Super Bowl


Hype, Grandiose Posturing and a Dearth of Great Work

By Published on .

Pay attention, the ads shouted, PAY ATTENTION TO ME!

But notwithstanding the annual hype and grandiose posturing, the advertisers offered nothing for the annals, little that will be remembered beyond Groundhog

Budweiser's 'Tune Out' spot.
Budweiser's 'Smooth Monkey.'
Chevrolet's 'Soap.'
Charmin's 'Snap' is Procter & Gamble's first Super Bowl ad.
Cadillac's 'Turbulence.'
The White House Drug Office's 'Rewind.'
Day and lots of just what you'd expect.

Levitra and Cialis
There was one minor subplot in the artificial-erection industry. CBS was taking all comers, and Levitra and Cialis did meet at dysfunction junction to promote the pleasance of tumescence. Had Pfizer not announced at the last minute that it couldn't ... you know ... consummate a deal with the network (don't worry, it happens to everyone), the addition of Viagra would have made this the Urology Bowl.

Instead it was just another Comedy Bowl, with the typical mixed results. Anheuser-Busch once again monopolized the laughs, and BBDO yukked it up for Pepsi, Sierra Mist, FedEx, Visa, Lays and Dodge, pausing for seriousness only in its work for Gillette, which happens to be, dollar for dollar, probably the most ridiculous commercial ever made.

Budweiser's 'Tune Out'
The jokey spots weren't especially pointed selling messages, but that's also business as usual, Super Bowl or no. At least at this event the audience is primed to be entertained, and more attentive to whatever slim sell is implied by the punch line. Thus our favorite spot of the game, from Budweiser, which takes a threadbare comedy idea and locates its hilarious essence, hilariously.

And what a sublime metaphor for the audience's relationship with the current world of network advertising: a nagging wife hollering in a poor man's ear, while he sits impassively, utterly tuned out.

Budweiser, DDB, Chicago, "Tune Out." The comedic idea is right out of "The Lockhorns," but so what? Some percentage of Bud advertising is about guy truth, and the shot of the shrewish wife shrieking into the side judge's ear is just plain hysterical: "AND WOULD IT HURT TO SAY YOU JUST LOVE ME ONCE IN A WHILE?!" There isn't enough Levitra in the world. ...

Bud Light, DDB, Chicago, "Smooth Monkey." A milestone: the millionth chimp ad in Super Bowl history. And yet still hilarious. In this one, the ape puts the moves on a guy's date while he's fetching the beer. "Wow," the chimp says. "Here he comes. Act natural." LOL.

Chevrolet, Campbell-Ewald, Detroit. As noted in this space recently, the introduction of the SSR hardtop convertible makes more noise than business sense, but the spot is delightful: little kids, moved to profanity, by a passing SSR. This we don't realize until the end, when we discover why so many little mouths have been washed out with soap.

Pepsi, BBDO, New York. A perfect event-advertising idea trumps a lackluster execution. They dug up a bunch of kids sued by the music industry for illegal song downloads and built a promotion around them: free Apple iTunes for lucky winners. The best part of the ad is the music: "I fought the law, and the law won."

AOL 9.0, Wieden & Kennedy, Portland. Ore. "Back to the Future" meets "Jackass." In a desperate attempt to save its endangered dial-up business, AOL presents a "top speed" delivery technology -- illustrated by the stars of American Chopper attaching a fanciful aftermarket turbocharger to the engines of souped-up vehicles. The stunts are documented on video, and we see the test driver go so fast he conquers time and space. When he comes back, he's wearing a ridiculous 15th century outfit. Funny, and probably clever in not comparing 9.0 to broadband.

Bud Light, DDB, Chicago, "Paintball" and "Sleigh Ride." These spots are only very incidentally about beer, but they are top-drawer adolescent-guy jokes. One, a guy being mowed down in a paintball fusillade, another an explosion set off by a candle and a farting horse. Why hot lesbo catfighters is bad advertising and horse farting isn't we can't quite explain, but we think the beer-drinking world was impressed.

Budweiser, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, "Born a Donkey." This 60-second spot can't decide whether it wants to ridicule sentimentality or wallow in it. When the Clydesdale wannabe donkey wears furry hoof extensions and brays, it's the former. When he makes the team, it's the cloying latter. We prefer the joke to the goo, but they both pay tribute to the Clydesdale trademark, and they both work.

Cadillac, Chemistri, Troy, Mich. Very cool special effect of very cool Cadillacs speeding like torpedoes through water, capturing the turbulence of the fluid displacement. Power. Style. Luxury. As predicted in the space long ago: Cadillac is back, Jack.

FedEx, BBDO, New York, "Jenkins." Like the monkey that could operate a Xerox copier, this is about a space alien who can order overnight delivery by repeating "Send it FedEx." What's funny is how flimsily he attempts to assume human form. And the CYA positioning -- nobody ever raised suspicion choosing FedEx -- while uninspired, is at least sound.

MasterCard, McCann-Erickson, New York. Genius meets genius. Homer Simpson, star of the greatest show in TV history, illustrates in his inimitable way what really matters. Priceless.

Mitsubishi Galant, Deutsch, Los Angeles. A goofy crash-avoidance test suddenly gets serious, but to find out what happens you have to go to the Galant Web site. Very clever media integration.

Monster Worldwide, Deutsch, New York. Two lovely and inspiring montages about the simple joy of getting up in the morning for a job you love, as opposed to various unpleasant alternatives. One montage parallels a would-be employer and a wannabe employee who have identical morning rituals -- brought together by the miracle of online resume posting.

Office of National Drug Control Policy, Foote Cone & Belding, New York. A young woman's life of drug depravity is rewound to the point where Mom missed an opportunity to intervene. The effect is much better than the idea, which is a bit overwrought.

Pepsi, BBDO, New York. What if Jimi Hendrix had drunk Coke? This silly question is answered with the haunting idea of accordion lessons. The joke is OK, but the glib connection between musical revolution and the Pepsi Generation makes us a little queasy. Who's the next posthumous endorser, Che Gueverra?

Sierra Mist, BBDO, New York. Pepsi's "Boy in the Bottle" meets the Nestea Plunge. A sweaty guy jumps from his fire escape into a water pitcher, where his body is grotesquely distorted but ... you know ... refreshed. Nice effects.

Visa, BBDO, New York. U.S. women volleyballers, clad in modest sport bikinis, practice on an Atlantic beach -- which is covered with snow, this being winter and all. But they can't wait for the Summer Games and neither can the proud Olympic sponsor. When the ball goes into the water, and two tough-as-nails women go oddsies-evensies for who must fetch it, it's simply adorable.

American Legacy Foundation, Arnold Worldwide, Boston; Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami. Lampooning Philip Morris' obnoxious "disclosure" spots that acknowledge but soft-pedal the dangers of tobacco, this is a fake ad for Shard-o-Glass ice pops, which the manufacturer admits are dangerous, but still produces by the millions. Once again, why demonize tobacco companies instead of providing trenchant reasons for the young and vain not to smoke (i.e., you'll stink)? Still, the point is made and the laugh is good.

Bud Light, Downtown Partners, Toronto, "Good Dog." A guy's trained dog chomps his buddy's testicles to get him to surrender a bottle of Bud Light. While lacking the droll sophistication of the igniting-horse-fart gag, and owing a debt to the 20-year-old Stroh's classic "Alex," it's good for a snort.

Bud Light, DDB, Chicago, "Spa." Cedric gets a bikini waxing. 'Nuff said.

Chevrolet Aveo, Campbell-Ewald, Detroit. Four big hoops players pile into this subcompact and -- it's so roomy -- get (thanks to digital magic) subcompacted themselves. Cute. Pointed.

Dodge, BBDO, Detroit. Inability to find the right vehicle is a monkey on his back ... i.e., an actual chimp. Attention getting, but a long way to go for such a brief glimpse at the "solution."

Expedia, Deutsch, Los Angeles. The same vacation clairvoyance joke we're used to by now, only this time surrounding an off-Broadway New York theatrical production that involves humiliating audience participation. Never mind that the reference is wayyy inside; the joke, in this case to highlight Expedia�s concierge feature, is beginning to wear thin.

Pepsi, BBDO, New York. Hmm. Did this agency's Visa client know about this? A thirsty bear disguises himself to write a check for a carton of Pepsi, and has much better luck than Bob Dole, Charlie Sheen and Yao Ming.

Staples, Martin/Williams, Minneapolis. The new positioning: Avoid your company's quartermaster bureaucracy by going to Staples and buying the stuff yourself. The premise: employees reduced to bribing supply guardians with doughnuts. But the Sgt. Bilko joke takes a mean, unfunny turn.

Anheuser-Busch, DDB, Chicago. Why to drink responsibly: singer Tim McGraw and the Lakers' Rick Fox watch the designated driver get all the babes. Yeah, right.

H&R Block, Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. OK, Willie Nelson made some famously bad tax decisions, so here is a Willie Doll: Pull the string and it dispenses terrible tax advice. The idea had promise, but the writing and acting are just awful. You can scarcely understand what is being said ... much less why tax prep from seasonal laborers constitutes a good tax decision.

IBM, Ogilvy & Mather, New York. This latest advertising beatification of Muhammad Ali is visually quite striking, and the "shake things up" message from The Greatest probably sound. But it's also too trite to be inspiring. It's also unclear how using the Linux operating system constitutes agitating The Man. And it's getting embarrassing, and tiresome, to see Ali trotted out as a prop for other people's nakedly commercial interests.

Levitra, Quantum Group, Parsippany, N.J. The Levitra Challenge? Sort of a bombastic way to sell prescription medicine. Also the football-action vs. baseball-boredom analogy is dicey. They only play 16 football games a year. Still, Mike Ditka does make his point: You'll be in there bangin'.

Pepsi, Spike DDB, New York. Jilted boyfriend is hit on by fat waitress. Cute ... but utterly pointless.

7Up, Y&R Advertising, New York. The Terry Tate-ization of the "Make 7 Up Yours" campaign. Guys get hurt. Big laffs. No message.

Sierra Mist, BBDO, New York. The central gag here is a deflating parade balloon, and yet it isn't for an impotency drug. One of the bagpipers is so overheated that he takes the liquid-nitrogen supply for the balloon and sprays it under his kilt, a la Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch." But there's too much going on for the joke to scan properly. And what does liquid nitrogen have to do with balloons?

Charmin, Publicis, New York. Thunderously insipid football gag about somebody substituting -- are you ready for some hilarity? -- Charmin toilet paper for the towel the center has dangling from the back of his pants! Ha! And guess who, over on the sidelines, pulled the prank? The Charmin bear!! Har! What a zany unexpected gridiron twist! If you are a moron!

Cialis, Healthy Grey Village, New York. A long string of romantic images -- a "Thinking of You" card, basically, at 24 frames a second -- seemingly designed to send 100 million people to root around in the fridge. What a way to build brand recognition for a newcomer in a crowded category. And, by the way, what exactly is romantic about a raging, drug-induced boner? And, by the way, why isn't this product called Priapus?

Lay's, BBDO Worldwide. Watching the game on TiVo? Betcha can't delete just one! But start here. An elderly couple physically assaulting one another over potato chips. Not only isn't it remotely funny, the "punch line" (the old lady winds up withholding her husband's false teeth) has almost nothing to do with the crunchier-chip claim. By the way, why are they Spanish? El stupido.

Gillette, BBDO, New York. For the latest razor, Mach 8, or whatever, which Gillette claims makes a man unbeatable, irresistible and cool. This montage is so jaw-droppingly terrible we were sure for the first 40 seconds that it was a parody. The disembodied voice says, "It's like having an angel by your side," but only if you remove the little blades and slash your wrist with them, which this ad makes you want to do.

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