Bud, Pepsi add life to Super Bowl commercials


By Tim Grobaty

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) – The once-proud, once super — back in the days when super meant something, boys — Super Bowl is, at XXXV, losing its legs.

The game continues to get swamped by its own commercials, which went, this season, for about $2 million-plus per 30 seconds. While the greatest day in American sports used to pit such powerhouses as the Baltimore Colts against the Joe Namath-led New York Jets, today it pits such powerhouses as Anheuser-Busch against the Bob Dole-led Pepsi-Cola.

Until Apple broke through in 1984 with its Ridley Scott-directed mega-ad for the then-revolutionary Mac Plus, no one could have ever foreseen a time when millions of Super Bowl viewers, from sports bars to rumpus rooms, would demand quiet so commercial-viewers could watch the antics of a dancing monkey or Otto the Bud Light dog, or, for that matter, the antics of a retired U.S. senator and one-time presidential also-ran.

Dole, who could have been the funniest American president ever but for the fact that he lost whenever he ran, helmed a beautiful misdirection play in an early second-quarter commercial, giving the impression that he was reprising his role as Viagra-pusher, walking along the beach and making sincere, doe-eyed references to feeling alive and vital and young again, thanks to his “little blue friend” — bang! — ice-cold Pepsi-Cola.

Pepsi turned in a major-league slugging percentage with its other ads during gametime, which included a Pepsi machine roughing up a chess champ who had been smack-talking machinery after besting a computer in a match.

Anheuser-Busch which, with eight 30-second spots repeated as the heaviest buyer of Super Bowl air time (Pepsi finished in second place, a full 60 seconds behind) had eight chances to come up with great ads. The Bud boys succeeded bigtime with the yuppie-bashing sendup of the company’s own driven-into-the-ground “True” (or “WHASSUP?!”) campaign as viewers saw a bunch of soul-starved, sweater-around-the-shoulder sorts trading golly-jeepers “What are you doing?” greetings.

Bud also came up with the most impressively produced spot of game day with another “True” ad, this one featuring an alien, disguised as a lovable pooch, being brought back to the home planet to tell of what it learned on earth, which was, sigh: WHASSUP?!

Other winners in the advertising portion of Super Bowl XXXV included the following:

– FedEx’s continuing success in hilarious commercials, this one featuring reclining chairs, call them BarcaLaunchers, which are equipped with springs that are a bit too robust. The result: leisure-seekers getting shot right through the roofs of their houses.

– E-Trade’s resurrection of its Dancing Monkey, this time in a spoofish bittersweet requiem for failed dot-coms. Tears well up in Dancing Monkey’s eyes as he holds the crumpled, lifeless body of Sock Dog, the mascot for the now-defunct Pets.com.

– EDS’ attempt to outdo last season’s “Cat-Herder” commercial with another epic about the dangers of “Running With the Squirrels.” It was funny enough (the steely determination of the line, “As long as I have legs I will run with the squirrel” should be a rallying cry everywhere), but EDS set the bar impossibly high last year. There is no way anything can be funnier than a cat roundup. Give up.

– VISA’s bunny fest, showing how quickly a pair of rabbits can multiply while your credit card (not VISA, one of the other ones) is being authorized.

– Snickers’ spot showing people stomping on ceramic dolls blathering irritating phrases (“Don’t go there,” “Get a life”), in support of its new Cruncher candy bar.

Now, let’s visit the losers’ locker room:

– The motion-picture studios don’t rely too heavily on the Super Bowl to roll out new product, and when they do, they don’t knock themselves out. MGM’s trailer spots for “Hannibal,” Sony’s ads for “A Knight’s Tale” and Warner Bros.’ commercial for Steven Seagal’s “Exit Wounds” were badly in need of an ex-presidential campaigner or some kind of sock animal.

– Cingular Wireless ponied up for four Super Bowl spots that were meant to be inspirational, with too much emphasis on dancing. Dancing monkeys: Cool. Dancing people: Not cool.

– Verizon also bought multiple spots touting its wireless messenger service, which — get this — allows you to chat over the phone. The refreshing twist? You chat by typing in words on your telephone rather than go through the hassle of actually talking through it. Why not sell “I’m a moron” T-shirts instead?

– CBS batted viewers over the head with a multitude of spots promoting its comedies, dramas, sports shows and, unrelentingly, the “Survivor” sequel that followed the game.

Of course, the network is entitled to promote itself as heavily as it wants. But, as Ted Danson growled in a spot promoting his own CBS comedy, “Becker,” “It’s shameless.”

Shameless we could deal with, if only the promos were as fun to watch as the Bud and Pepsi spots.