SUPER BOWL AS ED SULLIVAN SHOW

Strong-Sell Ads, High-Level Talent and a Bevy of Cute Animals

By Published on .

Dogs. Horses. Polar bears. Monkeys. Squirrels.

Music, magic and comedy. Willie Nelson, Ozzy Osbourne, Tim McGraw, Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, Celine Dion, the Osmonds and


Michael Jordan. And Michael Jordan. And Michael Jordan. Yo, was that the Super Bowl or the freakin' Ed Sullivan Show?

They dumped the spinning-plates guy and Topo Gigio but in terms of actual advertising quality, it was -- as Ed liked to say -- a really, really good show.

As a group, the Super Bowl advertisers acquitted themselves with unprecedented dignity and professionalism. There was the usual handful of surpassing delights, a small number of failures, a large assortment of commendable efforts and one total choke.

Not a tour de force
It wasn't a tour de force, exactly. Glaringly in short supply was the visual storytelling the event best serves. Super Bowl Sunday is all about commotion. Ads that contribute to the din are at a disadvantage vs. the ones that draw the story out and the viewer in. Still, what most distinguished the 2003 Super Bowl was the observance of advertising values, not just entertainment and production ones; most of the ads had embedded within them

A zebra was the referee of this year's Clydesdales' football game.
strong selling messages, and the rest mainly were brand-building enough to fill in the gap.

Or, put another way: Hip, hip hooray! It didn't suck!

4 stars
Budweiser, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosumpulos, Boston. A reprise of the football-playing Clydesdales. Only this time, the action is stopped while an official ducks his head under the monitor hood to see the replay. And the official is ... a zebra. Only Budweiser has the equity to make this kind of beerless Event Advertising a brand builder.

Gatorade, Element 79 Partners, Chicago. Michael Jordan, #39, the aging Wizard, plays Michael Jordan, #23, the young Bull, one on one. They sweat. We gasp -- and wonder how in the world this was done. (Answer: Michael's face digitally composited on a body double.) Perfection.

3.5 stars
FedEx, BBDO Worldwide, New York. In a marvelous spoof of Castaway, a FedEx employee who has been marooned on a desert island for five years delivers a package he's protected the whole time.

PepsiCo's spots included, among other things, baboons, a polar bear and an airborne dog.
What was in it? Satellite phone, GPS locater, water purifier, seeds.

Pepsi Twist, BBDO, New York. First we get to see Ozzy Osbourne try to work a trash compacter, which is reward enough. Then we're further blessed with Ozzy's horror at watching his kids mutate into the Osmonds. The best gag so far in the campaign. And the tart twist of a kicker: Sharon turns into Florence Henderson.

3 stars
AT&T Wireless, Ogilvy & Mather, New York. A funny take-off about an obsolete home telephone on Antiques Roadshow and a wonderful and seamless revisit to Gilligan's Island -- if Gilligan had a wireless phone. Both promote wireless; neither particularly promotes mlife.

Bud Light. The usual assortment of comic spots centered on either beer obsession or lifeitsownself. The upside-down clown swilling beer through his butt is hilarious, albeit vulgar. The guy meeting his fiancee's ultra-wide-end mom is hilarious, albeit mean. The World's Strongest Man takeoff is funny, but obvious (Downtown Partners DDB, Toronto). The would-be Casanova with the conch shell to his ear is less funny, but more obvious. The guy with dreadlock wig made of a live poodle is very funny, albeit racially right to the edge. (DDB, Chicago). The guy with three arms isn't funny at all (Fusion, Chicago). As a group: another brand success.

Budweiser, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. A boyfriend seems to be listening to his girl's relationship gossip, but isn't, which rings "True."

Cadillac, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich. The problem: How to take the fact that Cadillacs have been completely uncool since 1966 and turn that into a brand benefit. Accomplished! A mystical train ride connects the classic Caddies of four decades ago with the future classics of today.

H&R Block, Campbell-Mithun, Minneapolis. Adorable. Willie Nelson, famously bearded and famously in tax straits, is reduced to doing a shaving-cream commercial. The claim that H&R Block's fast-food version of tax preparation would have saved him, however, is silly.

Hot Jobs, Brand Architecture International, New York. Kermit the Frog meets the recession. A wistful, lyrical, economy-sensitive montage of the variously underemployed dreaming about the perfect job and singing the Muppet Movie classic, "The Rainbow Connection."

Levi Strauss, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York. In one of the few genuine spectacle ads, Levi's unveils Type1 jeans by putting two gorgeous, sultry young people in the path of stampeding bulls. It makes no sense -- something about "bold" -- but it's something to watch. Sadly, they are not trampled.

Monster.com, Arnold Worldwide Partners, Boston. The runaway truck spectacle is diminished to the vanishing point by the small screen, but the message -- blue-collar jobs here, too -- is loud and clear.

Sierra Mist, BBDO, New York. A baboon flips his friend from the monkey exhibit into the polar bear's icy zoo pond -- and PepsiCo flips the bird at a Coca-Cola icon. Not hilarious, but, gosh, people do love animals, and it does say "refreshing." Likewise a second spot about a dog peeing against a fire hydrant on a hot day. The hydrant shoots back.

2.5 stars
Chrysler, BBDO, Detroit, and the Arnell Group, New York. Let's say Celine Dion, reputedly sexy and famously a mom, is the right spokeswoman for family-friendly Chrysler. And let's say she put on a few pounds and is self-conscious. That explains why, in these gorgeously shot spots, through a million quick cuts, we never get a look at her intact. It doesn't explain why we also don't get a look at the vehicles. Who's hiding what?

McDonald's, DDB, Chicago. A McDonald's dinner as a middle-class reward. Needham Harper Steers' seminal inspiration is still potent enough to make up for bad writing and contrived performances in this vignette about a father and son tuckered out after a hard day's work.

Michelob Ultra, DDB Chicago. Beer as sports drink. It's like: oh, please. Yet the low-carb claim and the six-pack abs will actually persuade the self-deluding.

Myfico.com, Space 150, Minneapolis. Pollyana look at "typical" families happy in their idealized homes. Deadly dull, but message squeaks through: Get your credit score, fix your credit, get lower mortgage rate.

Sony, Y&R Advertising, New York. Wordless vignette keeps your attention, until the payoff, in which some rich pig blows $20 million for an outer-space joyride. He records it all on a Sony camcorder while we're busy hating him.

Trident Gum, J. Walter Thompson, New York. How the "fifth dentist" wound up not recommending Trident. He was attacked by a squirrel and shouted "No!" Cute. The question is: will anyone under 35 remember the old "four-out-of-five dentists" claim?

2 stars
Budweiser, DDB, Chicago. Drink responsibly. Country star Tim McGraw is the designated driver. The gabby Texan from last year's Super Bowl is the first one dropped off at home. What, no kitchen sink?

Budweiser, Fusion, Chicago. A guy (brilliantly performed) discovers he can date both foxy roommates. "Think Fresh/Drink Fresh" is supposed to be an upgrade of "True." It isn't. It just confuses the freshness claim with tired male fantasy.

Diet Pepsi, BBDO, New York. A teenager finds his dad in a rock-concert mud bog, swilling a Diet Pepsi. So what?

Hanes, Martin Agency, Richmond, Va. For no apparent reason, Jackie Chan joins equally irrelevant endorser Michael Jordan to introduce the tagless T-shirt. The connection is opaque, the spot confusing. Somehow, though, they do communicate the (dubious) USP.

Subway, Euro RSCG MBVMS Partners Jared's Fantasy. A Subway store in his living room isn't remotely amusing. And the weird camera angles really make you wonder about this fella's shape. But: yummy new sauces on the low-fat menu. Got it.

Visa Check Card, BBDO, New York. The latest celebrity gag features Houston Rocket rookie sensation Yao Ming, and plays on the superficial similiarity between "Yao" and a New Yorker's "yo." No-checks-accepted makes more sense than the missing-I.D. premise of previous spots, but the miscommunication joke here is gigantically unfunny.

White House Office of Drug Control Policy, Ogilvy & Mather, New York, and McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York. Smoke dope and you'll wind up a pregnant teenager (McCann). Buy drugs and be haunted in the subway by ghosts of drug-violence victims (Ogilvy.) The arguments are probably legitimate, but the melodrama will make the target audiences snort in derision.

1.5 stars
Reebok, Arnell Group, New York. Laugh-out-loud funny bit about mythical linebacker Terry Tate as the office enforcer. But it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with sneakers.

1 star
Quizno's, Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York. As advertising, it fails to make the product look inviting. As comedy, it steals the main joke (the expert so "focused" he forgets to wear pants) from a 2000 Sutter Home wines spot.

0 star
Dodge Ram, BBDO, Detroit. Man choking to death gets "Heimliched" by sudden-braking truck. Disturbing. Repulsive. Unacceptable.

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