Ads Far From Super

Much-anticipated commercials a letdown, just like the Falcons

Alastair Goldfisher

I enjoy sports, and football has been a favorite of mine since I was akid. My friends and I were huge collectors of trading cards, and every Sunday we’d arrange our heaps of them on the floor and ape the action on TV. For the Super Bowl, we souped things up with a little commercial authenticity by spreading bags of chips, beverage cans and other advertised goods around the carpet to reflect the ads on the tube. We were into the hoopla of both the game and the commercials. But I will remember Super Bowl XXXIII mostly for the repeat win by the Denver Broncos.

Most of the ads were less memorable. After millions of dollars and many months in production, too many of the 30 or so minutes’ worth of ads were a letdown, just like the Atlanta Falcons. So here’s my advice: If the whole world is watching, get your money’s worth. This is especially true for tech firms, which have to compete against supermodels, talking amphibians and Dalmatians to capture viewers.

Apple Computer Inc. probably got its money’s worth. The computer maker reportedly spent a mere $200,000 to produce its “HAL” ad, compared with the millions that others spent. Most liked the ad’s use of the famous talking computer, but I think it was too urbane and went over the heads of the general audience. This isn’t Apple bashing. I generally applaud their marketing. “Think different” is effective, and the iMac spots are colorful. But using the static image of HAL didn’t make the point Apple wanted to make about the Y2K bug.

Thumbs down.

The Siebel Systems ad also didn’t meet my expectations. After being cagey all month about whether it would advertise, the San Mateo company ran spots during the first and fourth quarters that grunted to the James Brown tune “I Feel Good.” The ads didn’t make me feel anything. Previous Siebel ads put the spotlight on CEO Tom Siebel, and that personal touch would have been nice during the Super Bowl.

Other advertisers also dropped the ball. AT&T’s “personal network”s pots made little impression, and the Just For Feet ad in the fourth quarter was insulting.

Sun Microsystems Inc.’s presence was unexpected, considering that its PR people told me the company wouldn’t be advertising. There it was in the second quarter telling viewers it is “the dot in dot-com.” The tag is nothing new, but the ad was one of its best lately.

A marginal thumbs up. Intel Corp. balked at advertising, but Philips Electronics aired its first Super Bowl ad. The Netherlands company has gotten a lot of use outof its “Getting Better” campaign. Thankfully, Philips didn’t run a retread, but created a new ad with the same theme.

Again, a marginal thumbs up. of New York took the humor route. But the ad’s witseemed forced, like a comedian who laughs at his own jokes. Likewise, of Southern California used sophomoric humor inits postgame ad, showing a man mimicking what dogs do to get to know one another. It caught my attention, but I wasn’t compelled to check out the Web site. The best tech ad of the entire game was for HotJobs competitor of Indiana, which proved humor and technology can work in tandem. The black-and-white ad showed children saying, among other things, “I want to rise to be middle manager.” It came on twice, and I want to see it again.

Beyond tech, Anheuser-Busch showed it is the king of beers and theking of ads. AB owns the Super Bowl, paying to be the exclusive beer sponsor through 2002. It’s worth it. My 2-year-old son chortled as Louie the Lizard got whipped by a frog, and he laughed again when the lobster escaped the boiling pot. I don’t drink Bud, but those ads lived up to the Super Bowl hype. So did the American Express and World Wrestling Federation spots. After 20 years of playing pretend football and watching thousands of ads, I’m not ready to give up on the Super Bowl. But next year I’ll probably break out the trading cards for myself and my son.