The losers: everybody else.
In Super Bowl XXXIX it was OK to film a leering queer eye for a straight guy, and the four-hour, drug-induced erection remained part of family-viewing tradition. But the words "wardrobe malfunction" were deemed too controversial to utter. And no clergyman jokes, please.
Never mind the Pats and Eagles. The big hitters Sunday were the NFL and FCC, a pair of overbearing institutions that censored advertisers for their own craven political ends. With the government on the warpath and the league on the defensive, Fox and its advertisers were curled up in the fetal position.
And what do you do in the fetal position? You suck, of course.
Thanks goodness, then, for Godaddy.com, which produced neither the funniest spot of the game nor even the best, but one which bravely, gleefully and memorably jiggled a pair of big boobs at The Man. Yes, it was obnoxious, and, no, it didn't have much to do with the business of selling Internet domain names. But who cares? Godaddy, godaddy, godaddy go.
Despite the hype and expense of the Super Bowl of Advertising, not a single four-star commercial materialized. In fact, there were but a handful of spots worthy of water-cooler conversation. About 75% of them weren't worth the money spent on production, much less the $80,000 a second to put them on the air.
Anheuser-Busch, DDB, Chicago. The spot was called "Applause," dramatizing a spontaneous airport display of appreciation for American troops. A reprise of a 1984 Bud Light spot honoring Olympic torch-bearers, it was touching without veering into mawkishness, respectful without bloodlust or jingoism.
Visa, BBDO Worldwide, New York. American Express isn't the only credit card to invoke comic-book heroes. AmEx used DC Comics' Superman. Visa responded with Marvel superheroes coming to the rescue when a woman discovers her Visa card missing. But Spider-Man, et al., are annoyed to have been bothered, because Visa guarantees its cardholders zero exposure to fraud. The kicker brings one of the big laugh lines of the game: "There's no need to fear. Underdog is here!"
MasterCard, McCann Erickson, New York. Speaking of iconic cartoon characters, a whole mess of them show up around the dinner table in the latest adorable iteration of the "Priceless" campaign. People say they hate advertising, but they no doubt were more delighted to see the Pillsbury Doughboy, Count Chocula and Mr. Clean than they were about Gladys Knight, Cindy Crawford and Jim McMahon.
GoDaddy.com, The AdStore, New York. The gag from this purveyor of Internet domain names: a busty bimbo testifying to a Senate committee. Sure, it's blatantly sexist and juvenile, but that's the point: spoofing government censorship and the post-Janet Jackson mood of timidity. Moreover, she repeatedly mentions the company's URL and the precise details of the offer.
Subway, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. Cops approach a parked car with steamed-up windows. They expect to find a couple in flagrante delicto. Instead they discover two grungy guys eating Subway's new hot sandwiches. Simple, amusing, clear.
American Honda Motor Co., Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif. Introducing the Ridgeline truck. No jokes, all sell, featuring the power, construction, lockable trunk feature and, "above all," Honda pedigree. The "above all" line syncs with a shot of a Ridgeline negotiating mountains above the cloud line. A compelling positioning and a deft touch.
Amber Bock, DDB, New York. Another big laugh in the very impressive "Rich/smooth" campaign. This one, "Mood Music," had the smooth-but-not-rich hero putting on the moves in the middle of a Best Buy-like megastore.
McDonald's Corp., DDB, Chicago. Myrtle Young of Fort Wayne, Indiana, this one's for you. The "potato-chip lady" who so amused Johnny Carson no doubt inspired these spots about a McDonald's fry shaped like Abe Lincoln. Shot like a Christopher Guest movie.
Heineken, Publicis, New York. A huge national spot buy sneaked this brand in the backdoor, away from Anheuser-Busch network exclusivity. How fitting to feature Brad Pitt slipping out the backdoor-to avoid the paparazzi while picking up a six pack of Heineken. The joke is flat, but Pitt is fabulously witty, as always.
Diet Pepsi, DDB, New York. A hunky model walks down the street drinking Diet Pepsi and attracting women like the Pied Piper of pulchritude. It's essentially a 10-year-old Diet Coke commercial-the one starring Lucky Vanous-only the kicker is that "Queer Eye" spokes-homo Carson Kressley turns and gawks, too. Lucky he wasn't gawking at an SUV (see Ford below).
AmeriQuest, DDB Direct, Los Angeles. The mortgage company claims not to make snap judgments-an idea amusingly dramatized by the opposite phenomenon. One guy gets caught, literally red-handed, with what looks like a murdered cat, and another guy talking on his hands-free cellphone seems to be robbing a mini-mart. Big misunderstandings. Not clear is why AmeriQuest will be less judgmental about your $90,000 in credit-card debt.
Cadillac, Chemistri, Troy, Mich. This carmaker is trying to communicate cool and powerful. These spots featuring gorgeous (GM!) cars rocketing from 0 to 60 in five seconds are themselves cool and powerful. The conversations won't happen at the water cooler. They'll happen in the showroom.
Anheuser-Busch, DDB, Chicago. Cedric the Entertainer pantomimes to a friend across a crowded bar that he can't have a beer; he's the designated driver. A dance sensation is born. Cute.
Budweiser, DDB, Chicago. Cuter. You had to see last year's game to get this exercise in cultivating a unique icon, but various exotic species-ostrich, camel, kangaroo, etc.-converge on the Budweiser barn. They want to be in the Clydesdales team, like the little donkey in 2004.
Verizon, McCann Erickson, New York. Mini-celebrities to promote mini V-casts. Little Shaq high-fiving is fun. Little Neon Deion purchasing bling is funny. Little Kid Rock being an incredible shrinking celebrity is ... accurate.
CareerBuilder.com, Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago. So this guy wants a new job because he works with a bunch of monkeys. Chimpanzees, actually. Yeah, chimps are cute, but we get no sense of what distinguishes this online resume service. Also, who wants to recruit people so superior about their current colleagues?
Napster, In-house. A very powerful offer-unlimited MP3 downloads for $15 a month-looks great next to the open-ended iTune price structure. But the message is diluted by the silly gimmick: a wordy, hand-held sign in the (faux) Jacksonville stadium.
McIlhenny Co.'s Tabasco, DDB, Dallas. A very good idea, none-too-brilliantly realized. A pretty, young, bikini-clad thang struts into the beach house and, after slathering hot sauce on her shrimp, reveals reverse tan lines burned into her skin. The spot is hamfistedly shot and cut, however, dissipating the heat from the idea.
FedEx, BBDO, New York. Maybe the funniest spot on the Super Bowl, hilariously employing all the top 10 gimmicks-celebrities, dancing animals, etc.-to bury the USA Today AdMeter needle in the red. Of course, it also embraced the Big No. 11: failing to have anything whatsoever to do with the advertiser or the consumer.
Volvo, Euro RSCG, New York. Notwithstanding Pepsi/iTunes, here's why joint promotions often aren't worth the bother. Images of a rocket liftoff and Virgin's Richard Branson-tied to a win-a-space-voyage sweepstakes-deflect attention from the actual product launch: Volvo's V8-powered XC90 SUV.
Novartis' CIBA Vision, GCI Group, New York. No jokes? No cleavage? No explosions? Big deal. There's not a single thing wrong with this spot, which is about contact lenses with a lot of oxygen permeability. The big O2 around each eye pretty much tells the story. Unlucky for CIBA that "Inside the O" looks a lot like the ads for Overstock.com.
Cialis, Grey Worldwide, New York. The most famous side effect of erectile-dysfunction drugs is the notorious four hours of, you know, limping. Men also know about the other downside: an alarming increase in the demand for cuddling. That's why this spot is so smart; it's about relationships, appealing as much to women as men, showing how couples can restore more than their sex lives by saying yes to drugs. No dialogue, just a lot of smiles and togetherness. But couldn't Bud Light do Janet Jackson jokes while 7-year-olds all over America were asking, "Mommy, what's an erection?"
Emerald of California, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. A strange spot about a dad who lies to his daughter about why she can't eat Emerald nuts. He invokes Santa and the Easter Bunny, but really he's just selfish. Not weird enough to jump out from the pack, and not funny enough to justify the weirdness.
Ford Motor Co., JWT, Detroit. In the sign-of-the-times category, the spot titled "Green Light" replaced the Lincoln LT commercial that was pulled because its premise-a Protestant minister lustful over an SUV-reminded about three people of the nightmare of sexually predatory Catholic priests. So Ford ran this "Fargo"-like Mustang spot instead, about someone frozen dead at the wheel of his convertible. Oh, that's much better.
Staples, McCann Erickson, New York. The previously aired introduction to the "That was easy," campaign, showing how a fanciful "easy" button might simplify diaper changing, bronco busting and experimental surgery. Undiscussed is how Staples makes anything easier for the consumer-not even a list of services/benefits at the end of the spot. Which would have been easy.
Diet Pepsi, DDB, New York. In a direct lift from "Get Shorty," P. Diddy is forced to hitch a ride on a Diet Pepsi truck to get to a big Hollywood event, and soon everyone has the same ride. Still funny. Tell me again ... what does this have to do with soft drinks?
Cosentino USA Silestone, Freed Advertising, Sugar Land, Texas. Assuming the target is middle-aged women-the product is quartz bath and countertops-hard to understand why the Super Bowl was the right buy. Likewise, why were the 1985 Chicago Bears the celebs? But the "To Tell the Truth" setup-Jim McMahon, Mike Ditka and Refrigerator Perry all claiming to be Diana Pearl-paid off with Dennis Rodman in a bubble bath, making the same claim truthfully. The tub is Silestone in the color Diana Pearl.
Unilever Degree Antiperspirant, Lowe, New York. Think the clergy-phobes have a legitimate beef? Soon Degree will be discovering why its best joke-about an adult jammed into a shopping cart's kiddie seat ("Marshall, do you want to get kidnapped?")-cannot be told in a TV commercial. Tragedy victims watch TV, too-and this very funny line surely horrified many of them. Apart from that, the positioning is a real stretch. Being a sedentary "In-Action Figure" doesn't have much to do with being a mama's boy, and being a mama's boy doesn't have much to do with taking risks, and risk-taking is not exactly the major cause of pit sweat. This spot is a grabber, but it doesn't quite scan.
Bud Light, DDB, Chicago. In one spot, Cedric is stranded on a desert island and wishes for babes. They magically appear, but bicker. So he wishes them away in exchange for a barbecue and some Bud Light. In another spot, a skydiving instructor tosses a six pack of beer overboard to get a reluctant parachutist to jump. He balks, but the pilot leaps after the beer. Question: Where are the igniting horse farts when you need them?
Bud Light, Cannonball, St. Louis. A guy gives away big-game tickets so he can steal his pal's girlfriend. Question: Where are the angry-dog crotch bites when you need them?
Frito-Lay, Spike DDB, New York. Kids use a bag of Lay's to ransom their baseball from the mean dude on the other side of the fence. They get the ball, plus a mangy old dog, a `72 Chevy and one other antiquity: MC Hammer. We get it. He's been missing ... but what's the selling point? Ah. It's missing, too.
Olympus, Martin Agency, Richmond, Va. The m:robe. It's an MP3 player. It's a camera. It's a camera and an MP3 player! It's also borderline racist-a family of stereotypical Japanese tourists ... breakdancing. (Because their cameras also play music! Ha! Ha!) Bizarre; it's a Japanese company. The second spot has no underlying joke. Just strange folks dancing strangely.
Bubblicious. JWT, New York. Basketball star LeBron James chews Bubblicious. Who cares?
Bud Light, Seed/DDB, Chicago. An aggressive Brazilian cockatoo trash-talks sleazebags trying to pick up a babe in a bar. Question: Where are Cedric and the skydivers when you need them?
MBNA, The Helm, New York. Ever play Mad Libs, where you build funny stories choosing random parts of speech? This spot looks like one of those: Let's see, gimme a faded Motown icon (Gladys Knight), a third-tier sport (rugby) and a financial instrument (debit card). String `em together and what do you get? Beats the hell out of me.
Budweiser Select, DDB, Chicago Wait. Wait. Wait. "Kiss Your Aftertaste Goodbye"???? Comparing this brand extension to what swill, exactly? Budweiser?
Agency: The adstore, NY
Agency: DDB, Chicago
Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa Del Rey
Name: "Parking Lot"
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Agency: McCann Erickson, New York
Name: "Super Heroes"
Agency: BBDO Worldwide, New York
Agency: The Helm, NY
Brand: Budweiser Select
Agency: DDB, Chicago
Name: "Jacques Your Body/Tourists"
Agency: Martin Agency, Richmond, VA.
Agency: JWT, New York
Agency: Spike DDB, New York
Name: "The Lady"
Brand: Bud Light
Agency: Seed/DDB, Chicago