Ads are real Super Bowl winners, losers

Now, let me get this straight. The New York Giants, a team that supposedly had no offense, beats the Vikings 41-0. Then, Baltimore, a team with supposedly even less offense than the Giants, beats them 34-7.

By extrapolation, are we then to assume the Vikings would have been a triple-digit underdog had they faced the Ravens? We’ll never know. But I doubt I was the only one kicking such thoughts around as I tried to stay awake through the last hour and a half of Super Bowl XXXV.

If it weren’t for a professional obligation to watch the Super Bowl ads, believe me, I wouldn’t have been there at all. Local ratings for Super Bowl XXXV were a healthy enough 44.2 rating/60 share, slightly above the national average of 40.5/59. Although, across the country the audience was down from the 43.3/63 for last year’s game. (“Rating” refers to the percentage of all homes with TV who watched a show; “share” is the percentage of all homes with TV turned on.)

Far more significant than football, of course, was the performance of advertisers paying an average of $2.4 million per 30-second spot for the Ravens-Giants title game. This is what the Super Bowl is all about. Selling beer and soda and cars.

USA Today’s instant poll judged a Budweiser spot titled “Cedric’s Date” the game’s best. It was also the first ad shown. (Budweiser knew something.)

It played when everyone was fresh and sober, with minimal sclerotic damage from ribs, wings and nacho dip. This was the one where chunky Cedric (and how would we ever know his name?) is so jazzed at his chances with his glamorous date that he overshakes a couple of cold Buds, which then explode all over his lady friend. (On a psychosexual level, the imagery speaks for itself.)

In close order were E*Trade’s spot with the security guard day-dreaming of superhuman exploits and VISA’s with the rapidly multiplying pet store rabbits. Slapstick — pencils in an executive’s butt — and special effects — people catapulting out of their Barcaloungers, Volkswagens falling from trees — are Super Bowl standards.

Given the fact that so many viewers are watching at loud parties, subtle verbal interaction is risky, if your message depends on it. Then again, for the vast majority of these 30-second epics, the gag-to-message ratio is about 14:1. Or, 28 seconds of set-up and comic punch line followed by two seconds of advertiser ID.

Not that I’m complaining, you understand. But if the criterion for a truly great ad is the artful conveyance of the meaning and value of the advertiser’s good or service, Cedric spewing beer doesn’t compare with my personal favorite, the Hotjobs gravity ball.

Set to the Mamas and the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go,” the beautifully shot piece — check out the reflection on the ball — opens with the chrome ball breaking free of its hum-drum routine, rolling off the desk, across the floor, out the door and into a game of marbles. A game where it is genuinely appreciated.

If I were a client, I’d be thrilled with that one, even if it may have been a bit too subtle for the smoke and noise of your average Wisconsin snowmobile bar.

On the other end of the spectrum, give me the names of the execs who keep their jobs after spending $2.4 million to run junk like that Pepcid Complete spot where the groundskeeper is laying down field markings with ground-up antacids. I mean, someone, please, break that one down for me.

Likewise, those Verizon spots with the insufferably with-it couple messaging each other back and forth at a rock concert got old 10 seconds into their first appearance. (Although, maybe I’m just troubled that the Verizon “salute” looks so much like a Serbian paramilitary gang sign.)

But for the worst, it’s tough to beat fat, old lumbering Jared, the Subway poster walrus and his miracle diet of fast-food sandwiches. Basic message: Junk food equals weight loss. And while you’re at it: Budweiser equals sobriety.

Finally, “Survivor II” opened with a national rating of 25.5/38. That’s huge. But down from the 28.1/51 of last summer’s “Survivor I” finale.