Bob Garfield's Super Bowl Ad Review Text Column

Including Star Ratings for Each Spot

Published on . 9

No nipples to speak of. No satin-sheet sexcrobatics. No igniting horse farts. Nope. Putting aside some minor GoDaddy.com va-va-va-voom, America was graced with an FCC-approved Super Bowl, just chockablock with good, wholesome, family-friendly sadistic violence.

FedEx killed a harmless toady with a comet. CareerBuilder.com tortured survivalists with darts and snares. Bud Light threw a rock at one guy's face point blank and slapped a dozen other people silly. E-Trade terrorized bank customers with a robbery. Blockbuster brutalized a cute little mouse. Doritos bounced a driver face-first into the steering column. Even the American Heart Association was a co-conspirator in the repeated pummeling of its supposed favorite organ.

It would have been more violent still, but the better Doritos spot didn't get picked for the game. It showed a gigantic mouse beating the crap out of a Doritos eater trying to trap him.

Where little violence was done, however, was to the principles of advertising. The jokes were notably integral to the selling ideas. Still my beaten heart, but this may have been the most brand-relevant Super Bowl of advertising ever played.

4 stars

Diamond Emerald Nuts
Goodby Silverstein & Partners
San Francisco

At 3 p.m., when your blood sugar is low, Robert Goulet sneaks into your cube and messes with your stuff-so eat nuts at 3 p.m. every day. Robert Goulet! Putting aside the absurd genius of the premise, here's an ad that creates not just a USP but an entire new market. Hilarious and brilliant.

3 1/2 stars

Anheuser-Busch
DDB, Chicago

Overall it was a spotty performance by the Bud family, but one spot, called "Spot," is so sweet you could keel over dead. It's about a dog's very bad day turning Bud-tastic after he is mistaken for a Dalmatian. And one slapstick Bud Light spot hilariously imagines the next step in the handshake/high-five/fist-punch continuum. The gag is funny. The underlying observation about staying caught up with the bonding state-of-the-art is brilliant.

Chevy
Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich.

How deeply does Chevy reside in American culture? Very. Witness this montage of pop songs over five decades making reference to the brand. The strongest expression of iconic Chevy-ness we've ever seen. Now all it has to do is revert to the smaller grill badge, put some retro lines to the Impala and Malibu sheet metal, tighten the suspension slightly, deplasticize the interior and restage them as the Chevy M-3 and I-5.

FedEx Ground
BBDO, New York

Think ground shipping is slow? "You can't judge things by their name," the boss says. "Don't you agree, Harry?" Harry is hairy. Eileen leans. Joy giggles. And Bob bobs his head like a dashboard toy. Hilariously stupid, and thoroughly to the point.

Nationwide
TM Advertising, Irving, Texas

The "life comes at You Fast" campaign has left us cold till now, mainly because the executions haven't lived up to the solid "be prepared" premise. But this one is pretty delicious. Kevin Federline-the ex-Mr. Britney Spears-is in an extravagant music video rapping his heart out when a barking voice jogs him back into his current reality: as a fast-food fries chef. This slightly exaggerates his present predicament, but it's very sporting of him and very clever of Nationwide.

3 stars

Anheuser-Busch
Mortar, Hollywood

Two zoo apes plot to jump the Bud Light delivery guy, but one mugs for a photo and misses his window of opportunity. Cute.

DDB
Chicago

King crabs mistake a Bud cooler for a god in their own image. Cute. Wedding guests bribe an auctioneer to officiate, so the drinking can sooner begin. Cute. A wife objects to picking up a sketchy hitchhiker. "But he's got Bud Light," hubby says. She says: "... and an ax!" Sick. In a cute way.

Blockbuster
Doner, Southfield, Mich.

Can't believe we haven't seen the joke before, but the popular (and until now irrelevant) Blockbuster woodland animals from a couple Super Bowls back return to demonstrate how video rentals are "one click away." The gag is, they use an actual mouse. Embarrassingly, we laughed out loud.

CareerBuilder
Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago

A crowd favorite the last two years for casting the usual office idiots as chimpanzees, the resume site has gone high-concept. These spots are a "Survivor" parody, portraying work life as a jungle challenge. Most of the jokes zip by unnoticed as you reach for the nachos, but the point does emerge: Find yourself a more hospitable jungle.

Coca-Cola
Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam, Netherlands

What happens when you press the button on a Coke vending machine? A fanciful, Willy Wonka-esque "Happiness Factory" of activity. Highly adorable, and further proof that the contour bottle actually unleashes emotions enjoyed by no other consumer product in the world. But, sheesh, is it really the fountain of goodness suggested by "Video Game"-a sort of anti-Grand Theft Auto in which a menacing thug takes one swig and suddenly starts paying it forward in random acts of kindness? Answer: No, it's freakin' soda pop.

E-Trade
BBDO, New York

Your bank is robbing you. This is E-Trade's central selling proposition, so the company filmed it: a bank manager and his employees sticking up a lobby full of customers. It's called hyperbole, and it works. A second spot tells you all the things you can do with one finger. One of them is manage your investments. Another is save Holland. LOL.

GoDaddy
In-house

We'd have bet that the GoDaddy girl would have become the new Bud Bowl-i.e., a recurring nuisance. But after last year's wanton vandalism, GoDaddy has done a pleasantly hard sell with a cute soft landing. It actually refers playfully to past boobage, and will sell a lot of domain names.

King Pharmaceuticals
Glow Worm, New York

A funny ad about a heart attack should be about as funny as a heart attack. But, turns out, it can be done-as thugs representing high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cholesterol gang up on a poor schnook dressed up as a heart. Directs traffic to BeatYourRisk.com, where King and the American Heart Association try to close the sale.

NFL
In-house

A bittersweet lament, to the mournful strains of Louis Armstrong's horn, for a football season come too soon to an end. A New Hampshire fan's idea, shot by Joe Pytka, reveals a genuine insight, equal parts embarrassing and poignantly human: We care far too much about these games.

Sierra Mist
BBDO, New York

Three more spots by ad hoc improv team the MisTakes. One, about a very bad karate class, is very witty. Another, about indifferent hospital employees (the nurse drinks the patient's soda), falls flat. A third-about a beard comb-over-offers maybe the funniest and most memorable images of the game. This campaign is dangerously focused on the ensemble but has still carved out a witty space for the brand.

Snapple
Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York

A seeker scales a Himalayan peak to find answers at a Buddhist monastery. What is EGCG in Snapple's green tea? The monk tells him about antioxidants' effects on metabolism. The pilgrim wonders, "How do you know that?" Answer: the label. OK, you saw that coming, but the kicker is very funny: the traveler muttering his way back down the mountain.

Sprint
Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco

Parodying a Super Bowl ad genre that doesn't appear this year? Is this a $2.5 million boner? Nah. Maybe Cialis and Viagra failed to perform this one time, but their memory lingers like a four-hour erection. So Sprint's funny drug-ad-like take on "Connectile Dysfunction," promoting its longer wireless range, was still plenty potent. Q.E.D.

Taco Bell
Draft FCB, Chicago

Two lions sniffing at the meat aromas wafting from a safari camp. How the Taco Bell steak-grilled taquitos got there is a mystery, but never mind. It's hilarious watching Lion No. 2 trying to trill the "r" in "carne." No Robert Goulet in this one, but Ricardo Montalban makes his voice heard. Wonderful.

Toyota Tundra
Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles

Let dodge dramatize its truck ruggedness in a pretend showdown with a Rock'em Sock'em Robot. Toyota staged a genuinely death-defying stunt demonstrating Tundra acceleration and braking, and a tamer but equally impressive demo of payload capacity and braking. If the cup holder is good, we're, like, "Sold."

2 1/2 stars

FloMax
Grey Worldwide, New York

Everything about this commercial is repulsive. The subject: swelling prostates. The imagery: a raging, wild river. The side effects: runny nose, fainting and decrease in semen. The wit: There is no wit. But the relief-in-one-week promise will open up a steady stream of sales.

Honda
Rubin Postaer Associates, Santa Monica, Calif.

The spot called "Slalom" ain't Super Bowl fancy or Super Bowl funny. But 30 million women are watching the game, and they will be impressed by the dual highest-fuel-efficiency and safest-in-the snow claims. Alas, the other spot positions the sensible CR-V compact crossover as an automotive Elvis and something to be craved. Oh, please. This car isn't Elvis. It's Clare Danes.

HP
Goodby Silverstein, San Francisco

A fancy demo aimed at an unfancy demo. HP uses Paul Teutel Sr.-of "American Chopper" fame-to impress working-class America with how inexpensive HP computers can pimp their lives.

Van Heusen
In-house

The chick-magnetic-demigod premise is hard to take, but the reverse-action commands your attention for the well-thought-out payoff: It all begins with how you dress in the morning. Also, the clothes look pretty good.

2 stars

Coca-Cola
Wieden & Kennedy

Riddle: When a soda-pop company salutes Black History Month, is it a non sequitur or just plain pandering?

Doritos
Consumer-generated via Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

This would have been 3 1/2 stars, had the knuckleheads who voted from among five finalists hadn't picked the second-worst commercial of the lot. This one is a star-crossed-Doritos-lovers scenario, in which each moment of their first encounter stands for a brand benefit (bold, cheesy, etc.). But go online to Doritos.com. The "Mousetrap" ad is hilarious, and "Checkout Girl" is a much better endorsement of product qualities.

FedEx
BBDO, New York

Elaborate special effects imagine a big company's office on the moon. Lots of tiny visual jokes lead nicely up to the FedEx lunar shuttle landing, but the cuteness evaporates with the kicker-in which some goofy factotum, for no apparent reason, is struck by a comet and killed.

Garmin
Fallon, Minneapolis

Another Super Bowl victim of "concept." A bedraggled driver, sick of struggling with maps, is empowered by Garmin GPS technology and becomes a gigantic robot, slaying the dreaded Mapasaurus. Tongue-in-cheek cheesy, but not enough to be especially entertaining. And barely sufficient as a sales pitch, by failing to communicate how incredibly handy and cool this product is.

Izod
In-house

We'll give 'em this: The ad is slick and the logo suddenly impressive, perhaps the last stage of dragging this erstwhile outlet-mall apparel brand back to the high end. But the glacier-golfing and Caribbean acrobatics are otherwise vapid.

Salesgenie
In-house

Slick brian Williams-look-alike sales stud has hot babe, hot car, low handicap, envious colleagues and the boss's notice-thanks to the leads generated by InfoUSA's Salesgenie subscription service. This spot is so monumentally brainless and amateurish it actually attracts attention-i.e., is this really a Super Bowl ad??? No problem. The "Glengarry Glen Ross" crowd won't downgrade for insipidness.

1 1/2 stars

Anheuser-Busch
LatinWorks, Austin, Texas

Maybe it's just because we think Carlos Mencia of Comedy Central is juvenile and vulgar, but this English lesson for immigrants makes us very queasy. How isn't it making fun of foreigners and their ridiculous accents?

DDB, Chicago
"Rock paper Scissors" is more slapstick, but the joke-throwing a rock at point-blank range-is exactly Sprint's Super Bowl punch line from last year.

Cannonball, St. Louis
And rapper Jay-Z plays holographic football with coaching Hall of Famer Don Shula. Cool effect, but ... why? And who cares?

Chevy HHR
Consumer-generated

This one, showing a horde of guys spontaneously throwing off their shirts and getting erotic on a passing HHR, was the brainstorm of students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Ballyhoo aside, it's a better ad for sticking with grown-up ad agencies than it is for Chevrolet.

General Motors
Deutsch, Los Angeles

Awwww. So sad. So sweet. The anthropomorphization of an assembly-line robot is totally cute, and seeing the poor little fellow fired for dropping a bolt is definitely tear-jerking ... but isn't this ostensible paean to quality obsession sending some, uh, mixed messages? Like, "We're GM. Even our robots can't get it right." Or, even worse: "We're GM. Everyone's going to lose his job."

Revlon
Endeavor, New York

A glimpse of Sheryl Crow fiddling with a song, which includes the words "Not Fade Away." Hey, just like Colorist hair color! So Revlon is all over it-but it's not clear just how. Promoting a tour? Fifteen seconds and a million-some dollars later, beats the hell out of us.

T-Mobile
Publicis West, Seattle

The only good thing about this dim-witted celebrity spot featuring Dwayne Wade and Charles Barkley is Barkley's expression in the last shot. Everything else is forced to the point of confusion.

1 Star

Snickers
TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York

Two auto mechanics are so famished they eat one Snickers bar from opposite ends, culminating in something suspiciously "Brokeback Mountain." This freaks them out. Viewers can go to Snickers.com to choose their favorite ending. The vote should have come at the beginning, and it should have been "No."

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