Some Super Bowl Ads Score Big Praise

Some Super Bowl Ads Score Big Praise

By Suzanne Vranica

THE SUPER BOWL’S biggest winners last night included a commercial for Pepsi Twist starring rock singer Ozzy Osbourne; a Bud Light spot featuring a man wearing a dog on his head; and a vicious office worker who wreaks havoc in an ad for Reebok.

In the Pepsi Twist ad, by Omnicom Group Inc.’s BBDO Worldwide, Mr. Osbourne’s offspring turn into Marie and Donny Osmond. Luckily for him, Mr. Osbourne is having a nightmare. But his bad dream continues when he awakes to find his wife has turned into Florence Henderson from “The Brady Bunch.” “Pepsi Twist’s ad rocked,” said Tanya Quinones, a 26-year-old receptionist attending a Super Bowl party in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I have seen it three times and I am still laughing,” said Alan Siegel, chief executive of Siegelgale Inc., a brand consulting firm.

Brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos., a perennial favorite with Super Bowl viewers, scored with a spot, crafted by Omnicom’s DDB Worldwide, featuring a man who tries to sneak his dog into a bar. He sticks Rover on his head, creating the appearance of Rastafarian-like dreadlocks. “Cornball fun that will score big with viewers,” said Carla Hall, managing partner at DiMassimo Brand Advertising Inc. in New York. “That ad was hilarious,” agreed Margaret Reilly, a 56-year-old homemaker watching the game at a party in Bal Harbour, Fla.

Reebok International Ltd. may dominate water-cooler chatter today with a bruising but funny commercial that mimics the over-the-top violence often associated with football. “Reebok’s spot was harder-hitting than the game,” said Bill Ward, professor of advertising at Michigan State University in East Lansing. In the commercial, created by Omnicom’s Arnell Group and Hypnotic, an entertainment company owned by Enigma Media Inc., an oversize linebacker wearing a red football jersey mauls fellow office workers who are slacking on the job.

Scoring well with viewers in The Wall Street Journal Online’s poll was a commercial from FedEx Corp. that spoofed the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away.”

The Cinderella story of the game was Pfizer Inc.’s Trident gum ad featuring a squirrel that takes a bite out of a startled dentist. “It’s short, sweet, hilarious and it sells the product, all in 15 seconds,” said Mark D’Arcy, creative director at WPP Group PLC’s Young & Rubicam. The low-budget ad, from WPP’s J. Walter Thompson, stands tall among some of Madison Avenue’s most expensive work.

The lackluster economy added pressure on marketers looking for a hit with their ads. Advertisers paid on average $2.2 million for each 30-second spot, compared with $1.9 million a year ago. In 2000, as dot-com companies fought over ad space, many advertisers shelled out as much as $2.5 million for 30 seconds of ad time. As many as 130 million people were expected to watch in the U.S., with many paying closer attention to the commercials than to the football game.

Not all the ads scored with viewers. In an AT&T Wireless spot, Gilligan from “Gilligan’s Island” saves the day with his wireless phone. Clever? Not really, said some observers. “The ads are derivative,” said Randy Saitta, executive creative director at Merkley Newman, who noted that IKEA AB used “Gilligan’s Island” in a 1999 ad. AT&T Wireless’s second Super Bowl spot parodied the TV series “Antiques Roadshow.” Rival Sprint PCS Group used a similar spoof several years ago.

“You are in real trouble when you spend $2.2 million on 30 seconds of TV air time and you spend most of it running old TV footage — which has nothing to do with your brand,” said Michael Markowitz, who operates Markowitz & Associates, an ad-consulting firm in Santa Fe, N.M. WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather created AT&T Wireless’s ads.

Some spots may have overreached. Ad experts, for example, said they were confused by the Levi Strauss & Co. spot featuring a couple who mystically part a thundering herd of bison. “There will be no stampede to those jeans,” said Dave Regan, professor of advertising at Michigan State.

In the fast-food world, a spot for Quizno’s Corp. didn’t cut the mustard. The ad, by agency Cliff Freeman & Partners, featured a chef so engrossed in making the perfect sandwich that he forgot to put on his pants. “No pants, no punch,” said Mr. Ward at Michigan State. “Quizno’s wasted its money.”

Other big marketers also stumbled. In an ad for PepsiCo Inc.’s Sierra Mist, two monkeys in a zoo seek refuge from the hot sun by catapulting themselves into the polar bear den to enjoy a cold swim. “E*Trade’s monkey ads were Super Bowl material, but this monkey ad should be shown during `Baywatch,'” said Mr. D’Arcy.

One Bud Light ad, also by DDB, was off pitch. In it a smarmy guy attempts to pick up women on the beach using a seashell. A crab then pops out and grabs him. “It was a miss,” said Doug Ray, executive producer at DiMassimo.

Unlike in prior years, the dot-com ads left much to be desired. Yahoo Inc.’s Hotjobs commercial, with singing factory workers, is gloomy. Super Bowl rookie, a Web site owned by Fair, Isaac & Co. that enables consumers to check their credit ratings, focused on business. Brand and ad experts say most Internet concerns are trying too hard not to be associated with the Web, sacrificing qualities that made their commercials amusing. “The best thing about the dot-com boom was the advertising,” Mr. D’Arcy said. “Bring back”

Several car ads stood out. A beautifully shot commercial for General Motors Corp.’s Cadillac, set in a 1950s subway station, won praise, as did DaimlerChrysler AG’s Dodge ad. In that BBDO spot, a man helps his choking buddy dislodge a piece of beef jerky by hitting the accelerator, then slamming on the brakes. “It’s disgusting but hilarious,” Mr. D’Arcy said.