Humor, parody color Super Bowl ads

By DAVID BARRON Houston Chronicle

Yao Ming and Yogi Berra: Only in America.

The Rockets’ rookie center and the Yankees’ Hall of Fame catcher were paired Sunday night in one of the more memorable ads during ABC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XXXVII.

In the spot for Visa check cards, Yao attempts to write a check to purchase a cheesy replica of the Statue of Liberty from a New York souvenir shop that does not, alas, take checks. The shopkeeper replies, “Yo,” and points to the “no checks” sign. The player replies, “Yao,” pointing to himself.

After several repetitions of “Yo” and “Yao,” the Rockets center walks out in frustration. And in walks Berra, who is greeted by “Yo” and replies “Yo-gi.”

More than a hundred million people probably saw the ad air during the second quarter of Sunday’s game, but Yao was not among them.

He did, however, join his Rockets teammates in Memphis, where the team flew after a game in Chicago, and watched about five minutes of the third quarter.

And, yes, he now knows who Yogi Berra is, although he’s not yet familiar with Berra’s famed penchant for massacring the English language.

“He told me, ‘I am honored to work with Mr. Yogi,’ ” said Rockets broadcaster Bill Worrell. “He also said playing basketball is more fun than filming commercials.”

Yao’s appearance combined two elements — humor and celebrity — that dominated most of the day’s advertising.

And, with Berra’s unannounced appearance, it also included one of the few surprises that wasn’t made public before the game.

Fans who voted online at ESPN’s Web site selected Budweiser’s parody of instant replay, with a zebra officiating a game between teams of Clydesdales, as their favorite spot of the first half. It received 32 percent of the vote to 18 percent for FedEx’s Cast Away parody and 17 percent for Bud Light’s clown advertisement.

Yao’s ad for Visa was fourth with 14 percent of the vote.

In an unofficial Chronicle poll, favorites included Yao’s ad, the FedEx parody, Reebok’s hard-hitting Terry Tate: Office Linebacker, H&R Block fantasy of Willie Nelson being forced to shave his beard to raise money for back taxes and the Bud Light spot based around the assumption that women eventually resemble their mothers.

City Councilman Gabriel Vasquez, a former professor at the University of Houston, also liked the Osbourne family ad for Pepsi, in which Ozzy Osbourne dreams that his children have morphed into the Osmonds and his wife, Sharon, has been reincarnated as Florence Henderson.

“I liked George Foreman (for his George Foreman Grills), which I thought was very down to earth,” Vasquez said. “The only ones I really didn’t like were the Sierra Mist soft drink commercials, the Levi Strauss buffalo stampede and the 18-wheeler.”

Other busts, according to respondents, included Celine Dion’s singing endorsement of the Chrysler Pacifica, Sony’s electronics-crazed astronauts and HotJobs’ singing job applicants.

Although most of the ads opted for humor, only a few actually made a memorable point about their product.

Anyone who watched Jackie Chan and Michael Jordan shill for Hanes, for example, likely will remember that Hanes underwear now comes without itch-inducing tags.

Cadillac’s time-travel ad appeared to be a successful launch of three new vehicles, including the XLR convertible and the ESV sport utility vehicle, and the Terry Tate: Office Linebacker promo apparently will be the first of several appearances for that character.

ABC received an estimated $2.1 million for a 30-second spot from some advertisers, although some — including Gallery Furniture owner Jim McIngvale, who paid a little over $2 million for pre-game, in-game and postgame ads to publicize the Tennis Masters Cup — paid less.