The Worst Super Bowl Ad Of 2014

Since last night’s Super Bowl, one advertisement has stuck with me more than any other, and not for a good reason.

A Honda ad starring Bruce Willis—ostensibly about car safety—was manipulative at best, the advertising equivalent of a bait and switch. 

The ad started with a close-up of Bruce Willis, soft music playing in the background. He begins:

“Great game, right? So you’re probably expecting me to crash a car or blow up something up. But really, I’m here to talk about car safety. Look around you. Who do you see? Friends, family, neighbors, all of your loved ones. Everyone you care about. And here’s what I want you to do. I want you to give each and every one of them a hug. I’ll wait.”

I was watching the game with my wife—and although we didn’t hug as directed, I’ll admit that Willis made me feel like I should be hugging my wife. By using the heavy-handed device of invoking the safety of my family, he got my attention.

But then the camera panned out. Suddenly, Saturday Night Live alum Fred Armisen could be seen in the frame giving Willis a waist-level hug and grinning maniacally into the camera.

Bruce Willis Super Bowl 2014 Ad

I felt duped. Willis used my family’s safety to catch my attention, then introduced an entirely unrelated element in a misguided effort to lighten the mood. If anyone had hugged their loved ones as Willis instructed, they might have felt that Willis betrayed their trust by undercutting his message in such an insincere way.

In his book How To Deliver a TED Talk, author Jeremy Donovan describes a speaker he once saw open a speech using a similar device:

“To kick off his presentation, he asks his audience to stand up, put their hand on their heart, turn around, and take one step forward. He then goes on to say that he can now report to his own boss when asked how the presentation went that he ‘got them on their feet, touched their heart, turned them around, and got them moving in the right direction.’ It is a clever gimmick. But, if you look closely at the audience members, many are displaying the body language of people who just realized they have just been manipulated.”

If you’re going to invoke family and friends in a seemingly authentic way, you can’t expect to keep your audience’s goodwill by suddenly pulling the rug out from under them.

What did you think of this ad? What were your favorite and least favorite Super Bowl ads? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Did you miss the Super Bowl ads? Below is a compilation of them all.