Super Bowl ad standouts?

by Bob Garfield

It was a battle of would-be Titans requiring 32 megs of RAM. It was sometimes magical, but mostly terrible. It was LOL funny sporadically and the rest of the time astoundingly obscure.

Any way you look at it though, Super Bowl XXXIV was, as advertised, the Dot-com Bowl, a high-stakes football/roulette game that will be remembered for one lip-synching chimpanzee and nine advertisers who stacked all their chips on one number and lost. Though E*Trade Securities, and exploited this 100 million-viewer venue for all it was worth, most e-sites left little behind but gaping holes and fuzzy memories of that promises to provide who-knows-what.

Four stars

E*Trade Securities, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

Finally, finally, finally, a self-concious Super Bowl commercial about the event and the client simultaneously. A chimpanzee lip-synchs to “La Cucaracha,” followed by this text: “Well, we just wasted 2 million bucks. What are you doing with your money?” Impossibly stupid, impossibly brilliant. Plus three other typical E*Trade gems.

Three and one half stars

General Motors Corp.’s Oldsmobile, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago

No, really, they mean it: This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile. What a delicious parody of The Gap campaign, a bunch of sullen, goofy-looking kids singing, against a white background, about being inside of cars. It’s a real song, too, from some guy named Gary Numan, although it’s a lot funnier than it probably intends to be. A younger, hipper Oldsmobile? This time we may be prepared to believe it.

NFL Properties, in-house

Magnificent, emotional tribute to fans, using vintage footage atop Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” The coda: late, great Walter Payton saying it’s all about the fans., Merkley Newman Harty, New York

Intentionally amateurish video of the founders begging for your support so they can pacify relatives and other panicky investors. Clearly describes what they sell. And “Take your pills” is the laugh-out-loud line of the Super Bowl.

FedEx Corp., BBDO Worldwide, New York

Wonderful digital manipulation of Munchkinland to allow FedEx to save the day. Stunning effect, nice gag, outstanding brand burnishing.

Three stars McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy., Mich

Samuel L. Jackson’s voice as the iconic cursor hand, looking for employment opportunities. Not very funny, but a good, hard sell and ingenious expropriation of the icon for brand.

U.S. Census 2000, Y&R Advertising, New York

A slightly absurdist look at school overcrowding, culminating with a class held in the janitor’s closet. The pitch: Respond to the census because there’s federal largesse in it for us.

Pepsi-Cola Co.’s Mountain Dew, BBDO Worldwide, New York

Freddy Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” a la Dew. Extremely cool, albeit sacrilegious. And a clever race between mountain biker and cheetah, with a great double kicker., TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco

The Sock Puppet sings a cheesy ’80s ballad to guilt pet owners. How can you leave the house to shop for King or Snowflake when you know they’ll miss you while you’re gone? Delightful and funny, but a non-answer to the real question of why buy dog food over the Net.

Visa USA, BBDO Worldwide, New York

A chance to marvel at the exquisite beauty of Olympic athleticism unadulterated by crass commercialism? Nah. The synchronized-swimming Visa logo is a very funny idea, memorably produced. Also nice: a tribute to women pole-vaulters, underneath the (in this case) ironic superficiality of “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”

Charles Schwab & Co., BBDO Worldwide, New York

Kicking off the adverchampionship, another example of unexpected people talking in financial jargon. This time: Ringo Starr, finding a half dozen stock-market rhymes for “elation.” How about a nice ovation for this concept’s latest iteration?

Hewlett-Packard Co., Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

Three paeans to inventiveness recommit the corporate soul to its roots. Emotional and lovely, though a bit suggestive of corporate panic.

BMW of North America, Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis

The exhilaration of downhill skiing in a station wagon? A stretch, but sharp editing and dramatic audio elevate the debut of this “sport activity vehicle.” Doner, Southfield, Mich.

Simple use of “Matrix”-like digital effects gives a concrete demonstration of just how many used cars–Whoosh! There they are!–are available, quickly, via this Web site. Not especially entertaining, but extremely vivid.

Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser, DDB Worldwide, Chicago

1) A dog actor can’t cry on cue until he remembers his saddest moment–ramming into a van while chasing the Budweiser truck. Cute.

2) The James Bond of large-animal veterinarians is called away from his arm candy to deliver a Clydesdale foal. Another ridiculous, sappy … sigh … crowd-pleaser.

3) A bunch of friends, all black, greet each other with exaggerated “Wuzupppppppppp?” salutations that sound like retching. The Ad Review staff, the single whitest enclave outside of Latvia, doesn’t quite get it but suspects it is very funny … with big catchphrase potential.

4) Wayne Gretzky takes a slightly drunken friend’s keys and drives him home in the friend’s vehicle … a Zamboni. Clever.

5) An apparent dog food commercial starring Fred. But he’s not the golden retriever. Fred’s the master, and running with his talking dog, he sure builds up a thirst. Cute.

6) Tradition! Five generations of Busch men are proud to be unbelievably filthy rich by cornering distribution to sell the world’s 103rd best-tasting beer.

Netpliance, McGarrah-Jessee, Austin, Texas

Cowboys, firemen and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders in adhesive-taped nerd glasses to promote a Web “appliance” that hooks you up to the Net without any compu-geekiness required. Simple, amusing and clear., iXL, Atlanta

Two hardbitten cowboys watch an approaching twister and discuss e-bargains in spur-of-the moment travel. The mispronunciation of Barbados is very funny, and the communication of the business concept is quite strong.

Motorola, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York

A turtle falls in love with the new Web-enabled mobile phone to Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody.” Charming. Sweet. Funny. And the lingering product shot is central to the story. In a second spot, a guy gets a python up his pants leg. Could have been vulgar, but actually clearly demonstrates the Web capabilities of the phone.

Two and one half stars

Electronic Data Systems Corp., Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis

An absolutely hilarious spot about cat-herding cowboys. The lint brush shot alone is worth the price of admission. But the connection to the advertiser is preposterously tenuous. All over America: “Ha! Ha! Ha! … Huh? What?”

PepsiCo’s Tropicana, FCB Worldwide, New York

Grandma goes jogging. Unclever, unfunny, uninteresting and unmistakably about calcium-fortified OJ. No style points, but it communicates.

Healtheon/, Ogilvy & Mather, New York

The present-day Muhammad Ali shadow boxing, impressively “fighting time.” The claim: This site saves time in healthcare. Dramatic video, but no explanation.

Dr Pepper/Seven Up Co.’s 7 UP, Y&R Advertising, New York

We’ve said it before; we’ll say it again. This vulgar “Make 7 UP yours” stuff is juvenile and embarrassing. But 14-year-olds will love it, because they’re too 14 to know better.

Two stars, Mullen, Wenham, Mass.

Pretty, if oxymoronic, use of Robert Frost’s song of individuality. But because Monster presumes we know it’s a job service, this year this e-road won’t be heavily traveled., in-house

Self-confessed “worst ad on the Super Bowl” wasn’t. Typewriter script against eye-catching yellow background–with “Chopsticks” plinking away–advertises “highly personalized e-mails.” But how? No examples. Unabashedly primitive production stood out, but hardly etched the URL into anyone’s memory.

Volvo of North America, Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis

Gus, the truck driver, is so successful he has a butler! Oh, the hilarity. Oh, the originality! But the 16-wheeler looks mighty fine.

Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, Arnold Communications, Boston

Completely uninteresting spot that soared above most dot-coms by explaining what the Web site is.

One and one half stars

Agillion, GSD&M, Austin, Texas

Who could have predicted not one but two Queen songs in the same Super Bowl? This one, a top 10-market spot buy, has ordinary folks singing “We Are the Champions,” badly. Turns out they are small-businessmen who have benefited from “communications tools” of some sort. It’s fun to watch, but incredibly we don’t even learn that the corporate name is pronounced “a jillion,” as in