Pricey or not, Super Bowl ads get to heart of matter

By Dan George

CNN/SI ATLANTA — Researchers say 7 percentof the Super Bowl television audience tunes in just to see the commercials. With TV viewership for the Denver Broncos’ 34-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons expected to hit 130 million, that’s a lot of people watching commercials. And it explains why advertisers were willing to pay a whopping $1.6 million per 30 seconds of commercial time. So what did viewers get for all that money? A lot of Budweiser ads, celebrities ranging from Halle Berry (M&Ms) to Cuba Gooding Jr. (Pepsi One) to Jon Lovitz (Yellow Pages), and even a rowdy appearance by wrestling icon Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Here are CNN/SI’s picks for the best and worst from Sunday night:

Best Gen X: Two guys come up short of cash at the checkout counter and face this agonizing choice: a six-pack of Bud Light or a roll of toilet paper? And when they’re asked, “Paper or plastic?” their answer is immediate and obvious. They make sure to get the receipt, too.

Worst Gen X: 7 Up’s MTV-style “Are You an UN?” spots. Limp attempt to appeal to the same slacker demo as those not-so-hot-themselves “Do the Dew” ads.

Best FX: First Union ad shows helicopters moving skycrapers about like chess pieces to illustrate how the bank is changing the financial landscape. Maybe not Godzilla trashing Manhattan, but it ain’t bad.

Honorable Mention: “Men in Black”- style trailer for Will Smith’s sci-fi western “Wild, Wild West.”

Best Use of Violence (Not That We Condone That Sort ofThing): World Wrestling Federation’s energetic and unabashed – nay, self-congratulatory — “WWF Attitude” spot. No apologies for the sex, either.

Honorable Mention: Off beat Fox ad in which a catcher gets kicked by a horse to illustrate the Catcher Cam. Ouch.

Worst Timing: “The Matrix” movie trailer. Fox barely scrambled back in time to catch John Elway’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith in the second quarter.

Best Comeback: Apple uses the talking computer HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to address the Y2K problem and how Macintosh will survive it. It took 15 years (and a misfire in 1985), but not a shabby follow-up to the computer company’s landmark 1984 Super Bowl ad.

Best Animation: MasterCard trots out a host of cartoon characters from Mr. Magoo to Yogi Bear in the latest edition of its “Priceless” campaign. Our favorite: Olive Oyl accompanied by the words: Wonderbra $26.

Best Use of Skin: Fox’s cheeky “Full Monty” two-parter for “King of the Hill.” Prescription underwear?

Honorable Mention: No big surprises in the much-anticipated Victoria’s Secret ad – but who says that’s a bad thing?

Biggest Sellout: Cuddly E.T. shilling for Progressive Insurance. Next thing you know, Mr. Magoo will … uh, never mind.

Best Visuals: Fan in the stands gets flattened by a humongous Cracker Jacks bag to illustrate the snack’s new, larger package. And it’s not often you get a special prize that whinnies.

Honorable Mention: Budweiser’s Louie the Lizard getting a tongue-lashing from vengeful frogs. “Who’s your daddy!”

Biggest Yawner: Selsun Blue spot. Well, geez, it’s dandruff.

Best Budweiser Ad: With nine spots, Anheuser-Busch deserves its own category.

The pick of the litter: Lobster with an attitude takes it on the lam with a Bud as hostage – and turns one nervous customer into a meat-eater.

Worst Budweiser Ad: Curious spot brings back the Clydesdales and throws in acouple of sappy Dalmatians to boot. Bring back Louie.

Biggest Head-Scratcher: Volvo Trucks’ spot showing a tractor trailer. Like Volvo’s cars – sturdy, but not very interesting.

Best Movie Ad: “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” offers a clever takeoff on the “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” trailer.

Honorable Mention: “Life” with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. If only they’d figured out a way to bring back Richard Pryor.

Best Line: After a man in plain clothes stands erect long enough for countless people to pass by, a bird to perch on his head and a dog to mistake his leg for a fire hydrant, a Buckingham Palace guard walks up, takes a place beside him and says, “Dry cleaner wouldn’t take a check again, eh, Nigel?” Visa ad with a nice payoff.

Best of Show: A big bag of coffee beans ends up in Joe Louis Arena while a South American peasant puts a misplaced Stanley Cup to practical use in FedEx’s wry and effective spot on the perils of unreliable shipping.

Honorable Mention: Jerry Seinfield pokes fun at himself in another solid American Express ad. And you gotta like the Keith Hernandez sighting.