Great game, shame about the ads
Only Britney Spears and a comic monkey stood out from the crowd of ad spots in this week’s Super Bowl
It’s an hour after the Super Bowl, and I am struggling to remember more than a couple of the ads that had been so hyped all month. It was the event that sport reclaimed, as the New England Patriots beat the hot favourites, the St Louis Rams, 20-17 with the last kick of a thrilling game.
If the game and the impressive half-time performance from U2 for once lived up to all expectations, the “ad bowl” was decidedly unremarkable. The notable exception was Pepsi, which produced a series of BBDO-produced commercials starring Britney Spears acting out Pepsi spots from the past four decades.
Directed by the ageless Joe Pytka, they were fun and inventive. The first 90-second spot featured Britney through the decades, the second was the “1958” spot that viewers had voted as their favourite in an online poll taken before the game itself. In its self-confidence, ambition, humour and relevance to its target audience, the Britney spot was by far the most successful of the show.
The only real competition this year appeared to come from E-Trade, which again featured its famous comic monkey in a Busby Berkeley spoof that announced E-Trade’s changed structure. Once again there was a self-referential moment as E-trade’s CEO appeared at the end to berate the monkey for the choice of a musical.
Other notable spots included Rudy Giuliani saying thank you to America (courtesy of Monster.com), Kevin Bacon hamming his way through a lame Visa commercial, Danny de Vito and a host of mutinous puppets in an inventive ad for Lipton’s Brisk.
There were a couple of anti-drug commercials directed by Britain’s Tony Kaye, which were startling because they linked buying drugs with supporting terrorism.
There was a fun Levi’s spot “crazy legs” and then a series of curious teaser commercials for something named “mlife” (the new AT & T Digital service) which stood out but were absolutely mystifying.
Budweiser, the “winner” of the ad bowl for the past three years, had a quiet game despite having multiple slots. A reprise of the New Jersey boys “How you doin’?” spot and the klutzy Cedric for Bud Light were the highlights in a series of quiet chuckles from DDB Chicago.
However, Budweiser’s other agency, Hill Holliday, also produced what was arguably the most excruciatingly schmaltzy spot of the show: the brewer’s famous Clydesdale horses approaching a twin towers-less New York in confusion before genuflecting silently before the Statue of Liberty. I suppose we should be grateful that there were not more ads referring to September 11.
There were seven car advertisers in the game – Cadillac, Mercedes, Mercury, Honda, Jeep, Dodge and VW. Between them they must have spent over $20m (the average cost of a spot this year was $1.9m for 30-seconds of Fox airtime), and not one of them could create an ad memorable an hour after the game’s conclusion.
And there were terrible – really terrible – ads from Taco Bell, Burger King and AOL, but the rest weren’t even interesting enough to be terrible. They proved merely to be expensive wallpaper.
The tedium was enough to make one hanker after the wacky creativity of the “dot-bowl” of 2000. Only three brands were brave enough to put a dot.com at the end of their names – FedEx, Monster and HotJobs.
There were no particularly deep or profound commercials this year, nor, with the exception of Pepsi, Brisk and E-Trade, particularly lavish commercials. Instead, cliches were paraded everywhere, and when in doubt they rolled out animals for the cuteness factor (Budweiser, Blockbuster, E-Trade and others).
In fact the ad bowl was an accurate reflection of the state of the industry itself: cautious, conservative, low-key, relying on cliches and lacking in subtlety, and, most of all, confidence.
When you’re left feeling grateful for Britney Spears and the E-Trade monkey, then there’s not really any further comment to make.
· Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of Ad Age Global and Creativity magazines