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He stood before us, without office or authority, just a Kansan, just a man. Then he let Bill Clinton do to him what Green Bay presumably did to New England. But we don't care how pathetic Bob Dole was as a candidate, because he is a true American hero.

Or what would you call the man who saved the Super Bowl?

Assuming the game itself was the usual rout, America depended on the commercials to give this de facto national holiday the entertainment value annually expected of it. But this year, from top to bottom and across the board, the advertising was awful. Uninteresting. Unfunny. Undramatic. Everything but-at up to a rec-ord $1.3 million per 30 seconds-unexpensive.


Even Pepsi, which has delivered the laughs and the generational brand image year after year, sucked wind in Super Bowl XXXI.

This left Visa, BBDO Worldwide, New York, and the unemployed Mr. Dole to come up with the only 3 1/2-star spot of the game: the vanquished hero, returning to Russell, Kan., to honor and adulation, the most famous and trusted man in town.

But not so trusted to pay with a check.

When he is challenged for I.D., the Visa advantage becomes a wonderful payoff-even if the famously sour senator nearly blows his line by smiling as he mutters, "I just can't win."

There are 39 football players and 15 major advertisers who know exactly how he feels. From an advertising event that demands transcendence, the most that can be said is that a half-dozen ads were pretty good.


Nissan. If it weren't clear enough already, the "Enjoy the ride" campaign stakes claim to any and every part of the driving experience. Thus "Pigeons," a look at a squadron of animated-puppet birds on a mission to soil a freshly washed Nissan. It's cuter and less disgusting than you'd imagine of a spot about aerial defecation-and it's one of the few Super Bowl commercials you want to stay with to the last frame. But when do we find out why the ride is especially enjoyable in a Nissan? TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.

Baked Lay's. Frito-Lay introduces new flavors of reduced-fat potato chips with Miss Piggy and a cast of irrelevant supermodels. This time she is nearly seduced by a Calvin Klein poster hunk, and she's delightfully gluttonish, as always. But America will go, "Antonio Sabato? Who's he?" BBDO Worldwide, New York.

Tabasco. A bottle of Tabasco is like a house; you buy one or two in a lifetime. Hard to imagine E. McIlhenny Sons Corp. on the Super Bowl. But it's a clever spot-a mosquito sucking the hot-sauce-laced blood of a Tabasco lover and spon-taneously exploding-and maybe the only one of the game to immediately spike sales of the advertised brand. DDB Needham Worldwide, Dallas.

Intel. Technicians in a clean room, wearing sterile, white "bunny suits," are transformed by new MMX technology, and start grooving to the funky rhythms of Wild Cherry. The point is that the improved Pentium chip makes audio visual applications more fun. Point taken. Euro RSCG Dahlin Smith White, Salt Lake City.

Mail Boxes Etc. A pleasant, straightforward visit with a remote, Alaskan MBE store where a seaplane charter service does its faxing, duplicating and shipping of dead salmon. No computer technology, but engaging and refreshingly direct. Kenneth C. Smith Advertising, San Diego.

Surge. Coca-Cola Co.'s answer to Moun-tain Dew is a testost-erone-charged pair of spots that say yes to caffeine. The look is a kind of urban Nean-derthal, but it's interestingly textured and perfectly captures the sort of bristling, brainless, adol-escent energy that seeks release in ways so bewildering to adults. Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.

2 1/2 STARS

Pepsi. Profoundly disappointing overall. From the brand that all but owns entertaining Super Bowl advertising, one clever parody of The Club ads and five other spots flatter than a 2-liter bottle left uncapped overnight. The montage anthem for "Generation Next" looks like a 2-year-old Diet Coke spot. The Shaquille O'Neal extravaganza is overblown and underfunny. And computer-animated bears dancing to "YMCA"-huh? BBDO.

Budweiser. One of the game's most extravagant productions imagines where a huge metropolis gets its electrical power. When a blackout shuts down the city, a panicked technician tracks down the problem: A cleaning woman had picked up a bottle of Bud-the bottle of Bud that sat in front of the hamster cage to make the hamster keep spinning that exercise wheel. Cute, and the restored power to the towering Bud sign pays off the meager joke. In other spots from Anheuser-Busch, cavemen are conked on the head by falling Bud bottles and supposedly funny things happen. The gods most be easily amused. DDB Needham, Chicago; Open Minds, Laguna Beach, Calif., for the cavemen.

Honda. An effects-laden journey like the Pepsi/Shaq "Set Piece" of 1996, as the new CR-V sport-utility model travels from photo to photo in an issue of USA Today, and thereby through a hurricane, an opera, a football game and Mars. Each locale illustrates a product feature, if you're paying attention to the car. But mainly you're noticing the effects, and how not-quite amazing they are. This is the penalty for straying from Honda advertising's central idea: complex technology creating astonishing illusions all to convey simplicity. Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif.

Oscar Mayer. More cute kids auditioning to sing lunch-meat jingles. Pretty cute, but not as cute as last year. Nor as cleverly edited. Nor as generally charming. It just falls flat. J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago.

Janus. A woman's beautiful eyes peruse the copy that materializes on an all-white background, yet do not express surprise when the words suggest an undistinctive point of distinction. So Janus looks at a company's fundamentals before investing. Uh huh, and Fidelity does what-the dart board method? Rather than a dubious USP, better no USP at all. Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco.

Catera. Cindy Crawford is a princess who finds happiness in a zippy new Cadillac sports sedan. The story is idiotic, the car maddeningly underpresented. But the cartoon duck and the whimsical tone are just right for "The Caddy that zigs." Despite terrible execution, the attitude is charming and full of possibilities. D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich.

Porsche. A supposedly whimsical look at the sacrifices a typical German family of three makes to drive the new Boxster roadster. The jokes are stupid. But the car looks great. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.


Bud Light. "Oooh, what do we have here?" We have the long-awaited new Bud Light catch phrase, aimed at doing for the brand-and the vernacular-what "I love you, man" and "Yes, I am" did before it. And this one has a chance, too, but it's a long shot, because the character who delivers it is so obnoxious. Purposely, but, alas, unamusingly obnoxious. The campaign is built on a pair of sleazy con men who create an unlimited-supply-of-Bud Light illusion to trick suckers into buying junk. Unfortunately, the spots are too busy, badly paced, quite irritating and sadly unfunny. DDB Needham, Chicago.

Dreyfus. A lion paces back and forth to introduce the new one-stop-investing Lion Account. More whimper than roar. Citron Haligman Bedecarre, San Francisco.

Dirt Devil. A million dollars worth of production, a million dollars worth of advance PR, a couple of million dollars worth of media and God knows what to the widow in the latest testimonial from beyond. The result from Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co.: a primer on how to vacuum the life out of a legendary performance. Luckily for the late entertainer, it's all over too quickly to register. Meldrum & Fewsmith Communications, Cleveland.

1 1/2 STARS

National Pork Producers Council. The king is served a sumptuous repast of pork entrees, but his food taster swallows one bite, grabs his throat and collapses. Ready for the hilarious surprise? He's not really dead! Can you believe it? When the court leaves the banquet, the taster eats all the pork dishes! Stop, stop. We can't take it. Bozell, New York.

Fila. Introducing the Stackhouse II basketball shoe. Through the miracle of second-rate digital compositing, sophomore 76ers guard Jerry Stackhouse dribbles unconvincingly around the ironwork of a skyscraper under construction, and parachutes to the street. The Sixers have lost about 25 out of their last 30. Stackhouse is having a bad year. And FCB, New York, barely even shows us the shoe.

Auto-By-Tel. This is an Internet car-buying service and a very good idea. Alas, the commercial advertising the service is called "Pain Relief" and exactly the opposite is true. Consumers may be able to find the URL amid the noise and cheesy animation, but they'll more likely dive for the mute button. This is a rare case wherein one spot constitutes clutter. RBI Communications, Hollywood, Calif.


Holiday Inn. A gender-bending surprise punch line that is neither very surprising nor particularly funny: The surgery-enhanced babe at the high-school reunion is actually ol' Bob Johnson! Ha ha. A transsexuality gag to announce $1 billion in systemwide renovations. A juvenile and self-indulgent debut for Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, on this business.

Prediction: enraged, torch-wielding franchisees travel from all over middle

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