At $1.6 million a pop, some Super Bowl ads threw caution - and taste - to the wind

Budweiser’s Louis the Lizard is back … with some choice words.

By Tom Long / The Detroit News

Frogs can talk, Olive Oyl is considering a wonderbra and E.T. apparently needs auto insurance.

More than 100 million Americans tuned in Sunday afternoon to learn these facts. Oh, yeah, some of them were watching that football game, too. But over the past 15 years the Super Bowl has become more than just the world championship of football, it’s pretty much become the world championship of TV advertising as well. Each year the stakes get higher. This time around companies were shelling out $1.6 million for a 30-second spot that would run in front of an estimated 129 million fans. In all, $93 million was spent on commercial spots in the game. Which means if your commercial is a dud, it’s one very expensive dud. But if it’s a winner, you may strike gold. As always, there were some advertising winners and some losers Sunday evening.

Of the 58 new spots run during the game, here are some highs, lows and question marks:

I love you, man:

Budweiser owns the Super Bowl, simple as that. Not only did the show start off with Louie the Lizard getting a severe tongue-whipping from the Budweiser frogs (after confiding that the three ofthem have been canned), a later ad showing a pop-eyed lobster taking a Budweiser hostage may have signaled a new star to come. Not only that, Bud Light weighed in with a spiffy bit featuring two guys who don’t have enough money for both a six-pack and toilet paper. They opt for the beer of course, but then request a paper bag. The last thing you hear is the cashier asking, “Hey, you guys want a receipt?” As Frankie the Lizard asked, “Now how is that supposed to sell beer?” Who knows, who cares? Bud continues to be a blast.

Seriously, who needs football? With skimpy outfits and bounteous breasts bouncing toward the camera, Victoria’s Secret may have sent Monday’s computer sales and Internet hookup numbers skyrocketing by advertising an online fashion show.

So we’re talking about a commercial on one medium pointing you toward what is essentially a commercial on another medium… hmmm.

Oh, who cares. Root, root, root for the home team: Falcons, Broncos, bah.

The best team on during the game was the Red Wings, featured in a simple but effectivead from Federal Express-the Stanley Cup ends up in Bolivia thanks to some cheap delivery service and Fedorov et al end up standing on the ice at the Joe looking at a bag of burro food.

Planning ahead:

Hollywood obviously realizes this is the place to plant ideas early (remember the promo for Independence Day?). A two-fer commercial from Imagine entertainment hawked Ron Howard’s EdTV, coming in March, and Life, starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence,coming in April. The Will Smith-Kevin Kline Wild Wild West due July 4 got anearly push as well, and the Keanu Reeves sci fi flick, The Matrix, definitely won the award for best special effects in a 30-second commercial. But the big whirlwind Independence Day movie promo award has to go The Mummy, due in May, which looked like a sure bet to be the windiest and brownest film ever released.

I’ll take two:

A cute commercial pushing the value of Volvo trucks, showing a big semi cruising along while folks implored the driver to honk his horn, included a There’s Something About Mary touch: a nurse letting go of a bandaged patient and letting him roll in front of the truck. The question must be asked, though: How many viewers are going to be going out and buying Volvo semis in the next few months?

I’ll take two, part two:

And then there was that riveting spot for Enterprise Relationship Software from Siebel Systems. Sure to be a hot item at Christmas. Really, who are these companies trying to reach?

On the other hand: ‘whatever that is’ had an ad that made you want to find out. Starting with a small kid saying, “When I grow up, I want to file all day,” and going through a series of kids with bleak expectations “I want to have a brown nose … I want to be underappreciated” this was an ad that faced the world and made you want to see more. Ending with “ There’s a better job out there,” it hit at the gut and drew its audience in. Wonder how many internet hits they get today.

On the flip side, the ad for tried to be flip and just ended up making anyone who used their service look like a loser no matter where they work.

When in doubt, go with a babe:

Smokey Red Barbecue Doritos put a bunch of guys in a hall with umbrellas and then had a beautiful woman eat a chip and set off the fire sprinkler system. Remember-sex sells.

World’s luckiest guy:

Some shlub named Jeremy who makes ice cream, who was the small business featured in Mail Boxes Etc. ad. It didn’t looklike Jeremy had the resources to pitch in too much of the $1.6 million cost, but they ran his online address anyway.

Hey, do any humans work there?

The ad for Cadillac Escalade featured huge robotic arms putting together the luxury sport-utility vehicle. Whatever happened to the personal touch?


There is nothing worse than the establishment trying to pose as outlaws. 7 Up offered viewers the chance to join the 7 Up Underground with a couple of scruffy kids buying 7 Up instead some soft drinks being hawked by Nazi types. Give us a break. & Up is about as alternative as, well, alternative music.

Only Tweety Bird was missing:

The best credit card ad of the night came from Mastercard, with a parade of cartoon characters and their would-be-wise purchases: contact lenses for Mr. Magoo, a wonderbra for Olive Oyl and a treadmill for Yogi Bear. Quick and cute.

Speaking of flat:

The game’s biggest dud was the new Apple computer ad, ironic in that it was Apple Computers classic ‘1984’ ad back in that year that made the Super Bowl the place to put ads. This dull, motionless spot in which a computer talked like Hal from 2001 about how the Macintosh is programmed to avoid the Y2K problem was probably supposed to be spooky. It wasn’t. It really wasn’t much of anything. Maybe they should have pointed out that you could catch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show online with a Mac. Betcha more people would have paid attention.

Tom Long’s column appears in Features on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He can be reached by phone at (313) 222-8879, or by e-mail at