Super Bowl XXXV: Ads Ride on Past Success


If there is one spot that best characterizes the advertising on Super Bowl XXXV, it’s the new E*Trade monkey spot that aired in the first quarter of the game.

This year, instead of heralding in a dotcom bonanza with a salsa dance, the cheeky monkey rides through a dotcom ghost town. Wearing his familiar white E*Trade T-shirt, the monkey passes a string of defunct companies like, when suddenly, the poster child of dotcom doom, the sock puppet, flies out of a building being demolished and drops to the floor. A close-up reveals tears streaming down the monkey’s face in a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Iron Eyes Cody.

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners spoof one of the most memorable ads of all time, an anti-litter commercial from the early 70s, add a modern twist and scores. It is one of the best of many ad parodies aired during the the game.

Thankfully, viewers weren’t subjected to the seemingly endless dotcom drivel of last year. Only three of the dotcommers, including E*Trade, returned to the game. Rivals and both debuted new life-is-short-make-the-best-of-it messages.

A HotJobs spot from Weiss Stagliano Partners follows a gravity ball in search of a better game-marbles–but it probably should search for a better spot instead.’s first branding effort from Arnold Worldwide is much more entertaining, but the guy sniffing his business card is a bit creepy, and the corpse with the immovable grin leaves me cold. (Then again, so did Bobby McFarrin and “Be Happy.”)

Budweiser’s latest “Whassup” featuring the white-guy version of the original produced plenty of party laughs. But all those yuppies do for me was bitterly remind me that, like day-glow and pointy pumps, the Bush era is back, and that’s just not funny.

Neither is the fact that most commercials portray a “multi-cultural” America with as much “Truth” as the spot-within-the spot from Goodby. The fact that Budweiser decided to parody itself is no surprise; the “Whassup” sensation owes a lot to unofficial versions spread on the web. Neither is the fact that it didn’t come from DDB Chicago, the agency that produced the first “Whassup” commercial, but from Goodby, the agency that gave us a “Whassup” lizards parody last year. In fact, the lizards theme itself, is a humorous extension of Budweiser’s frogs campaign.

Parodying commercials is a tradition that has become all-too common in advertising, a tool over-used to easily shorthand a message or ride someone else’s 30-seconds of fame. This year, it seemed every other spot relied on a previous success in the hopes that some of the goodwill will automatically rub off. One ad for Snickers Cruncher, for example, takes a feeble jab at the Bud buzz phenomenon with a spot showing a series of people at a street vendor , buying (and smashing) chattering dolls, including one that says “Whassup.”

Bob Dole preached pleasure for the “Joy of Pepsi” in a parody of his controversial shill for Viagra. Even George Foreman got in on the action with an iMac/Gap-inspired spot featuring people dancing against a white background with his colorful new grills.

But the self-parody that gave me the most satisfaction came from Doritos and BBDO New York. In a third Super Bowl appearance, Ali Landry finally drops the bombshell act, leaving the buxom babe, who once so gracefully caught flying 3D versions of the chip in her mouth while doing a split, out cold on a tennis court with a triangle-shaped cheese stain on her forehead. For some brands, it makes sense to rely on a past message (preferably your own) to leverage a new one or simply entertain. For others, it’s simply the easiest. For the biggest advertising day of the year, shouldn’t viewers expect more? I do.

–Eleftheria Parpis