NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Thank god for Justin Bieber, Timothy Hutton, Best Buy, Groupon and CPB. And please bless Chrysler, Eminem and Wieden & Kennedy. No need to adjust your glasses. I just offered a small prayer of thanks that included Justin Bieber, an American automaker and a hot shop that's made me vow to never eat at Burger King again.
I was fully prepared to spend the night pulling a Hank Williams, crying into my beer over the sorry state of Super Bowl beer advertising. It seemed like we could always count on Bud and Bud Light to give us something-- Clydesdales acting like people, guys being dumb. Even when it was bad -- the farting horse, for example -- it was still worth a chuckle. But this year? Oof. If there's an opposite of most-improved, Anheuser-Busch would take home the prize. It's almost as if there's no clear marketing leader over there. It was enough to make me long for the days of Bud Bowl.
But thanks to the aforementioned saviors, and some solid efforts from Anomaly and Motorola, Amalgamated and CarMax, and Tyler Max and Doritos, the night wasn't a complete loss.
Before I get on with festivities, I'd like to remind print readers that this review was written prior to the game. (We also exclude movie trailers and ads not bought in the national broadcast.)
CPB, BOULDER, COLO.
They should have called this spot Fail Whale. Not because it stinks, but because it's likely to cause Twitter to crash. Perhaps permanently. LOL, Justin Bieber, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne and some balding grunge creep saying Justin Bieber looks like a girl. OMG, that creep is totally Justin Bieber in disguise. But forget the LOLZ. Not only is the commercial entertaining, it's selling something: Best Buy's Buy Back Program. If, like Ozzy, you're confused by all these Gs, you can sell your 4G phone back when the 5G one comes out six months later.
WIEDEN & KENNEDY, PORTLAND, ORE.
Is Olivier Francois the Alexis De Toqueville of American car manufacturing? I'll say this much. I find it odd -- and encouraging -- that a Frenchman working for an Italian company has figured out a way to make car commercials that play on patriotism interesting. Maybe the Chrysler CMO has picked up the gritty fighting spirit of his new home city rather than the malaise. Because this ad? This two-minute, pod-hogging ode to Detroit? It charges you up. Sure, U.S. automakers have previously tried to convince us that "We are all Detroit" before, but not with creative this captivating. And after a few years of a battered economy, most Americans are more inclined to identify with Detroit than with, say, New York or Sin City, both of which are name-checked here. As the spot says, "We're certainly no one's Emerald City." What starts out as a down-on-our-luck tribute to a broken city morphs into a defiant, we're-back rallying cry faced by none other than Eminem, another broken thing out of Detroit who happens to be staging a massive comeback. Tea partiers and labor unions alike will cheer this one, including the tagline: "Imported from Detroit." Will it move Chrysler 200s? Who knows? Will it move viewers? Definitely.
CPB, BOULDER, COLO.
Opening on majestic mountains, we hear the voice of Timothy Hutton bemoaning the plight of Tibet. "Great," you think, "now the social-cause crew has invaded Super Bowl advertising to guilt-trip me about something else. Let me drink my beer and, further, GET OFF MY LAWN." But, no! Cut to Hutton sitting in a restaurant and saying, "But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought a Groupon.com, we're each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for $15 at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago." Good one, Groupon. And the pre-game and post-game spots similarly turn the celebrity-cause-hectoring genre on its head for a laugh while managing to explain what Groupon does to the unwashed masses who've never heard of it. Risky. But it doesn't come off as crass as Kenneth Cole tweeting about Egypt.
GREY, NEW YORK
The NFL is in a unique position. It doesn't have to sell anything in this game. All it has to do is entertain and maybe thank its fans. Mission accomplished. We get scenes from 20 of America's all-time favorite sitcom families (loosely defined). NFL team gear has been seamlessly superimposed on the casts. "Happy Days" characters are wearing Green Bay, the "Full House" crew is sporting 49ers gear, Tony Soprano and the gang boast Jets apparel. You get the idea. And the inclusion of the Simpsons spot adds a nice touch to the tagline: "Best. Fans. Ever." You're welcome, NFL. Now all you have to do is prevent a lockout next season.
ANOMALY, NEW YORK
It's about time a competitor took a cue from political activists and critics fond of pointing out that Apple has come full circle since its "1984" spot, with the success of iPod, iPhone and iPad -- along with its walled-garden and policing by Steve Jobs -- having turned the design-savvy company into the bad guy, creating a class of white-wearing sheeple isolated from the wider world. Motorola makes the point in support of its Xoom tablet. Might have been better to put more distance between Motorola and the iPad, but the ad gets its jabs in and shows off product benefits to boot.
RICHARDS GROUP, DALLAS
In one spot, called "Carma," a man swerves to miss a beaver and the life-saving gesture is later returned. But it's "Reply All" that will be remembered. We don't know what the office worker sent in his email, but considering his panicked reaction when told he's accidentally replied to all, we know it's bad. And many of us have been there -- though we didn't necessarily set off in a tire-scorching crosstown odyssey to knock laptops and smartphones out of the hands of our coworkers.
MEKANISM, SAN FRANCISCO
Those unfamiliar with Eminem's body of work might be surprised to find the famously prickly rapper to be a charming spokesman in his own way. Tough and defiant in the Chrysler spot, in this ad for Brisk iced tea, he manages to sell out as cartoon character and keep his cred. Refreshing.
AMALGAMATED, NEW YORK
A couple of charming spots make a point about customer service, which has become all the rage again. In "Gas Station," a 21st-century driver confronted with 1950s customer service is convinced he's being carjacked. "Kid in a Candy Store" visualizes a number of absurd statements of happiness -- geek at a robot convention, hippie in a drum circle, acrobat in a mattress store -- leading up to the line "I feel like a customer at CarMax."
"THE BEST PART," CONSUMER-GENERATED
Tyler Dixon, a 35-year-old door-to-door salesman with a budget of $82, handily manages the balancing act of crafting a humorous ad that calls out a truth about the product. In the spot, one office drone polishes off a bag of Doritos. Cue creepy coworker (seemingly channeling Nick Swardson): "Hey, are you going to finish those?" Office Drone: "Sorry, they're already gone." CC: "No they're not, you left the best part." At which point he goes after the best part: the seasoning dust on the other guy's fingers. Well done, Mr. Dixon.
VENABLES BELL & PARTNERS, SAN FRANCISCO
Two old coots try to bust out from a prison of luxury. Once outside the walls, one chooses the Audi A8, and the other falls for the oldest trick in the book: a Mercedes. Not LOL-hilarious but funny. And Audi's the only luxury car company that's believable when it claims to transport drivers beyond the confines of old-school luxury (unlike, say, those laughably bad holiday spots from Acura and Lexus).
ANOMALY, NEW YORK
The most enjoyable spot of the Anheuser-Busch lot was "Wild West" for brand Budweiser. A bad hombre is scaring the bejeebus out of the locals at a frontier saloon because it has run out of Budweiser. The Clydesdale-powered stage coach arrives just in time. (In their only appearance in the game, the horses are just horses.) Of course, we know Budweiser will somehow save the day, but how? Our stone-faced nemesis doesn't simply smile, he breaks into song -- Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." Seems more fitting for a Coke spot, but ties nicely to the "Great Times Are Waiting" tagline.
KIRSHENBAUM, BOND, SENECAL & PARTNERS, NEW YORK
David Bowie's "Changes" introduces us to a cast of soot-spewing people and the engine-knocking, outdated diesels (a semi, a Volvo and a Mercedes among them) they drive. A shiny blue BMW sporting the "clean, quiet, powerful" Advanced Diesel system heroically cuts through the smoke. In "Defying Logic," BMW makes the case that every X3 in the world is built right here in America (in Spartanburg, S.C., to be exact) -- and that it broke ground on a new U.S. factory in the midst of a recession. Unlike all those "American" car companies heading south of the border.
GOODBY, SILVERSTEIN & PARTNERS, SAN FRANCISCO
A truck spot that manages to showcase towing capabilities and handling without using either of those words. Also manages to be funny by portraying the truck as a latter-day Lassie repeatedly rescuing the hapless Timmy from wells, whales and volcanoes.
WIEDEN & KENNEDY
Coke -- good ol' happy-factory Coke -- seems oddly preoccupied with war this year. In one spot, two border guards glower at one another before finding common ground -- if only for a moment -- by sharing a Coke. In another spot, this one an animated hybrid of "Lord of the Rings" and "World of Warcraft," a horde of orcs (or ogres or goblins) lay siege to a castle and bring forth a fire-breathing dragon. But their warlike plans are laid to waste when the dragon, after drinking a bottle of happiness, starts shooting fireworks instead of flames. Cute, but neither ad carries the emotional weight exhibited by Coke spots in recent years.
GREY, NEW YORK
The baby is back. Well, a baby is back. He looks different from previous babies. But he's still amusingly smug and, at moments, funny -- like when he shushes his Italian tailor. (See, E-Trade is so easy, a baby can teach a tailor to use it.) But with the gag getting up there in age, the jokes are going to have to be stronger than this. Also, guys, a message: LOLcats, you're doing it wrong.
It pains me to say this, but the spot revealing the new GoDaddy.co domain and the new GoDaddy.co "girl," by building on the company's previously sleazy advertising -- and somehow making fans of the spots and the commercials the butt of the joke -- worked. But it's saying something when the inclusion of Joan Rivers adds class to your act.
DAVID & GOLIATH, LOS ANGELES
Here's a bit of truth in advertising -- about the advertising at any rate. The "Epic Ride" spot for Kia's Optima is epic. Fans of blockbuster Super Bowl spots with high production value will dig this one. And if you absolutely have to show a car driving down winding roads, you might as well have it journey across the universe and time as well. That's what happens here as everyone in the universe -- evil henchmen, Poseidon, extraterrestrials and Mayans included -- tries to get his hands on an Optima.
MERKLEY & PARTNERS, NEW YORK
It's the sort of beautiful spot only Mercedes can get away with. Gorgeous models -- past, present and future -- escape their current confines to journey across the world to welcome the newest lineup. Adding a touch of humor to the spot, one of the escapees turns out to belong to P. Diddy.
BUTLER, SHINE, STERN, SAUSALITO, CALIF.
Sooner or later, a Super Bowl advertiser was going to make an anal-sex joke. I just figured it would be a beer marketer. "Cram It in the Boot" is the faux game show designed to illustrate the Mini Countryman's rear capacity. Tasteless, but cheeky. It also put me in mind of Eddie Murphy's "Boogie in Your Butt."
DEUTSCH, LOS ANGELES
We don't know if either of these spots are going to move Volkswagens off the lot, but they both deliver on Super Bowl fun. A kid dressed as Darth Vader trying to use the Force on various objects freaks out when it seems to work on the old man's Passat. And the "Black Beetle" spot makes a visually appealing connection so obvious it's a wonder no one's thought of it before.
The funnier of two spots shows the benefits of having someone else go first: a royal food tester, a cowboy who gets shot up with arrows. Message: Learn from the experience of others. In the other spot, computer-animated cars listen to the reviews of their models -- and come awfully close to sexually harassing one of their garage-mates. Gets the point across, but the ads feel dated.
GOODBY, SILVERSTEIN & PARTNERS, SAN FRANCISCO
If Chevy wants to convince consumers that it, like Ford, has transformed from American mediocrity to a car contender, it's going to have to do better than this. In "Al's Chevy," what looks like your typically craptastic local dealer ad turns into something more when a Camaro morphs into a Transformer and flings an abusive mascot aside like a rag doll. Funny -- if consumers don't mistake the first 15 seconds for, you know, a craptastic local-dealer ad and tune out. (UPDATE: Looks like this one didn't run in the game, perhaps due to issues between GM and the studio.)
GOODBY, SILVERSTEIN & PARTNERS, SAN FRANCISCO
In "Misunderstanding," a host of seniors in a retirement home misunderstand the MPG message in a Chevy Cruze spot. Funny, but feels like a "Seinfeld" bit. In "Status," a young man ends his first date by driving off and using his car to check his Facebook stream to find his date has declared it "Best. First. Date. Ever." Which raises two questions: "Who friends someone before going on a first date?" and "Is someone going to base a car-buying decision on the vehicle's ability to read Facebook updates?" Please don't answer that second one.
GOODBY, SILVERSTEIN & PARTNERS, SAN FRANCISCO
Though it feels like the car has been around forever, the Volt is officially introduced to America in this spot comparing it to electrifying leaps forward in other sectors. Thankfully for GM, the average consumer won't remember its previous experiments with electric cars -- though it's going to take a lot more than this ad to convince them to plunk down for a Volt.
Right product at the right time. Vacation-rental service offering more -- homes, apartments instead of hotel rooms -- for less. To get the message across, it's created a Minister of DeTourism and a secret government agency tasked with saving family vacations from hotels that "hate your guts." For some reason this involves a hotel-room simulator and a catapulted test baby. The joke falls as flat as that poor test-baby's face.
INNOCEAN, SAN DIEGO
Hyundai is one of the few marketers that knocked it out of the park in the past couple of years not with gimmickry but with an old-fashioned unique selling proposition just right for the times -- the Hyundai Assurance Program. Now we're subjected to the typical auto-ad pablum. Jeff Bridges might have a great voice, but he's still spouting car clich�s. The tagline could just as well be "We're unique -- just like everyone else."
DIPDIVE, SAN JOSE, CALIF.
To get the word out about Chatter.com, a cloud-computing tool that allows businesses to create a private-social network, Salesforce.com has enlisted the help of Will.i.am and DipDive. In this spot, Will.i.am and his fellow Black Eyed Pea bandmates are cast as adorable cartoon characters -- The Baby Peas. Perhaps it's an attempt to differentiate this Will.i.am marketing effort from the ones he's done for Pepsi, Obama, Intel and Verizon Communications, but no one was so worried about overkill that they didn't sandwich the two spots around the half-time show featuring the Black Eyed Peas. Whether this is genius or ridiculous may well depend on your age. Young entrepreneurs may find the pitch appealing; older people may feel like the coots in Chevy's "Misunderstanding" ad.
Turning into Betty White and Abe Vigoda because you're cranky and need a Snickers? Hilarious. Turning into Richard Lewis? Wait, who? There are some second chances in America, but you sort of need to qualify as a memorable celebrity in the first place. Not even the appearance of Roseanne Barr at the end of this spot can satisfy us.
Recycling a successful campaign originally created by Cramer-Krasselt, the job site brings back the chimps. Once again, the spots successfully target those frustrated with the current job, working with a bunch of monkeys. But the animal-rights activists have convinced us (and a number of ad agencies): Time to stop using and abusing apes in commercials. No matter how hilarious they are. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get a cheeseburger.
That's the average I'll give the other five spots -- budgets ranging from $30 to $4,500 -- from the Crash the Super Bowl contest, which offer up such Super Bowl classics as "guy getting hit in the balls," "oversexed guy on a date" and "cute animal in mildly funny situation." There's even a nagging African-American wife straight out of a Tyler Perry movie (but if you stick around until the end, that one actually pays off). Prediction: With the exception of the $30 spot, most of these will do well on the Ad Meter.
FIRE STATION, LOS ANGELES (IN-HOUSE)
Faith Hill tells clueless guy to tell his girlfriend what's in his heart. "Dear Kim, Your rack is unreal." The message is that moronic guys should leave the writing to Teleflora's Faith Hill collection. Though I have to question her judgment for showing up in this spot.
BUD LIGHT/STELLA ARTOIS
Only one of Anheuser-Busch's spots is called "Hack Job," but the name could have been used for at least four of them. The company that reliably turns in some of the best Super Bowl creative seemed to be, at best, dialing it in. "Hack Job," by Cannonball, for example, plays off of home-improvement shows. The big reveal of the kitchen remodel? A bucket of Bud Light was added. Get it?!?! "Product Placement," from DDB, is somewhat of a meta-joke -- and one stolen from "Wayne's World" to boot. Speaking of jokes dug up from times past, DDB's other spot, "Dog Sitter," features digitally enhanced dogs serving beer at a party -- and playing poker! Using computers might prevent animal cruelty, but it does nothing to prevent consumer cruelty.
And if those spots didn't leave you crying in your beer, perhaps "Crying Jean," a Stella Artois spot from Mother, will. This is how you make your Super Bowl debut, with Adrien Brody singing to weeping women in a French jazz club? Previous spots for Stella I've found entertaining. This one left me wondering who decided to let Adrien Brody sing in a beer commercial.
My one hope is that Bud Light runs the 60-second spot from DDB it "unlocked" on Facebook at the end of the week. Called "Severance," it's the silly sort of fun viewers expect from the brand.
Jillian Michaels, of "The Biggest Loser" fame, joins Danica Patrick to shed clothes and dignity in this annual display of class. And by class we mean "attempt to alienate half the population." It's sort of redeemed by the Joan Rivers spot.
Skechers is just plain sketchy in an ad that makes GoDaddy look like a class act. Kim Kardashian, perhaps feeling nostalgic for the sex tape that made her a celebrity in the first place, turns in a stiff performance in a commercial that seems to purposely strive for the look and feel of low-budget porn.