The Super Sell-Rabbits and squirrels pitch products, but dot.coms cut back

By Tom Long / The Detroit News

They’re big, they’re crazy and lots of the time they don’t make much obvious sense, but ads like EDS’ “Running with the Squirrels” made Super Bowl XXXV more fun to watch.

FedEx sent people through their roofs and into the sky in one of the game’s most inventive ads.

Bob Dole found youthful vitality, brave men ran wild with the squirrels, cars kept falling out of trees and a senior citizen faked a heart attack to get out of paying for dinner.

Oh, and a couple of football teams played a game.

Super Bowl XXXV offered up the usual shaky mix of the brilliant and banal when it came to ads Sunday night.

In terms of sheer spectacle, the grand finale of the annual National Football League season consistently offers up the year’s biggest TV audience — an estimated 135 million were expected to tune in for at least part of the game — and with the Survivor sequel, The Australian Outback, following the game, some figured the night could be the highest-rated evening in television history.

So the heavy commercial guns were brought out. Some made a big bang, others backfired, and there were no real blockbusters — no talking lizards, no Mean Joe Greene. But the general quality was steadier than in years past, and at the very least the commercials again made for a mirror of America’s quirks, desires and tastes.

Among the best:

* Bob Dole walking along a beach, talking about a product that has made him feel more vital and alive — which turns out to be Pepsi instead of Viagra. Then Bob does a backflip. Remember, this guy once ran for president.

* The lush Charles Schwab ad that had a knight sweeping a damsel off her feet and carrying her to happiness, narrated by Sarah Ferguson, who abruptly ended the dream with “Of course, if it doesn’t work out. …”

* A FedEx commercial that had people blown through their roofs as a result of recliner-chair parts that didn’t arrive on time.

* Bud Light sent a smooth lover to the kitchen to score a couple of brews, had him dance madly with them in hand, and then had one explode in his girlfriend’s face.

* In a Snickers ad, a woman dropped a sofa from a high apartment window onto a car that had its alarm system wailing, something that had little to do with candy bars but likely had viewers applauding across America. Snickers hit again with a commercial that had people stomping on little dolls that spewed out insults.

As always in the modern age, a number of indisputably funny commercials may still have left viewers wondering just what they were selling. had a guy kissing his new business card, but never mentioned that the company is a job agency; E*Trade had a monkey riding a horse past dead dot.coms; Cingular wireless had a series of ads that said nothing; and does anybody know what Accenture is?

The cost of a 30-second ad this year was reportedly $2.3 million, up from last year’s $2.1 million, which isn’t that much of a hike when you consider that ads were a bargain-basement $1.6 million in 1999.

By the way, according to Advertising Age, a comparable ad during the 1967 Super Bowl cost a measly $42,000.

This was the year of doubt. Last year fully 40 percent of the ads shown during the game came from 17 internet companies. But only three internet companies —, and E*Trade — decided to go ahead and pay the hefty price of $76,667 a second this year.

The war between credit cards quieted down some this year. VISA, as a National Football League sponsor, has always had the edge in terms of promotion, and this year both Discover card and American Express decided to stay out of the action.

MasterCard, on the other hand, took up the challenge. Unfortunately, it also produced two of the evening’s larger duds.

Ignoring the success of Temptation Island, one MasterCard ad touted a getaway sweepstakes prize for a winner and nine friends with a group of senior citizens in bathing suits. They were probably supposed to tug at heartstrings, but more likely sent viewers on a bathroom break.

The other was conceptually sound but visually dull — an auctioneer trying to sell priceless items like the letter B, the color red or gravity. Unfortunately the color red — which cries out to be loud — was presented on a small paint chip and the letter B was simply a large white letter. The tagline was, “Some things money can’t buy. …” Obviously a great ad is sometimes one of them.

VISA, on the other hand, hit one out of the park with its bunny commercial, in which two bunnies turn into a hundred while a store clerk tries to verify a check instead of simply approving a credit card.

Budweiser, long a Super Bowl staple, started out slowly, but by the second half the company was taking a dog into outer space, only to reveal the pooch as an alien who exclaimed “Whasssup!” This was followed by an ad that sent a pencil flying into a CEO’s posterior, a sure crowd pleaser.

Pepsi rocked all night long. Before Bob Dole did his backflip, a nice pregame ad had a kid balancing a full cup of the drink while zooming along on a roller coaster, only to later spill it all over himself when a pretty girl asks for the time.

A later ad had a guy stuck on a subway drinking a Pepsi and imagining himself in a hot tub surrounded by beautiful girls, only to find all the slobs on the subway are in the hot tub as well. Yet another had prisoners stealing a Pepsi machine rather than escaping jail, and another had a chess player who has dissed machines being attacked by them. Good stuff.

Great minds may or may not think alike, but two car companies had ads in which a car fell out of a tree: Dodge in the pregame show, and Volkswagen during the game. Whoops.

In the battle of small animals, this year’s EDS commercial, which saw men running down Spanish streets chased by a mad mob of squirrels, couldn’t top last year’s EDS effort, which featured cat herders. What’s coming next year, a basketball game with penguins?