Real Super Bowl losers sank millions into TV ads that should be flushed

Alf Nucifora

A combination of Mardi Gras, the Academy Awards and the KentuckyDerby, the Super Bowl is the once-a-year opportunity for advertisersand ad agencies to create reputations and flaunt their best. It’s gotten to the point where some people stay for the ads and go to the bathroom during the game. But, not this year. So much money was spent for so little impact. At a hefty rate card price of $1.6 million for a 30-second commercial, this year’s Super Bowl advertising was a monument to excess with an abundance of questionable taste and painful waste.

Movie companies were big spenders in their headlong rush to promote their latest blockbusters.

Like some never-ending migraine headache, the Fox network pounded viewers with incessant promotion for their new season’s cheesy programming.

The auto, truck and sport-utility vehicle (SUV) brands served up thesame cliché-driven mush. The rare exception was Oldsmobile, nowtrying to reposition itself as a contemporary player with some nifty newbrands (probably too little, too late).

For the first time, high-tech was everywhere. From Hotjobs to Hotbot, the Web fraternity was all over the screen.

The good

Budweiser: I don’t know whether it sells beer, but Budweiser advertising is still the funniest and most intelligent advertising to appear on the sports screen. The frogs and lizards still hold up. The Dalmatian spot pulled an approving sigh from both sexes. The “toilet paper/checkout” and “catapulting mouse” spots produced a requisite chuckle for Bud Lite. In a category where it’s hard to stand out, Budweiser performed in an exemplary fashion.

Pizza Hut: Donald Trump, Spike Lee and Fran Drescher, quintessential New Yorkers all, helped make the point that, at $9.99,Pizza Hut’s New York Style Pizza is a mouthful and a helluva buy. Pointwell made.

WWF: Gratuitous sex and violence, marvelously portrayed. Hey, that’s what professional wrestling is all about. They captured the spirit, tone and attraction of the spectacle with pinpoint accuracy.

VISA: Two clever spots illustrate the perils of writing a check instead of using a Visa check card, one featuring Buckingham Palace guards and the other, a guy locked in a bathroom awaiting the services of a locksmith, while his knockout wife/girlfriend waits despondently on the other side.

Doritos and Victoria’s: Sex still sells. A gorgeous vamp sets off fire sprinklers as she munches on Smokey Red Doritos, while pneumatic babes from Victoria’s Secret provide the come-hither for their upcoming fashion show on the Web.

Other decent efforts

American Express: As expected, Jerry Seinfeld performed well.

Federal Express: FedEx presented an entertaining spot featuring the Stanley Cup.

Yahoo! The Web searcher continued its effective campaign illustrating the benefits of working with a great search engine.

Mountain Dew: The soft-drink company hit the mark with blue-collar Generation X with its tongue-in-cheek “what snowboarders do in summer.”

The bad

First Union: Why is it that banks consistently deliver misguided and irrelevant advertising that talks to self-image as distinct from customers’ needs? First Union’s overproduced extravaganzas, with “Blade Runner” motifs and mountain themes, are nothing more than a gigantic waste of the advertiser’s money and the viewer’s time.

Apple: The computer giant gave a decent exposition of the Y2K problem, but one wonders how many people, particularly those under 50, got the “2001: A Space Odyssey” connection.

Australia Tourism: A strange spot from the Aussies. Some expensive schmaltz with kids in different lands “calling Australia home.” It’s the “I want to buy the world a Coke” theme revisited. But, what was thepoint? Coke and Pepsi: Nothing memorable was seen from Coke (again).Expensive, disappointing stuff was presented for PepsiOne, with amisused Cuba Gooding Jr.

The ugly Here viewers were shown a guy on all fours sniffing a dog’s rear end. No doubt, in their follow-up campaign, they’ll have the dog hiking its leg. Is there no shame?

7-Up: An interesting concept for 7-Up, “The Uns,” was destroyed by people who think trite is funny, thus showing viewers a classic example of bad, expensive advertising. Will 7-Up ever get it right? Yellow Pages: Hiring Jon Lovitz is a perfect manifestation of the notionthat if you don’t have an idea, hire a celebrity. The hardest part wasfinding the message amid the waste.

Just For Feet: This is what happens when production technique runsamok and replaces the idea. There are better ways to promote a brand. And, there are less expensive ways to boot.

There it is — another year of advertising’s purported best. The patient’s got problems. No one is on life support yet, but unless the ad community recommits to strategy, discipline and treating the consumer with intelligence, they’re headed for the graveyard. Write or e-mail ( Nucifora c/o AtlantaBusiness Chronicle. Shoestring Marketing appears twice-monthly.