yellowtail Wines, “Let’s Yellowtail”
  10. Google, “Home”

Warschawski’s 10 Worst Ads of Super Bowl LI in order:

  1. 84 Lumber, “The Journey”
  2. Mr. Clean, “Cleaner of Your Dreams”
  3. Persil Detergent, “10 Dimensions of Clean”
  4. Wonderful Pistachios, “Treadmill”
  5. American Petroleum Institute, “Power Past Impossible”
  6. Avocados from Mexico, “Secret Society”
  7. Turbotax, “Humpty Dumpty”
  8. It’s a 10 Hair Care, “Awful Hair”
  9. Square Space “Calling”
  10. Sprint, “Car”