'Super’ ads fail to bowl critics over


‘Super’ ads fail to bowl critics over

Budweiser’s zebra hits spot, but many commercials a bit flat

By Rachel Brand, Rocky Mountain News

Action. Beer. Celebrities.

Advertisers sang their ABC’s at this year’s Super Bowl, dishing up pitches that were textbook and familiar.

“What if you gave a Super Bowl and no advertiser came?” asked Steve Koluskus, creative director at Extra Strength Creative Group.

“I see no new campaigns, no new ideas,” said David Schiedt, creative director for Italia Denver.

The Super Bowl is the Oscar night for the advertising industry, and the stakes are huge. For agencies, it can make or break reputations. For advertisers, it’s a multimillion-dollar gamble. For viewers, it’s one barometer of the American mood.

Koluskus and Schiedt gathered a dozen agency executives Sunday night to munch chips and critique the ads.

They pronounced two winners: the zebra spot by No. 1 brewer Anheuser-Busch and Reebok’s introduction of Terry Tate, a linebacker who pounds on office drones.

The Budweiser spot opens with a screen full of instant replay footage. Then it cuts to a snowy field and the company’s signature Clydesdale horses eyeing each other in puzzlement. A zebra stands in their midst, viewing the game on television.

Two cowboys size up the animal. “This referee’s a jackass,” says one. “Nope, I believe that’s a zebra,” replies his friend with a Western drawl.

The ad was applauded as a good extension of the Clydesdale theme.

“They’re keeping it fresh by doing something different,” Koluskus said.

“I just love the way the horses look at each other,” said Carol Williams, television producer.

In the Reebok spots, an actor playing the character “Terry Tate, office linebacker,” roams an office wearing Reebok shoes and a football jersey tackling annoying co-workers.

He attacks one for playing computer solitaire, another for faulty recycling.

“Slapstick – if you do it right – always gets me,” Schiedt said.

The spots were a glimmer of the creativity the Super Bowl is known for. Ever since Apple unveiled its historic 1984 commercial, the year’s most-watched television show has been a showcase for far-out creative.

But this year, national brands played it safe.

Their tactics may signal tight-fisted times or evoke a desperate reach for normalcy amidst troubling national and international news.

Some brands, such as Levi’s and Cadillac, employed surrealistic time-travel techniques to prove they’ve long been part of American culture.

Others turned to celebrity plugs and “meta-commercials” – references to old TV shows and movies.

H&R Block employed Willie Nelson as spokesman. Hanes hired Jackie Chan. Visa joked with the sound-alike words yo, Yao Ming and Yogi Berra.

“As we get more into this cycle of media, it’s media joking about media. It’s just an inevitable part of our culture,” said Adweek critic Barbara Lippert, in a conversation before the game.

Others said pop culture is easy to relate to, a safe bet.

“It’s the People-magazining of the Super Bowl,” said Extra Strength’s Brad Harrison. “It’s all star power.”

The critics panned the Subway commercial featuring Jared dreaming of a new sandwich. Most couldn’t remember its contents a minute later.

Said Schiedt: “Jared has the personality of a doorknob . . . ”

” . . . a Subway sandwich,” Williams interrupted.

“Maybe it’s working,” quipped another onlooker.

And a Coors Light ad featuring the tall, blond twins drew groans.

“Selling beer to young guys through twins. OK, formula, done,” Harrison said.