The good, bad and blah

Super Bowl commercials had something for everyone

By Dan George,

Score one for the folks who believe the best part of the Super Bowl is the commercials.

While there may have been nothing to rival Coke’s classic Mean Joe Greene spot, Super Bowl XXXV’s ad lineup was certainly more interesting than Kerry Collins’ love-fest with the Baltimore secondary and the Ravens’ ensuing 34-7 thumping of the New York Giants.

Scampering Spanish squirrels, a cowboy monkey, projectile reclining chairs and an invigorated Bob Dole were all on hand Sunday night to fill those TV lulls in the action. And who among us could really ask for anything more than that?

Even before the commercials aired, this year’s Super Bowl — expected to be viewed by from 80 million to 130 million people, depending on who was doing the expecting — included some intriguing ad trends.

First of all, notable by their absence were the dot-coms. Only three of last year’s 17 Internet advertisers returned to suit up for Super Bowl XXXV. Heck, three of last year’s dot-com advertisers — most notably — aren’t even in business anymore.

CBS said it sold 30 minutes of Super Bowl ads for an average of $2.3 million for 30 seconds and expected to bring in $150 million in pregame and game commercials, about 12 percent more than what ABC made for Super Bowl XXXIV. Industry observers, however, put the average 30-second price tag closer to $2.1 million, noting that CBS took much longer to fill its slots this year than ABC did in 2000.

The loss of spend-happy dot-coms was one reason, of course, but the Eye didn’t help its coffers by rejecting one ad. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) produced a 30-second commercial in which singing cows urge viewers not to use leather, but CBS said it was leery of airing a potentially controversial advocacy ad during the big game.

Also missing in action: the Budweiser lizards, as well as Pepsi’s Hallie Eisenberg, the girl of a thousand voices. Both solid marketing decisions, albeit a bit tardy.

But enough about what wasn’t there. Here’s a look at Super Bowl XXXV’s most notable commercials, and one man’s opinion of how they rate:

Four Stars

Budweiser: In a classic parody of last year’s “Whassup!” spot, painfully square white guys phone each other and repeatedly blare: “What are you doing?” The kicker is perfect, too.

Budweiser: Elaborate riff on Star Wars/Close Encounters of the Third Kind features an alien disguised as a dog. When he returns to the mother ship and is asked what he learned on Earth, he replies … “Whassup!” Clever.

EDS: Forget the bulls. There’s no challenge like running with the squirrels at Pamplona. Not quite as nutty as last year’s cat-herding spot — perhaps because westerns are more familiar than the Spanish tradition — but you have to admire the silly concept.

E-Trade: A monkey rides through a spooky ghost town of dead dot-com businesses. And you thought you’d seen the last of the Sock Puppet.

FedEx: When the right parts don’t arrive in time, factory workers install heavy-duty springs in recliners, with hilariously disastrous results. Will “I’m going to miss that dog” be the next big catchphrase?

Snickers Crunch: Speaking of catchphrases … A street vendor sells dolls that utter annoying phrases to people who then stomp them to bits on the sidewalk. Yes, “Whassup!” is one of the phrases.

Three Stars

Bud Light: A guy and his girl discover at the worst possible moment why dancing and carbonation don’t mix. Well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Bud Light: A business meeting comes to an abrupt end when the boss ends up with a pencil where the sun don’t shine. Ah, the perils of working late.

E-Trade Bank: A sleeping bank guard dreams of glory. If only they’d cast Don Knotts.

Levi Strauss & Co. : A medical team rushes loose, worn jeans to a man in need. Offbeat, if not hilarious. A funeral home worker can’t get the smile off a corpse, who apparently had a much, much better job than the undertaker.

Pepsi: Does anyone have more fun poking fun at himself than Bob Dole? In an amusing takeoff of his Viagra ads, the former presidential candidate waxes poetic on the joys of Pepsi.

Smirnoff Ice: Guy escapes a bear after dousing his buddy with honey. There’s a trick they didn’t teach you in the Scouts.

VISA: How long does it take to verify a check at a pet store? Long enough for rabbits to do what they’re famous for. Good visual gags.

Volkswagen: Guys escape a bear — hmmm, do we detect a trend here? — after one of them manages to get his picture taken with the furry mammal. Nice punchline.

Two Stars

Anheuser-Busch: N’Sync goes door-to-door urging parents to talk to their children about underage drinking. The boys are against it.

Bud Light: When a guy empties out his girlfriend’s fridge to make room for the brews, her dog balloons up after eating the displaced food. Cute, but that’s all.

Cingular: One ad featured football players in dance class, another a couch potato-type doing pirouettes, another a disabled artist. None of them terribly memorable.

Diet Dr Pepper: Isn’t there a moratorium on Riverdance spoofs? This might have been more amusing last year. Or maybe not.

Hannibal: No surprises in this movie trailer, but it did make me rethink the seconds on that fava bean dip. An unhappy marriage of Toy Story and the Mammas and the Papas. A job hunter ends up sniffing a business card. Lemme ask you this: Would you hire him?

Pepcid Complete: Obsolete antacid tablets are ground up and used to chalk a football field. Well, it was topical anyway.

Pepsi: Good times in a hot tub. And there’s Pepsi, too.

Pepsi: Prison inmates dig a tunnel to get a Pepsi machine. Not as funny as you might think.

Pepsi: Chess master Gary Kasparov beats the computer, disses all machines as stupid, then gets some cold comeuppance from a Pepsi. Needed a better payoff.

Swordfish: The new John Travolta movie. Don’t know what it’s about, but the absence of the words Battlefield Earth is a big plus.

The Mummy Returns: Good FX. But that’s what trailers like this are all about, isn’t it?

VISA: Woman sucks doltish TV-watching husband up in a vacuum cleaner. I’m getting tired of reality TV.

Volkswagen: GTI gets stuck in a tree. Way too long to get to the punch line. Such as it was.

Volkswagen: Guy in a Jetta races to church to stop his ex-girlfriend from getting married. Spoof of The Graduate, except without the humor.

One Star

Accenture: One curious ad featured a suddenly driverless car, another a fire hazard of a birthday cake. The French will probably find them hilarious.

American Legacy Foundation: You know, the layman might take these two anti-smoking spots as advocacy ads. Nah, that couldn’t happen, could it?

Dentyne Ice: Hey, it’s gum.

Exit Wounds: The trailer for the new Steven Seagal movie. Or how to flush $2.3 million down the drain.

Doritos: Sure, putting a corn chip in a tennis ball machine sounds like fun … until someone loses an eye.

A Knight’s Tale: I like We Will Rock You as well as the next guy, but, c’mon, in the 14th century?

Philip Morris: Cigarette goliath urges kids not to smoke. Who are they kidding?

Subway: Jared and his anorexic disciples. But you don’t hear a word about that meatball foot-long, do you?

Survivor: Absolutely the worst thing about CBS having the Super Bowl.

Verizon Wireless: Ah, the ecstasy of sending e-mail from your cell phone. Like you’d want to hear anything these people had to say.