Bud is toast of bowl ads


A panel of experts looks at what might pay off for commercials costing $2 million for 30 seconds.

By TONY SAAVEDRA The Orange County Register

There were the usual yucks. The coy teasers.

And a commercial that some advertising experts said made them want to cry — and buy more Budweiser.

Anheuser-Busch and its nine spots during Super Bowl XXXVI won the most raves among a panel of filmmakers, commercial producers and advertising executives assembled Sunday by the Register.

Besides the usual high jinks that are a staple of Budweiser commercials, there was what some saw as an elegant, emotional spot featuring the Clydesdales, genuflecting toward New York City in tribute to the thousands killed Sept. 11.

“It had a holy feeling that I wasn’t expecting, and it moved me,” said Janice Arrington, Orange County’s film commissioner, whose job, in part, is to get commercials filmed here. “If I wasn’t sure what beer I wanted to drink, that would make me want a Bud Light.”

The Super Bowl is traditionally where advertising pulls out its big guns and showcases its best and brightest commercials. It’s the place where “Whassup?” was born. But this year’s Super Bowl, in the midst of a devastating advertising recession, had traditional advertisers bowing away from the reported price tag of $2 million per 30-second spot.

Many of those who did advertise chose a patriotic tone, an attempt to celebrate America’s heritage, from its vintage cars to its vintage soft drinks.

Then, there were the serious messages, including a tribute by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and two White House spots linking buying drugs with financing terrorists.


The real buzz, according to the Register’s panelists, was created by the regal Clydesdales.

“It gave me goose bumps, and you have to give anybody credit who can give you goose bumps in 30 seconds,” said Bob Owen, a scriptwriter from Owen & Owen in Mission Viejo.

Giuliani’s thank-you to America, filmed in black- and-white and set against a stark New York skyline, failed to generate the same emotion among the panel.

Eric Spiegler, group creative director for the advertising firm Foote, Cone and Belding, Southern California, said he was bothered that the Giuliani spot carried Monster.com’s logo. Budweiser left its name off the Clydesdale commercial.

Arrington had a different reason for disliking the Giuliani spot.

“I thought his eyes were wandering while he was reading the prompter.”

Budweiser also scored high among judges with its humorous fare – the falconer whose bird fetches Bud Lights from terrified patrons at a sidewalk café; the woman who frets over what Valentine’s Day card to buy her boyfriend, while he just picks one up at the liquor store during a beer run; or the husband who dives for a Bud that his wife has strategically placed on their bed – only to slide off the satin sheets and through the window.

The beer brewer also ran a commercial touting the wisdom of using a designated driver.

“They appealed to the patriotic, to the all-American, to a cross-section that anybody can relate to,” said Art Royce, an Irvine-based producer of commercials.

“They got my allegiance, they really made me feel a good sense that they were with the country.”


Pepsi’s much-heralded spots with pop diva Britney Spears had a comforting, nostalgic feel, although some panelists said it lacked creativity.

“There’s not much going on there, except Britney Spears is a big star and she has a lot of fans and Pepsi has had a lot of jingles,” said Spiegler.

Arrington enjoyed the Pepsi commercials, featuring Spears traveling in time through the ’50s, ’60s and so on, singing Pepsi jingles.

“They suddenly came back to me,” Arrington said.

Vern Vihlene, a Laguna Hills film producer, gave the Pepsi commercials a six on a scale of 10.

“Retro always works, (but) it’s been done many times before,” Vihlene said.

“I didn’t see the creativity this year.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’ve had two kind of weak years in a row.”

If you missed the second half of the game, you’re probably wondering what an “mlife” is.

AT&T ran four spots depicting a farmer, two bookkeepers and a Chinese grandfather all extolling the virtues of an “mlife” – without explaining what it is.

The answer finally comes in a fifth commercial: mobile phones.

Was the mystery worth the payoff? Some of the panelists had their doubts.

“I think they wasted a lot of money,” said Vihlene. “It leaves people puzzled and may not entice enough of them to check it out.”

The Coen brothers, known for such cinematic feats as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Fargo,” scored with their depiction of a tax expert droning about the new laws to a sterile room full of tax preparers.

They, in effect, produced a commercial that was intentionally boring with the underlying message, “Let H&R Block do the tedious stuff.”

“What a horrible subject, but I think it will be effective,” Vihlene said.

The spot for the new CTS model Cadillac was an attempt to appeal to the 40-and-over crowd, the folks whose dads drove Caddys.

The commercial shows a vintage Caddy traveling through time and encountering the new version, with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” playing in the background.

That one, the panelists said, was a fumble.

“There was nothing that said, ‘Here, watch me, this is special,'” said Owen.

“There was no statement made. It was too subtle for the Super Bowl.”