Super Bowl ads score

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As always, this is being written 2 1/2 days before kickoff, so we're just curious .... Was there a commercial on the big game for that hotdog stand at 57th Street and Ninth Avenue?

Reason we ask: At the last minute, we're told, CBS was cold-calling around New York like Jack Lemmon in "Glengarry Glen Ross," trying to peddle its Super Bowl inventory at very favorable rates. We ourselves got an offer for two fourth-quarter slots and a free rhinestone-stud setter if we'd act now. But they wanted nearly $600 for the package, so we passed.

It wasn't like this last year, of course, when the GDP was still humming and the e-economy was inflating prices for worthless stocks and terrible Super Bowl commercials.

Ah, dot-coms, we hardly knew ye.

But if this year's sales were soft in the media marketplace, they were finally hardening again on the broadcast itself. The dot-coms' oblique-and sometimes invisible-selling propositions gave way Sunday to genuinely smart, thoughtful, strategically sound advertising. And, overall, it was still the most entertaining Super Bowl of Advertising lineup in years.

For instance, now it is clear. The sock puppet is dead. Long live the chimp.

FOUR STARS

E-Trade

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

One of the few dot-coms to break through in last year's dot-fiasco was E-Trade, with a spot featuring a chimpanzee dancing to La Cucaracha next to two ultradweebs in a New Jersey garage. The message: "Well, we just wasted two million bucks. What are you doing with your money?" And while nearly all of last year's dot-com advertisers have been throttled in the marketplace, E-Trade-and the chimpanzee-survived.

So here was the chimp again, mounted on horseback, grimly surveying the wreckage of the e-economy. In a brilliant parody of the 1973 anti-pollution Ad Council spot, the chimpanzee apes Iron Eyes Cody, a tear of regret rolling down his furry cheek. "Invest wisely," the onscreen message says. Hi-lar-i-ous.

Budweiser Goodby

If "Whassup" were performed by WASPy Heineken-sipping white guys. "What ARE YOU DOING?" is very, very funny-if slightly dangerous. While it's true that white men can't jive, they sure do drink a whole lot of Budweiser. Still, the belly laugh trumps the risk. Yet another Anheuser-Busch catchphrase, destined to be America's punch line. Incredible.

THREE AND A HALF STARS

Budweiser DDB Worldwide, Chicago

-- Dog is sucked up into UFO. Dog peels off dog skin to reveal its inner alien. Its fellow travelers ask what it learned from Earthlings. The response: "Whass-upppppp!?" Howlingly funny and, as you may have observed this past year, true. True.

-- Chubby Cedric has a babelicious date on the sofa, and he's fetching a couple of Bud Lights. In the kitchen, beers in hand, he busts a few "I'm gonna score" dance moves, and returns to the living room. When he opens the beer, it shoots out and soaks her. Unexpected and delightful.

--"This Bud's for you." The splendidly contemporized jingle, accompanied by a fish-eye view of beer making from the barley fields to the bottle shop. This advertiser has the luxury of targeting multiple audiences in multiple styles, and in this rediscovers the beauty of the Populistic anthem.

Pepsi BBDO Worldwide, New York

First Bob Dole ran for president and lost big. That was humiliating. Then he did a Visa commercial making fun of himself. That was oddly dignified. Then he did a serious Viagra commercial about the miracle of restored erectile function. That was oddly even more dignified. Now here's another Viagra spot ... no, wait ... it's a Pepsi commercial. He's making fun of himself again. And that's oddly, I don't know ... digmiliating? Anyway, big laffs, and-at last-it's the Joy of Pepsi, not merely cola.

Charles Schwab BBDO

Just before kickoff, this bedtime fairy tale describes a handsome prince taking a young princess off to happily ever after. Except, as the bedtime-story-reading mom explains to her little girl, ever after "doesn't work out." She should know; the mom is Sarah Ferguson, who now has to fend for herself financially and handle her investments online. Brilliant.

Subway Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York

Fat Jared got skinny eating Subway hoagies, and now look at these previously obese Americans whom he inspired. This ad is not flashy or funny. It won't much impress the mouth breathers in the vastly irrelevant USA Today focus-group "poll." It isn't even a new spot; it's been on the air for weeks. All it does is defy the conventions of fast-food advertising to finally exploit Subway's 6-grams-or-less-of-fat sandwich menu. The menu's been there for three years, scarcely mentioned outside of in-store merchandising. But once Subway found Jared to personify it, business boomed. Now it will explode ... and just watch the competition scurry to play catch-up.

Pepcid Complete Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York.

Now that Pepcid Complete is here, what are you going to do with all those Tums and Rolaids? One cute answer is to grind them up and apply them as white, gridiron lines. The other is to try to pawn them, as we see in a brilliantly acted and a very funny spot. A strong, simple idea perfectly executed. Bravo.

Volkswagen GTI Arnold Worldwide, Boston

Two guys toss sticks and sneakers, trying to shake something out of a tree. WHOOMPH. It works. A GTI falls to the ground. "Next time," one of the guys instructs, "take it a little easier releasing the clutch." Powerful car. Powerful message. Powerfully funny.

THREE STARS

Verizon Wireless Bozell Worldwide, New York

The product is the equivalent of Instant Messaging for mobile phones. The scene is a loud rock concert. The acting is positively dreadful. (Did you know acting can be dreadful even when these is no dialogue?) Still, the product features are perfectly demonstrated. And the last spot, where Dad finds himself next to a rock star and immediately contacts his teenage girls by cell phone, touches the inner star fornicator in everyone. Speaking from giddy experience, it sure rings true with us.

Pepsi BBDO

Chess champion Gary Kasparov beats a computer, then disses the idea of intelligent machines. In a blatant (albeit very funny) rip-off of Woody Allen, the machines take revenge. Kasparov is a natural physical comic. Alas, Pepsi plays an incidental role.

Volkswagen Jetta VR6 Arnold

A failure to let the final shot linger for one more illuminating second compromises this remarkable, dialogue-free spot reminiscent of the wedding scene in "The Graduate." What isn't quite clear is that this fellow did arrive in time, thanks to his VR6, and all nuptial hell is about to break loose. For the lack of one expressive second, a masterpiece is rendered little more than ordinary.

Snickers Cruncher BBDO

-- People pay for little figurines that utter inane cliches ("Don't go there") for the sheer joy of stomping them-kee-RUNCH-with their feet. Very funny, although a bit confusing, to advertise the other thing with the satisfying crunch. Point taken, eventually.

-- A car alarm blares, and suddenly a sofa lands on top of the Chevy, killing the din. As the camera tilts up to a third-floor apartment, we see a satisfied tenant. Not as hilarious, but much clearer.

Visa Check Card BBDO

-- In the time it takes to get his check approved at the pet store, a guy's bunny rabbit purchase multiplies geometrically. While this is a long, odd way to go to communicate a slight brand benefit, the image sticks and the bunnies will be a tremendous crowd-pleaser.

-- Girlfriend vaccuums apartment. Smark aleck boyfriend says she missed a spot. She obliges by sucking him ... up. An arresting image although a dubious endorsement for Visa.

IBM Ogilvy & Mather, New York

The brilliant e-commerce campaign has evolved into e-infrastructure, with the same letterbox-verite style bordered in blue. The acting here is bad (wildly uncharacteristic of a Joe Pytka-directed spot), but the point is still hammered comically home. You need help from Big Blue.

Diet Dr Pepper Y&R Advertising, New York

"Hudson Riverdance." A bunch of blue-collar New Yorkers in kilts doing Irish steps with hairy legs-one of the things that, unlike Diet Dr Pepper, isn't as good as the original. Amusing. To the point. I smell a Clio.

Dentyne Ice Arctic Chill Bates Worldwide, New York

Two impossibly gorgeous people meet in a pool room and immediately start exchanging bodily fluids. Luckily, they've used prophylactic saliva menthol, which chills them like rosebuds dipped in liquid nitrogen. Makes the point, but ... hey, you two be careful .... because .... SNAP ... Holy John Bobbitt.

HotJobs.com Weiss Stagliano Part-ners, New York

Gobs of production went into this spot about a steel desk-toy ball on a journey for a better place to be, as the Mamas & Papas sing, "Go where you wanna go." Timing and pacing are erratic, and it ends at a kids' marbles game-marbles game?!-but it gets where it wants to go.

Budweiser DDB

-- Guy needs to make room for Bud Light in full refrigerator. Feeds everything to the dog, who ... expands.

-- 'N Sync goes door-to-door to promote talking to your kids about drinking. Dad answers, doesn't recognize the boys. Teenage daughter, upstairs, realizes too late who's been to her house. Screams. Cute.

Invesco Richards Group Dallas

An ordinary famous-guy-spouting-off spot is transformed by handsome graphic depictions of what he describes. When Coach Bill Walsh talks Xs and Os, you see the Xs and Os-and the connection to the selling message: Invesco's diligence and skill.

Cingular BBDO, Atlanta and New York

Gorgeous footage of ungorgeous guy dancing to Peter and the Wolf. It's all about self expression. However, it isn't about how Cingular advances the process.

TWO AND A HALF STARS

MasterCard McCann-Erickson World- wide, New York

An auction of things that cannot be sold-such as gravity-and an island-vacation promotion. Uh oh. This priceless campaign is getting labored.

EDS Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis

A year ago, we gave insufficient credit to the magnificent cat-herding spot, because we weren't aware the "herding cats" is a common information-management metaphor for organizing an overwhelming amount of varied data. This year-in a sequel that spoofs the running of the bulls in Pamplona with a spot about the running of the squirrels-we are pretty sure: "Squirrel-running" is not an industry buzzword. So this one really is a near non sequitur, depending entirely on the recollection of the cat-herding spot to make sense. It's cleverly done, but minus the big laughs of last year's, and with much less relevance.

American Legacy Foundation Arnold

The first of these Truth campaign anti-smoking spots is about death at 46-which is to say, the kind of truth viewers tend to push away. The second draws you in, as the stylized jew's harp-sounding voice-over turns out to be from a cancer victim's artificial larynx. Between them, the message is loud and clear: Don't smoke. And especially don't believe whatever Philip Morris told you in the second quarter.

TWO STARS

VW Wolfsburg Edition Arnold

Jerk hugs wolf, flees for his life in a VW. Who cares?

Monster.com Arnold

A guy who calls his office to hear his secretary's voice. Another who ecstatically sniffs his new business cards. A corpse with an eternal grin. The joke in each of three spots is total job satisfaction, but one viewing is insufficient for the joke-much less the message-to be understood.

E-Trade Bank Goodby

A security guard fantasizes about foiling a robbery, Jackie Chan-style. Not particularly funny, of dubious impact (the message is, essentially, "no guards=low overhead") and shockingly similar to a two-year-old Hotjobs.com Super Bowl spot. This is from Goodby Silverstein? Really???

ONE AND A HALF STARS

Accenture Y&R, New York

One of these four spots, announcing the foolish new name for Andersen Consulting, is very good. It's about a test drive of an expensive Italian sports car. In the middle of the drive, he vanishes, leaving the desperate salesman to try to avoid a high-speed crash; it's a metaphor for Internet shopping, wherein 65% of consumers vanish before checkout. But the other three spots have no apparent connection to consulting, to the preposterous neologistic brand name or to anything. A very expensive exercise in vanity and cluelessness.

Motel 6 Richards

The ref's blind! Ha ha! At a Motel 6! Huh? Huh?

Levi Strauss TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco

First, the opening scene of an accident victim being evaluated by medics as a "donor" is not cartoonish enough to avoid horrifying tens of thousands of viewers whose loved ones died in accidents. No amount of cleverness, or sell, justifies assaulting so many people with reminders of their family tragedies. Secondly, there is no sell-because this fairly clever (albeit excessively realistic) way of communicating the factory-"reissued" concept is never paid off. It's unclear that these are supposed to be re-used jeans.

Pepsi BBDO

A guy on a subway astrally projects himself to an island paradise, only to be met by the other losers on his car. Not funny. Not about the brand. Not worth any part of $2 million.

Fedex BBDO

To dramatize the need for just-in-time delivery: folks being shot through the roof by their faulty rocker/recliners. The factory didn't have the right springs, and installed heavy-duty instead. Yuk. Yuk. Neither very amusing nor very illuminating.

ONE STAR

Budweiser DDB

The big boss, in a meeting with a bunch of crudely stereotyped Japanese, gets a pencil up his ass. Har. Har. Har. Is there no less crude way to pander to the working stiff? Augie, this is-excuse the expression-beneath you.

UNRATED

Philip Morris Y&R

Saying it wanted to keep a low profile, the company refused to show us this spot. An odd claim, as it's about to play the commercial for 100 million people at a cost of $2 million. But this is Philip Morris. We know the company wouldn't lie.

Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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