Each commercial PepsiCo and Anheuser debuted last night during Fox's Super Bowl extravaganza seemed worse than the one that preceded it. PepsiCo's consumer-generated portfolio of stupid men getting smacked in the groin, ducking a can thrown in anger or being tackled by a dog seemed ripped off from previous, better Super Bowl work from the likes of Sprint or Anheuser itself (back when the brewer really cared about what it was saying and doing in the broadcast).
We're reserving judgment on PepsiCo's Lipton Brisk ad featuring Eminem, because a) it seemed like it had something to say and b) you have to give kudos to any marketer that can get a Super Bowl ad break all to itself.
Anheuser, meanwhile, feels directionless. Time was, the brewer hit us with Super Bowl spots that left nothing to chance. Anheuser used to follow a formula: A funny premise, a brand message and then a brief story coda that made us smile all over again. Last night's shenanigans -- yes, even the partying dogs -- were about as memorable as whatever Skechers hurled at the screen last night.
Both companies are likely to call this writer a crackpot. After all, they can say, Anheuser's Bud Light and PepsiCo's Doritos tied for first in the vaunted USA Today Ad Meter. Yet I'd posit that trying to game the Ad Meter each year is good only for making sure you get a belly laugh from the buffalo-wing-eating drunks in the back of the room, not for creating a long-term message about your product that will resound with consumers weeks, months or even years later. Apple still enjoys buzz from the Macintosh ad it aired just once during the 1984 Super Bowl, an ad so iconic that Motorola's ham-fisted attempt last night to duplicate it was met with the sound of crickets.
Better spots not beyond reach
Treasure was hard to find in last night's Bowl, it's true, but there were definitely some pieces of gold among the dross. Wieden & Kennedy helped power both Coca-Cola and Chrysler to memorable commercials. In one Wieden Coke ad, a small bottle of Coke helps de-power a fiery dragon who is about to lay waste to an entire populace, and in the Chrysler spot, the automaker ties itself not only to the fading metropolis of Detroit, but also to themes of economic recovery and getting up after taking a punch. You can't import a car from Detroit if you live in America, as Chrysler suggested last night, but it's fascinating that Chrysler has enough chutzpah to think its cars are worthy of such an image.
The list goes on. Volkswagen won the sentimental vote with its depiction of a young child as Darth Vader. The NFL effectively plucked nostalgia with its culled-from-dozens-of-family-sitcoms montage (although one wonders if fans will remember the good feelings conveyed by this ad if players' and owners' contract fight cancels games next season).
Simply put, Pepsi and Anheuser may have won the Ad Meter, but they seem to have lost the war. The Volkswagen and Chrysler ads are the talk of the town this morning, not the frat-boy antics that Pepsi and Anheuser dusted off the shelf yesterday and pretended were new.
Maybe the Super Bowl simply doesn't fit either company's mission and marketing method as much as it once did.
'Refresh' remembered better than ads
Pepsi pulled all its beverages out of the big game last year, citing the social-media, good-feelings-themed "Refresh" campaign it was launching. The company got as much as if not more attention for doing so than it might have gotten if it ran ads in last year's Super Bowl.
Anheuser, for its part, is now controlled by a much bigger, overseas brewer, and these days seems uncomfortable talking about the image that the old Anheuser-Busch spent decades building. What does it say that the best Budweiser ad last night featured the company's iconic Clydesdales making a brief cameo, but not taking up the main storyline?
A Super Bowl without Pepsi or Budweiser? Why, it sounds un-American. But it might be more fun to watch -- and give millions of viewers more advertising that's truly worth their time and, yes, later consideration.
Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.