Commercials Big Super Bowl Draw

NEW YORK (AP) – What comes over us? Any other time, our official position on TV advertising is: scorn. With every break for commercials, we can’t wait to hit the clicker or the loo.

But then Super Bowl Sunday arrives and, for a few spellbinding hours, it’s as if we stumbled into Bizarro World: “Me LOVE commercials! Me must watch!”

And we do.

Like the XXXIV that went before, the telecast of Super Bowl XXXV (6 p.m. EST on CBS) means more than football and pageantry. In a consumer culture where we are what we eat (and what we drink, drive and wear), here we can expect to see a portrait of ourselves – TV’s group portrait of America.

After all, the Super Bowl attracts the year’s biggest TV audience. Upward of 120 million people watch at least part of the game (thus some of the advertising). To reach them this Sunday with a 30-second spot, each advertiser will shell out an average of $2.3 million.

The cachet of big money makes the Super Bowl telecast one other thing: Among Madison Avenue high rollers, it’s the season’s most fabulous charity ball. No wonder we are curious to see who bought a ticket and what they will wear.

A preview:

– Electronic Data Systems Corp., which puzzled but mostly tickled viewers last year with its Cat Herding spot, is back. A high-tech masterpiece with epic sweep, the new commercial takes us to a sleepy Spanish village for the annual running of, no, not the bulls. The squirrels.

“It’s not the big, lumbering competitors you need to worry about,” goes the closing pitch for the company, which manages computer systems for industry and government.

Or, as one of the participants explains: “To beat the squirrel, you must think like a squirrel.”

But would a squirrel spend $6 million on an homage to Monty Python that will leave most viewers going “Huh?” once they stop laughing?

– A spot for MasterCard is set in a hoity-toity auction house. Up for bids: The letter B. The color red. Gravity.

“There are some things that money can’t buy,” concedes the voiceover. “For everything else, there’s” – well, if you don’t know by now, then getting the word out on MasterCard could be yet another thing that money can’t buy.

– It wouldn’t be a Super Bowl without a few brewskis, or without this year’s biggest advertiser, Anheuser-Busch.

In one of its ads for Bud Light, a foxy girl and her everyman beau, Cedric, are settling in on the couch. Sultry music plays.

“Why don’t you get us something to cool this fire down?” she coos.

Cedric grins. “I got just the thing.”

Once he steps into the kitchen, the music and the mood switch to gleeful hip hop as our hero indulges in an anticipatory victory dance, a bottle of Bud Light in each hand.

The message is clear: In the right hands, Bud Light makes the fire burn even hotter.

– In its Super Bowl debut, Levi Strauss gets dramatically zany on behalf of its “Reissued” 569 jeans.

A would-be cowboy has a riding accident. (Actually, he falls off a kid’s coin-operated mechanical pony.) Medics find him unconscious. Then they find his jeans Donor Card.

In a race against time, they strip him of his Levis, which they rush to a recipient, forlornly balled up in bed. As the medics look on, the grateful lad dons the jeans. Emotion overcomes him. Yes, they fit!

Back at the horsie ride, the victim comes to, bewildered to find he’s in his skivvies.

Very funny. But the literal-minded viewer could wrongly conclude (a) you really can will your jeans to the needy or (b) that Reissued 569 jeans really are secondhand, not just made to look that way. Or maybe literal-minded people are committed to 501s, no matter what.

Well, those are a few of the dozens of commercials around which the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens will play for the National Football League championship.

Viewers with a historical bent can enjoy a retrospective Saturday at 8 p.m. EST on CBS. “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials” reaches back to a 1972 Noxema spot with Joe Namath and an as-yet-undiscovered Farrah Fawcett. And, yes, it will include that 1980 Coke spot featuring “Mean” Joe Greene.

For producer Robert Dalrymple, who has gathered some 50 spots for the program, there’s no mystery why Super Bowl commercials take on a life (and allure) apart from the game.

“There are so many people tuned in who really don’t care about football,” he proposes, “while there’s something in the humanity and humor of the commercials that draws everybody in.”

That may not be enough, though, to spell success for advertisers.

Memphis-based adman Bob O’Connor has a Theory of Discomfort for what makes a commercial great. “The truth will set you free,” he says. “But it will really make you uncomfortable first.”

By that, O’Connor means the great commercials take a risk.

Example: Subway restaurants. Its “Jared Inspired Me” Super Bowl ad embraces a risky issue for a fast-food chain – obesity – by arguing that its sandwiches can promote sensible weight loss.

O’Connor, whose O’Connor Kenny Partners agency includes Hard Rock Cafes among its clients, marks a sharp distinction between risk and outrageousness, which, he says, is “just substituting sensationalism for truth. There’s no risk there.”

For viewers sizing up the Super Bowl commercials, he offers two criteria:

– Did the advertiser have the nerve to tell the truth about its product?

– Did the advertiser discover the drama within the product and bring it alive, so that you felt it in your gut?

In short, a Super Bowl commercial that entertains or dazzles may seem initially to be a great play. But if that’s all there is, the advertiser probably fumbled.

On the Net:

EDITOR’S NOTE – Frazier Moore can be reached at