The super sell: Who won and who lost the Super Bowl advertising game

By Alison Roberts

Bee Staff Writer

Memories, soggy chips and crushed beer cans are all we have left the day after the Super Bowl.

Remember the bright lights and old rock ën’ roll songs, scantily clad women, lots of animals, from frogs to dogs? Oh, yeah, there were a bunch of guys running around doing just about anything to get ahold of this funny shaped ball.

But mostly it’s the afterimages of the ads that have been burned into our minds. And there remains one question that only our future spending patterns will answer: Was it worth it?

More than 30 advertisers who snapped up spots bet a lot of money it was. They paid Fox an average of $1.6 million per half-minute commercial. That is $53,333 per second, roughly three times higher than the cost of airing an ad during the highest-rated TV series in prime time. What they got for it was more than 135 million viewers.

Following are ratings of the ads we bet we’ll all be talking about today.

Pigskin point system

Five footballs: Touchdown! The ultimate score.

Four footballs: Field goal. Still a winning strategy.

Three footballs: First down. Moving in the right direction.

Two footballs: Fumble. Doesn’t hold onto your interest.

One football: Penalty time. You have to be ad-omasochistic to like this.

American Express: Two footballs

Yes, it was nice to see Jerry Seinfeld again in something that wasn’t a rerun. Clever set-up, but too many layers, especially after halftime when we can’t follow plot twists anymore. Besides, it was kind of like the last episode of “Seinfeld”ótoo much buildup, not enough delivered. Or should we say, overcharged?

Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser): Five footballs

For literal tongue-lashing, you can’t beat the Louie the Lizard spot. That reptilian piece of pond scum had it coming, seeing as he tried to electrocute the Bud frogs last year during the game.

Anheuser-Busch gets the overall menagerie prizeówith the lobster on the lam (great eyes on that guy), a laughing mouse, dalmatians doing the Bronx cheer, as well as the pond scene. And the guys who choose beer over toilet paper are sort of doglike.

Apple Computer: Five footballs

HAL, the talking computer of “2001: A Space Odyssey” returned just two years ahead of schedule to tell us that the Macintosh is immune to that pesky Y2K bug. The soothing tone of HAL’s voice, as though he were on cyber-Quaaludes, was surprisingly attention-grabbing in an afternoon of nonstop yelling.

One drawback: We are all going to get really tired of our friends and co-workers saying, “It was a bug, Dave,” Or “You’re looking well today,” or “Dave, can you hear me? Dave?”

California Milk Advisory Board: Four footballs

Another winner blasted off in the long-running, witty “It’s the cheese” campaign. This one, with its flashback lunar landing footage, captures the historic letdown of discovering that the moon is not made of cheese.

Federal Express: Four footballs

This wins the travelogue prize, plus it’s funny. The moral of the story is clear: When you hire a rival courier you risk dire misdeliveries. The plot is also easy to follow: A hockey crowd gets donkey feed instead of the Stanley Cup. The cup ends up in a little Bolivian town.

Frito-Lay (Cracker Jack): Four balls

The quick-cut images of oversized Cracker Jack packages are fast and funny. The guy in the bleachers being squashed like a bug hits the same guilty laugh button as those home video shows. The girl getting a live pony as the free prize is adorable.

Frito-Lay (Doritos): One football

For contrast, there was the Doritos ad. It was just too silly, with the men literally bowing down before the lip-licking Chip Chick in a tight T-shirt. Too puerile. Two footballs

A security guard stumbles across the Hotjobs Web site and dreams about other jobsólike being a scientist who clones beautiful women. But it’s not nearly as good as the spot from its competitor, another Internet job search Web site,, see listing below.

The story behind the ad is more memorable. is the smallest company to ever run an ad on the Super Bowl.

King of The Hill: Three footballs

Hank Hill and the gang gather for a full-frontal assaultówith only football helmets between us and a Full Monty. Dale Gribble cheats by wearing underpants, but says, “They’re prescription.” Pretty fun, and besides it’s only fair to have a little beefcake after that Victoria’s Secret ad.

M&Ms: Four footballs

Who wants those supermodels in tight clothes, anyway? What really whets our appetite are those little round guysóthe Crispy M&Ms who are pursued by Patrick Warburton, who played Elaine’s boyfriend Puddy on “Seinfeld,” and the lovelyóand hungryóHalle Berry. Five footballs

A truly surreal and very comic displacement puts statements of adult disappointment into the mouths of kids. The youngsters rattle off career goals, including being “replaced on a whim,” “paid less for doing the same job” and “forced into early retirement.” The message couldn’t be cleareróthat you might find a better job on, a job-search Internet site. A good ad for crying and laughing into your beer.

Pepsi One: Four footballs

The car explosion was the best of several fireballs during the broadcast (the other big bangs came in the movie previews, particularly the one for “The Mummy”). Bad guys in a strange landscape have a drink while Cuba Gooding Jr. inadvertently blows up their car. Intriguing and incomprehensibleókind of like the product, which suggests that one calorie is better than none.

Progressive Auto Insurance: Two footballs

E.T. is a cute spokescreature. His best moment was in the first fleeting game glimpse we had of him, when he passes along a hot dog in the stands. The longer ad was ho-hum. But then it is Progressive Auto Insurance’s first venture into the Super Bowl advertising arena.

Victoria’s Secret: Three footballs

This wins the bobbing-for-customers prize. Let’s just say Barenaked Ladies isn’t just a rock ën’ roll band anymore. It’s a marketing approach, too. The ever-brimming Tyra Banks and other models lead the way in getting the message out that you can see more of the same at a Web site underwear fashion show.

World Wrestling Federation: Four footballs

The World Wrestling Federation was a Super Bowl advertising virgin, but it sure wasn’t innocent in its debut. Bodies crash through windows and there is full bump-and-grind action in the background as WWF stars such as the Undertaker, the Rock, Sable and Stone Cold Steve Austin talk about how violence and sex are not at the heart of their sport. Clever.