The AdCritic

The ads of Super Bowl XXXVIII.

By Published on .

The Super Bowl is over, and this year it was noticeably lacking in five-star advertising efforts. Certainly there was nothing that could compete with Janet Jackson's bare breast -- or a close game -- for water-cooler chatter. Here's our take on some of Sunday's ads.

Pepsi "I Fought the Law"
Pepsi: I Fought the Law

However it fares in the popularity polls, this commercial represents the only Super Bowl-sized marketing move in yesterday's game. It's really a win-win-win. Apple gets to expand its growing lead in the online music space. Pepsi -- the allegedly cooler cola that has never really seemed very cool -- gets the challenger cred of being associated with Apple and of (apparently) taking on the meanies at the RIAA by spotlighting teens who have been sued. And the RIAA? They love it, since this ad teaches the younger generation to be grateful for winning something they used to get for free. Pepsi might seem to be fighting the law, but -- as the Bobby Fuller tune goes -- the law wins. (JH)

Bud "Born a Donkey"
Budweiser: Born a Donkey and Tune Out

Anheuser-Busch fielded its usual slate of ads, which can be divided into two categories: popular and bad, and popular and good. These two spots represent the latter. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' "Born a Donkey" -- with Jeff Goodby himself behind the lens -- provides a fresh and entertaining take on the brand's trademark Clydesdales, while DDB/Chicago gives us another painfully "True" scenario, as we see how a ref prepares to take abuse on the field. (JH)

American Legacy "Shards O' Glass"
American Legacy Foundation: Shards O' Glass

It's almost enough to make you feel bad for tobacco companies. Arnold Worldwide and Crispin Porter + Bogusky once again manage to execute a hit-and-run on big tobacco's current PR strategy, which calls for admitting that there is no safe cigarette. In this commercial, we learn that there is also no safe glass-encrusted popsicle. Absurd? That's the point. This was the smartest spot of the game. (JH)

H&R Block "Willie Doll"
H&R Block: Willie Doll

It's hard to not like the premise that it was a Willie Nelson action-figure that advised Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer to take a swing at Pedro Martinez last season -- and this is a pretty likeable spot. It's well executed too, with deft comic direction from Jesse Peretz of X-Ray Films, and a worthy successor to last year's Willie spot. (JH)

Monster "Soulmates"
Monster: Soulmates

After last year's very nicely done but straightforward spot, which simply announced that the job site offers blue collar options too, Monster returns to a more aspirational message, appealing to those clinging to the notion that there is a better vocational world out there somewhere. And, like last year's spot, featuring an amusingly out of control 18-wheeler, this one is a treat to watch. In it, we see two demographically disparate but, we are lead to believe, philosophically compatible individuals go through their morning ablutions and commute. Quick cuts from one to the other reveal similar tastes and habits until they come together in a meeting of the minds as potential employer and interviewee. The action is driven by a fantastic soundtrack -- a ridiculously obscure Cure track, apparently, (the tune is credited to Robert Smith) that puts one in mind of classic Ian Dury. Kudos to the music supervisor here and to director Jeff Preiss for capturing the poignance that results from the juxtaposition of the very small, quotidian components of an average morning and the very grand concept of a purpose in life. The result is charming and snappy, and embodies such a hopeful and energetic tone, we can't help but like it. Of course, the underlying premise -- that somewhere, a boss exists to whom you could possibly relate as another human being -- is completely fallacious. But Monster, like the New York Lottery does hopeful well -- it looks good on them. The call to action has the positive tone of moving toward something, which seems to be a richer strategic landscape to occupy now than simply illustrating dead-inside plebes dreaming of another life. And while Monster will always have big shoes to fill with "When I Grow Up," in its archives, that spot's bitter truths might just make people weep today. (TI)

Mitsubishi "Freeway"
Mitsubishi: Freeway

The strength of this effort is that it both feels like a Mitsubishi ad -- bolstered by the glam-rock classic "Ballroom Blitz" by Sweet -- and yet it doesn't. Instead of straight beauty shots, we see a madcap product demo as the Galant goes head-to-head with the Toyota Camry in a grueling road test. Clearly the most memorable car ad of the game, the spot earns extra points for the innovation of driving viewers to the web to see the finale. (JH)

MasterCard "The Simpsons"
MasterCard: The Simpsons

OK, so it's another MasterCard "Priceless" spot, so we're not giving any points for difficulty here. But this spot should be recognized for pure entertainment value and a demonstration of effective use of TV icons in an ad. The Simpsons installment is executed like a real, tiny episode of the show, with all the characters and details and tone intact, but with the price-tallying voiceover added. Seeing the Simpsons in all their glory elevates the spot, making it a big enough gesture for a Super Bowl effort. And lets face it, some things are just always funny. Chimps: funny. Bees flying out of Homer's gas tank, and his trademark simper as two delicious donuts morph into the not so delicious MasterCard circles: funny. (TI)

AOL "Car"
AOL: Car, Slow Ride and Motorcycle

This series of ads, featuring the guys from American Chopper, is amusing, and certainly did some good for AOL by being the only true series from any marketer in the game. Unfortunately, they don't really feel like a series. Where we could have had a storyline, we get a sequence of unrelated events. A massive teaser campaign created more expectation than these ads deliver, and while they definitely drive the message home about AOL's high-speed access, they do it with gags we've seen before and better. (JH)

Charmin "Snap"
Charmin: Snap

Those in the ad game will watch this spot with an added degree of interest because they know this commercial was the winner of a high profile shootout among brands at big ol' P&G for the privilege of appearing in the Super Bowl. Normal game viewers will watch the spot with an added degree of drunkenness. What both will see, through their respective distorted perception, is a slightly odd, mildly amusing commercial. The ad people will recognize of course that it's quite a step for big ol' P&G to invoke man-on-man love to sell the softness of their bathroom tissue, and another big step to depict their beloved "crapping bear" as a cheeky live action mascot rather than a loveable old-school animated character. The spot, of course brings Charmin onto the football field, as we see a quarterback taking an usual amount of pleasure in the snap, until we see that he's groping a gob of TP hanging from the center's pants. He's called for delay of game and we see the culprit on the sidelines -- the Charmin bear, who mischievously wags a roll in the camera before bolting. The bear, and the whole bear scene, is wonderful. It has a likeable, off-the-cuff quality not often seen in any ads, never mind ads for products whose purpose dare not speak its name. And until we get to the stage where toilet paper ads can tackle the realities of human evacuation head on, it's a cute, but not too cute way to talk about the product's softness benefits. And it's football themed! The only problem here is that WE SEE what the quarterback is doing. The spot would have actually been OK if it was left to its own devices, if we saw the odd look of pleasure on the quarterback's face, but had to wait for the reveal that showed the reason for it. Perhaps P&G wasn't ready to -- gasp -- offend the guys with a few seconds of apparent man cuddling. But the fudging of the scene drastically reduces the quality of the spot -- who thought those weird, low angle shots of the center's ass would help here? You don't go to the big game and not go all the way, P&G. Lesson for next year. (TI)

Bud Light "Good Dog"
Bud Light: Good Dog and Sleigh Ride

No marketer ever went broke banking on consumers' avid interest in crotch-biting dogs and gassy equines -- particularly when pitted against Ms. Jackson's bared bosom. Anheuser-Busch knows this perhaps better than most, and that's why its products regularly gobble up the popularity polls. But do these low blows actually do anything for the brand? Embue it with any qualities at all? Or do they just keep consumers chuckling while preventing competitors from buying air time? The latter. (JH)

(THE REVIEWERS: Jim Hanas is the editor of Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine.)

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