Super Bowl advertisers set the world back 30 years with naked appeals to guys
by Bob Garfield
Now that the Super Bowl is over and the victory recorded for the ages, let’s spend one quiet moment thinking about who lost:
Gloria Steinem. Also Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, your mother, your daughter. When all the empties are collected, and all the street rioting is over and when the Fox pregame coverage finally ends, what will be starkly apparent is that the real Super Bowl loser was the American woman. In a rout.
What won, on this high holy day of male entertainment, was va-va-va- voom. Former Miss USA and human Barbie doll Ali Landry strutting past drooling underclassmen for Doritos. Victoria’s Secret come-hither models shimmying their fake spherical breasts into the camera lens. The World Wrestling Federation’s own bad-girl formulation of busty adolescent fantasy. A babe-o-licious piece of arm candy, squeezed into a 7-molecule-large cocktail dress, pacing in front of a keyhole for Visa’s debit card.
Plus the usual array of women-as-tasty-morsels in spots from Oldsmobile, M&M’s, Bud Light, Hotjobs.com and others.
After three decades of gradually weaning itself from naked objectification, advertising has apparently decided that the benefit of crudely impressing men trumps the disadvantages of dishonoring women. It’s as if Madison Avenue sneaked into the nation’s psyche and absconded with 30 years of feminist awareness.
Now don’t get us wrong. We here at Ad Review are not knee-jerk correctoids who reflexively recoil at sex in advertising. We happen to like sex, and believe that pretending it doesn’t existóor that it doesn’t especially interest us, or motivate usóis dogmatic and stupid. But that’s very different from what was offered in this “Super Bowl of Advertising,” which was hyped as the showdown between Hotjobs.com and Monster.com, but which turned out to be hour after hour of Cheesecake.com. On the other hand . . .
3 + stars
Cracker Jack; Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.To celebrate new large packages, this features a mattress-size bag – and a great free prize. Hilarious.
MasterCard; McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York. Cost per 30 seconds: $1.6 million. Cost of production: mid-six figures. Effect of using cartoon characters to advance the card’s “Values” campaign: priceless.
Apple Computer; TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif. Hal, the computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” brags that the Mac operating system is unafflicted by the Y2K bug. A riveting, clever, powerful spot.
Land Rover; Grace & Rothschild, New York. A simple idea, delightfully rendered. A little boy knocks on a car door to see if Jason can come out and play. But the new Rover is so big, Mom can’t find him. Budweiser; Goodby. “Now how is that supposed to sell beer?” Frank the lizard asks. Because these reptiles somehow make you love Anheuser-Busch. Are they really retired? We doubt it.
Philips; Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York. A guy picks up his date, drives across the street and shows her a movieóin his garage, on a 64-inch high-def screen. An ingenious, fun idea that well shows off the technology.
Monster.com; Mullen, Wenham, Mass. A brilliant, inspired parody of Nike-esque self-affirmation. The idea is for adults to re-evaluate their careers and head for the online job-search site, but the brand name – i.e., the URL – is a bit soft-pedaled.
Hotjobs.com; McCann-Erickson, Troy, Mich. A less clever gag (a security guard fantasizes about his dream job) but the URL, and the sales pitch, are front and center. Will outperform Monster.com.
Visa Check Card’s “Nigel”; BBDO Worldwide, New York. Why is this man just standing there, like a statue? He’s a Buckingham Palace guard, whose dry cleaner wouldn’t take a check for his uniform. Great setup; surprising, pointed payoff.
World Wrestling Federation; in-house.Too much sex and violence on WWF? This funny, self-deprecating commercialófilled with sex and violenceósets the record straight.
American Express, Ogilvy & Mather, New York. Truth imitates fiction imitating truth imitating fiction. Jerry Seinfeld leaves his sitcom to reacquaint himself with reality, and gets plenty of funny chances to use his AmEx card.
Mail Boxes Etc.; Kenneth C. Smith Advertising, San Diego, Calif. This year, to prove its commitment to its small-business clientele, Mail Boxes devoted its $1.6 million spot to a micro-batch ice cream marketer. This best Super Bowl ad idea will yet improve with age, but needs much better pregame promotion.
AT&T; Foote, Cone & Belding, New York. At long last, one account and a flat rate for all your telecom needs. Overwrought creative, but an enormously potent brand promise.
Honda; Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif. Family members negotiate for their most important minivan features. Honda “reluctantly” gives them all what they want. 2 Ω stars
Budweiser, Bud Light; DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago; Fusion, Chicago. Dalmatian pups separated at birth are reunited. (Sniff.) Two broke guys must choose between Bud Light and toilet paper and choose the beer. (Grimace/chortle.) A desperate lobster takes a Bud hostage. (Wry smile.) August Busch IV reveres family tradition. (Gag.) A guy slingshots a goggled mouse into a babe’s flat to trick her into visiting. (Sort of cute.) Tell your kids not to drink. (Duh.)
Mountain Dew; BBDO. Yet another parking-attendant gag, this time amusingly answering “What snowboarders do in the off season.”
Oldsmobile, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. This is not your father’s Oldsmobile commercial. Quick-paced, edgy images and rock music urge us, fetchingly, to “Start something.” They could start by giving us more than 1-second glimpses of the cars. FedEx; BBDO. Thanks to an offprice carrier, the Stanley Cup winds up in Bolivia. Amusing, if predictable. And it does make its point.
First Union; Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco. More effects-laden grotesquery from the chaotic financial world. Less busy than the first pool, and the bank seems a bit less ominous, a bit more inviting.
Pizza Hut; BBDO. Donald Trump and Fran Drescher front for the Big New Yorker pizza. Only one very funny moment, in the Trump spot, but, damn, that pizza’s big and only $9.99.
Victoria’s Secret; Resource Marketing, Columbus, Ohio. Busts are springing out all over, trying to generate traffic for a live, Web fashion show. It’ll work.
Hartford Insurance; Arnold Communications, Boston. Stop-action of calamities in progress sheds light on the insurer’s many forms of coverageóbut the implied violent deaths to a meter maid and irritating aunt are misogynistic and unfunny.
Progressive Insurance; Arnell Group, New York. Granted, ET still has emotional appeal, but when aliens start talking car insurance, this gets idiotic. When Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin appear, it’s simply pathetic.
M&M’s; BBDO. Now with crunchy insides. But celebrity fixation obscures sales message.
Yellow Pages; Martin Agency, Richmond, Va. Jon Lovitz is inspired to “write” the Yellow Pages. Pretty funny, but utterly unilluminating.
Volvo Truck; Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis. People used to pump their arms to get truckers to blow their airhorns. This was before real entertainment was available.
7 UP; Y&R Advertising, New York. A fairly good idea – flattering 7 UP drinkers as daring, discriminated-against “Uns”óis spoiled by insipid plotting, writing, acting, direction and editing.
Michelob Light; Leap Partnership, Chicago. Pro footballer is traded for a case of beer. Another cute idea compromised by bad acting, ham-fisted editing, awkward script.
1 + stars
Blockbuster; Doner, Southfield, Mich. Promoting some cheesy promotion, presumably because it couldn’t think of anything else positive to say.
Visa Check Card’s “Romance”; BBDO. The guy spying on the babe is actually her hubby, locked in the bathroom. And the locksmith won’t take a check. This spot isn’t about debit-card convenience; it’s about staring at her.
Pepsi One; BBDO. A dull and confusing goodfellas vignette that makes no use of Cuba Gooding’s immense charm, and pays scant attention to the product. A real boondoggle.
Smokey Red Barbecue Doritos; BBDO. Ali Landry. Hubba-hubba.
Just for Feet; Saatchi & Saatchi, Rochester, N.Y. The worst spot on the Super Bowl. White adventurers use military Humvee to track and drug Kenyan long-distance runner, then force sneakers on him against his will. If Doritos et al are neo-sexist, this is neo-colonialist. And culturally imperialist. And probably racist. And certainly condescending. Have these people lost their minds?