Ranking the Super Bowl's Most Expensive Commercials: Woke to Joke, Which Ones Resonated?

Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in a 2015 Bud Light Super Bowl commercial. (Credit: Lucky Eleven)
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I’m staying away from politics today because despite the NFL’s woke posturing over the last several years, pro football has always and will continue to be my favorite sports action. The young ‘uns can watch FIFA soccer, but I find that usually I’ve grown a grey hair by the time anybody actually scores a goal.

The NBA, meanwhile, became the wokest sports league the world has ever seen in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the pandemic, and frankly, there are just not that many compelling storylines this year in b’ball.

LeBron just broke the all-time scoring record… but he’s LeBron, and nobody cares.

In the NFL, though, we’ve seen the last of the GOAT, Tom Brady, and the rise of elite quarterbacks like Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, and Buffalo’s Josh Allen. The National Football League has rarely seen such an onslaught of generational talent, all at once.

But there is another high-profile matchup that plays out every year at the Big Game—the battle of the commercials. As I reported, the Fox network, which is covering this year’s SB, is devoting 15 whole seconds to promote late-night star Greg Gutfeld, giving him airtime estimated to be worth at least $3.5 million.

Who else has shelled out staggering sums for a few seconds of your focus? As you wander off to the bathroom or head off to the kitchen to grab some snacks, remember that the advertisers are paying up to $233,000 a second for your attention. (That’s based on my math. If I’m wrong, please email fact checker Glen Kessler of the Washington Post.)

Here are some of the most expensive commercials of all time. Note 1: I didn’t say these are the best, because some of them just plain suck (I didn’t even link to them), and Note 2: often when I see lists such as this, they start with the last on the lineup. I want to know who’s first, and not have to scroll through endless c**p to find out who’s #1. So I bring you the 2020 Amazon Alexa Super Bowl commercial, which cost an incomprehensible $16.8 million to air:


I actually thought it was reasonably humorous, despite the appearance of pretend-nice gal but actually toxic Ellen DeGeneres.

Okay I lied—or, as a politician might say, I told a half-truth  That wasn’t the most expensive Super Bowl ad ever aired—it was tied for the honor. Equally as expensive was the same year’s $16.8 million entry from Alexa’s competitor, Google Assistant, titled “Loretta”:


This ad is unquestionably moving and stood in contrast to Alexa’s attempts at humor. But at the risk of sounding cold-hearted, I found it misleading. Artificial intelligence assistants can be pretty cool, as I’ve written about, but this overwrought commercial seems to be promising technology that simply doesn’t exist yet, at least in the way they portray it. Even if it did exist, I don’t see an elderly grieving man mastering it so quickly.

Next on the list are a few ads about electric vehicles, and more commercials for Amazon Alexa, but it’s hard to ignore the ad run by building supply company 84 Lumber, which somehow came up with $16.2 million in 2017 to interrupt your Super Bowl party to portray the harrowing and sad journey of illegal immigrants fleeing an unnamed South or Central American country. It was blatantly pro-illegal immigration, and obviously anti-Trump (who was president at the time), and the broadcaster of the game that year, Fox, refused to let them air the whole thing. Instead, the company aired a shorter version with a link to a longer cut.

Sorry, when I’m having a beer, munching pizza, and watching the Big Game, I’m hardly in the mood to watch leftist political messages, so I’m not putting the video in this story. But if you feel the need to see it, click here. Not to beat a dead horse, but I found that the ad minimized the fact that this young girl would stand a very good chance of being sexually abused in real life in her journey, and the spot’s romanticism of illegal immigration does not hold up well considering the very real—and deadly— humanitarian crisis we’re seeing at the Rio Grande every day.

So enough of that—let’s move on. Bud Light’s 2015 entry, “Up for Whatever” features a “regular guy” (a paid actor, it seems to me) who “doesn’t know” he’s in an SB commercial and ends up in a death ping pong matchup with Arnold Schwarzenegger:


Again, reasonably funny.

None of these ads are life-changing, or amazing, but they do stand in contrast to what will presumably be another a**-shaking, hyper-sexualized halftime show where you will feel awkward sitting with your family members. (I will never forget the moment when I sat watching the Big Game with my pre-teen son, thinking, this was a Kodak moment—until Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson’s top to expose her breast, and we all sat there shell-shocked. I will never forgive you, NFL.)

The truth is, no one wants to be lectured to during the Big Game, and only the funny commercials are worth remembering. To me, this new Gutfeld spot beats them all:


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