THE ADCRITIC: Super Bowl XL

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The editors of Creativity and AdCritic comment on the Super Bowl spots of 2006.

FedEx "Stick"

FedEx 'Stick'
FedEx 'Stick'
This year's FedEx spot "Stick" only incorporates one or two of the "10 items needed to finish on top" in the Super Bowl of advertising as outlined in the marketer's great 05 Bowl spot "Top Ten." No matter. FedEx still manages to finish at or near the very top with this superb effort from BBDO/N.Y. and Traktor.

Fed Ex consistently turns out some of the very best ads in the game, ads that manage to deliver out-loud laughs while still being smart, layered, culturally aware, dare we say classy. All of which add up to a great brand persona for a company's whose messages must resonate with people occupying a range of positions along the corporate food chain. Last year's meta message sent up the yearly Super Bowl spot shenanigans while embodying the perfect game day ad. The year before, the company took aim at its own feature film length ad, Castaway. In some ways, this year's "Stick" is more of a straight-up classic SB ad- —a big sweeping production with rich visuals and accessible humor - but it still incorporates the self-referential wink, and so many more surprising and excellent things.

Because of the ad's unusual setting, it grabs the eye from the first frames, and because the gag and the action take place throughout, it sustains and rewards attention until the very end. Though the spot's protagonist is a distant human ancestor, his struggles to cope with unreasonable demands from an idle boss are surely identifiable to a wide range of today's homo sapiens. Traktor has invented a strangely authentic and brilliantly funny language for the humanoids in the ad, yet the hapless drone's gestures after being "fired" are similarly and hilariously timeless and universal ( and his few seconds of dialogue are funnier than whole handfuls of other spots in the game).

With the "brand message" woven into the ad, its creators kept it simple when it came to the wrap-up brand ID -- —the FedEx logo simply appears accompanied by a voice-over with the short and sweet directive "Next time use FedEx." Wonderful. -Teressa Iezzi

ESPN Mobile "Sports Heaven"

ESPN 'Sports Heaven'
ESPN 'Sports Heaven'
Strange to think that this is the first Super Bowl ad offering from the Worldwide Leader in Sports, but it's true. Nevertheless, ESPN wastes no time flexing its sports celebrity muscle, jam-packing enough A-list athletes—including San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson and New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury—into this Jake Scott-directed spot to make your head spin. It's the equivalent of that guy you know who loves to name-drop at parties, only much cooler. As the every-fan in the spot walks down the street, totally immersed in the content of his Mobile ESPN phone while race cars, golf clubs and baseballs whiz around him, the whimsical intersection of everyday life and high-octane competition leave no doubt in the minds of sports fans like me: this, truly, is what heaven looks like. -Richard Ho

CareerBuilder.com "Celebration"

Career Builder 'Celebration'
Career Builder 'Celebration'
I didn't think it was possible to love the Career Builder ads any more than I did last year. But this year's integrated showing from the sophomore Bowl player, Cramer Krasselt and Bryan Buckley just satisfied us on a whole new simian level. For those who would argue that the ads don't say anything telling about the product, I would answer: I've seen last year's CB Super Bowl ads on TV several times over the past year. Each time I watch them all the way through. They are great content. They've created a memorable identity for CareerBuilder, something that more "effective" ads—ads telling me what kinds of jobs or how many jobs I can find on the site—couldn't do. Welcome to advertising in the 00s. This year's spots are fantastic, again, particularly "Celebration," but it's the Monk-e-mail interactive component that puts this campaign over the top. We've seen the idea before in the excellent Comcastic Puppets site, but, well, this has chimps. Enough said. -Teressa Iezzi

Burger King "America's Favorite"

Burger King 'America's Favorite'
Burger King 'America's Favorite'
Under the Crispin Porter + Bogusky regime, Burger King's advertising has become a perfectly balanced tightrope act that walks the tenuous line between hokey, hilarious, disturbing and dynamic. Its first-ever Super Bowl offering is completely consistent—a flamboyant musical extravaganza featuring singing costumed lovelies dressed as burger toppings. That covers hokey and dynamic. As for disturbing, the ladies flop on top of one another in so many spread-eagle positions to make one Brooke Burke-topped sandwich (a feminist analysis isn't even necessary). And the hilarious? Even the Whopperettes think the King is freaky. And come on, they're dancing food. Water cooler fodder and brand message. BK is having it its way, and we get to have fun in the meantime. -Melanie Shortman

Emerald Nuts "Druid"

Emerald Nuts - Druid
Emerald Nuts - Druid
Confusion is not a bad thing in advertising. Many perfectly good spots open with a perplexing sequence in order to grab your attention and pique your interest, keeping you in the dark for a few seconds as they set up the punchline or the big reveal. But when it comes to the new spot for Emerald Nuts, the feeling of utter cluelessness doesn't go away--at least not until the very end of the spot, when the cheesy narrator literally spells it out for us. And even after the words flash across the screen, I still have no friggin' idea what machete enthusiasts or networking druids have to do with nuts. But the most confusing thing of all? I like it. And I'm not entirely sure why. -Richard Ho

Budweiser "American Dream"

Budweiser 'American Dream'
Budweiser 'American Dream'
OK, let's deconstruct the message here. In the young Clydesdale Who Thinks He Can, we have a symbol of someone who, under the illusion that he is more powerful than he really is, sets out to take on the world. Operating under a bubble of self-delusion and spurred on by an unseen force (God?), he believes in his ability to achieve the improbable, without really learning the skills or the hard lessons necessary to actually accomplish something so difficult and complex. How wonderfully American and how wrong.

But today is not the day for a close study. It's the freaking Super Bowl—a day for big gestures, great visuals, and a reliable brand message. All of those things are satisfied here, making this a fine Super Bowl ad. -Teressa Iezzi

Coke Full Throttle "Procession"

Coke 'Procession'
Coke 'Procession'
Bob needs to let his man out. Don't we all? Er, okay, maybe not. But dirty innuendos aside, any guy watching this spot can't help but feel an oncoming rush of pure testosterone as the Full Throttle truck roars by with screaming motorcycles, monster trucks, Austrian body-builders, rodeo cowboys, Appalachian rednecks and assorted other symbols of manliness in its wake. Quite the entertaining spectacle, and definitely worth watching more than once to pick out all the manly details. It's worth noting that other than the guy who plays Bob, not a single member of the man-parade is an actor. In fact, director Happy and agency Mother went to great lengths to dig up as many authentic, rugged, salt-of-the-earth chums as they could find. Too bad none of them were members of the American Trucking Association. -Richard Ho

Ameriquest "Doctor"

Ameriquest 'Doctor'
Ameriquest 'Doctor'
Last year, Ameriquest was a highlight of the Super Bowl's commercial presentations, and this year they up the ante on the mistaken situations that led to multiple awards for director Craig Gillespie. While 2005's "Surprise Dinner" led a girlfriend to believe that her man was trying to kill the cat, 2006's "Doctor" leads a wife and child to believe that a man has been killed by his doctors. That they actually killed a fly with the defibrillator paddles is just a bonus. Funny, imaginative and wide reaching, "Doctor" loses points only for lack of connection to the product. But aren't we glad that a mortgage company has a sick sense of humor? -Melanie Shortman

Dove "Self-Esteem"

Dove 'Self-Esteem'
Dove 'Self-Esteem'
It's Super Bowl Sunday. A roomful of half soused men alternately hoist beverages, high five each other and wipe greasy fingers on jerseys stretched over protruding bellies. Then, during one of the ad breaks, the room falls dead silent. The sound of a jalapeño dropping from a nacho to the floor echoes through the room like cannon fire. Paulie, Frank, Paulie, Dave and Jimmy look down at their feet. Joe turns his head to pretend to look at something outside the window, a vain attempt to mask the tears welling up in his eyes. Muttering something about "seeing a man about a horse," Joe excuses himself to go and call his daughter. Later, he will visit Campaignforrealbeauty.com, think about the fact that young girls who start out with the same blithely confident attitude as young boys slowly become warped shadows of their former selves, psychically stooped by the pressure to be sexually appealing above all else, and he will cancel his subscription to Barely Legal.

That's what should happen when this spot airs during the Super Bowl. What will probably happen is somewhere between a round of snickers and some shoulder shrugs.

Oh well. It's a valiant effort by Dove, furthering its Real Beauty message with this eminently more worthwhile message about girls' self esteem. The issue is a huge one and it deserves the audience that the Super Bowl can provide. The execution is decent, and the spot, by itself, can't help but get the point across.

It's a poignant counterpoint to standard ad fare, especially Super Bowl ads, in which women are variously portrayed as ball-crushing harpies (see Coke's Full Throttle ad, more subtly, Bud's "On the Roof" ad) or ridiculously proportioned empty vessels of shill and wank fantasy (see GoDaddy.com and a million other ads). But is it too big of a tonal stretch?

Forget ED ads, you'd think the NFL would ban this spot because the sheer dissonance it points out between the real reality of the young girls and the manufactured reality of the game, of professional sports and the culture around them (cheerleaders, anyone?) might just cause TV sets across the nation to explode. -Teressa Iezzi

Toyota "Hybrid"

Toyota 'Hybrid'
Toyota 'Hybrid'
Well it's no "Girlfriend," is it? And it's not really a Super Bowl spot. So what is it? It's a really nice intention, but the road to the Super Bowl must be paved with a lot sturdier stuff than that.

As was well publicized before the game, rather than an ad from the automaker's lead agency Saatchi & Saatchi, Toyota would front a Bowl commercial in support of its hybrid Camry from L.A.-based Hispanic shop Conill. Sounds great—great to bust up the wall-o-whitey that is the Advertising Industrial Complex, great to get a conservation message across during the game. So it's a little extra disappointing to see this insipid effort that will surely be a forgettable blip between bites of five-meat chili on Sunday.

In a story in Ad Age, Toyota claimed that of the 25 percent of Hispanics who watch the game, 62 percent are male and 50 percent are under 35 and that that young male segment was the target for the ad. Which makes the tone of this spot all the more baffling. (Oh right, I forgot, if there's no "family" it's not a Hispanic ad). The casting, the performances, the eye-rolling idea, it's all just a giant snore.

And, most significantly, any ad that begins with a young child asking "Papa, why do we have a (insert product here)" is bad, in English, Spanish, gas or electric. -Teressa Iezzi

Nationwide "Gondola"

Nationwide 'Gondola'
Nationwide 'Gondola'
Nationwide Insurance's tag line is, "Life comes at you fast." Fabio is a man who was hit in the face by a bird while riding a roller coaster. There is no mention of this coincidental pairing in its Super Bowl spot called "Gondola." Instead, the romance novel cover boy whose popularity peaked in the '90s is played as a sex symbol whose rapid aging is supposed to elicit giggles. Right celebrity, wrong idea. -Melanie Shortman
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