The Alamo car rental spot. On last year's Super Bowl. It was a massacre.
Laden with fancy sets and fancier digitaleffects, it cost more than $1 million to make, and another $3 million to air and it was busy and frantic and tragically underwhelming.
But someone must have remembered how forgettable it was, because this year's Super Bowl advertisers seemed finally to grasp that marketing impact is not a function of production expense and digital gimmickry.
It is a function of storytelling, and filmmaking, and smarts.
It is a rodeo cowboy in the chute showing no fear, a David and Goliath struggle to out-Nike Nike, three frogs in a pond croaking a word from the sponsor. While there was no shortage of money thrown at Sunday's productions, for the first time in years the Super Bowl of advertising didn't look like the presentation reel for a digital-effects house. There was no Alamo-massacre analogue.
There was, instead, analog.
No Fear apparel. In-house. Framed in a letterbox and stuffed in a chute, a young cowboy mounted on an angry half-ton of bull waits to be disgorged into the ring. Every close-up, and the cowboy's grip, is extremely tight. The bull kicks at the boards and the concussion echoes amid the gospel music background. "For a man will live and die," the singer screams, "to take hold of his dreams, for the strength to pass by ... those gates of fear!" The rider is anxious, but he feels no fear.
Nor does the marketer. This is as good as an ad can be without giving any clue what is being sold. The answer, of course, is image.
Wilson Sporting Goods Co. Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago. A gripping period piece of David slaying Goliath-with a rock embossed "W." The idea of a Wilson-brand murder weapon would be fatuous if it weren't so smart. One of the great names in sporting goods has finally realized that it was grossly undermarketing its brand to consumers, and a decade late realizing the necessity to be cool.
Budweiser. D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis. D'Arcy's swan song for Anheuser-Busch is a frog croak-and a delightful brand-image boost it is. Now they get creative.
Lee jeans. Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. Funny, as usual. About the product benefit, as usual. The support group for men kept waiting in stores by their women is a hoot.
Master Lock, Cramer-Krasselt, Milwaukee. Same spot as last year. Same bull's-eye.
Pepsi/Diet Pepsi. BBDO Worldwide, New York. Most of the spots are cute, if a bit labored, except for the kid who sucks himself into a Pepsi bottle, which is grotesque. The best are the "Field of Dreams" parody and the grampa/granddaughter vignette. But The new theme, "Nothing else is a Pepsi," is absurd. Anything else would be an improvement.
Lincoln-Mercury. Young & Rubicam, Detroit. The new Continental is the perfect balance of luxury and technology, so they balance one on the apex of a gigantic steel needle. Strangely arresting footage and, yes, point taken.
Primestar. Adler Boschetto Peebles & Partners, New York. Straightforward description of satellite TV with nice beaming-down effect, plus an 800-number that will ring off the hook.
Dodge Stratus. BBDO, Southfield, Mich. A handsome computer-animation montage launching a handsome car designed and engineered, allegedly, with no foregone conclusions about what was possible and what wasn't.
2 1/2 stars
Doritos. BBDO, New York. Ann Richards and Mario Cuomo are looking for a new bag, and find one-the updated package for Frito-Lay's Doritos. A slight joke about "change" distracts us from wondering how nice a chunk of same they'll receive for this good-natured indignity.
National Pork Producers Council. Bozell, Chicago. "It's the life of the party! The word on the street!" It's ... hog flesh. Nice photography, but, come on. "TASTE ... WHAT'S ... NEXT," they say. Um ... angioplasty?
Isuzu Trooper Limited. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. People won't notice that it's a clever juxtaposition of ancient Moroccan culture and techno-hip jargon, in subtitles. They'll notice it's exactly the same joke IBM has been using, and they'll conclude (incorrectly, because this was shot long ago): rip-off.
Toyota Avalon. Saatchi & Saatchi DFS Pacific, Torrance, Calif. Let's see, "It's an experience above all else," and there is a white car hovering in the clouds. It is certainly a gorgeous $23,000 flagship sedan, but it would appear, to buy one, you have to be dead. Creepy.
Rold Gold. DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago. Premised by a silly setup spot, Jason Alexander seems to parachute into the big game with his dog. A very long way to go for a very meager joke, and a nearly invisible advertiser in Frito-Lay's Rold Gold.
Nike. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. Stanley Craver's 90-second football manifesto. Notwithstanding extreme misgivings on the propriety of using a paranoid-schizophrenic character as spokesman, we have loved Dennis Hopper. Until now. The script is flat, the performance dull, the humor drained, the joke labored.
Federal Express. BBDO, New York. Unlike previous vignettes, the business scenario it lampoons is utterly unfamiliar, and the software feature it promotes is utterly unclear.
1 1/2 stars
Soloflex. 53rd Street Advertising, Hillsboro, Ore. A bronzed and oiled Adonis flexes in slow motion as superimposed type tells us repeatedly: "30 MINUTES A DAY, THREE TIMES A WEEK, $39 A MONTH." With home workout equipment. But this model didn't get that body in 90 minutes a week the Soloflex way-and you won't either.
Quaker State. Ketchum Advertising, Pittsburgh. As we said, the Alamo was tragic. On the other hand, there is something to be said for non-cheesy production. A quart of heavy-duty motor oil turns into a 4-by-4 and you wished they'd paid for the morphing.