Super Bowl ads: Which scored, and which fumbled?

Highlights of the commercial game

By David Hiltbrand

Inquirer Staff Writer

Timing was everything for Budweiser’s ad featuring Clydesdale horses. A zebra, officiating a football game between the horses, views a replay of the game. Coincidentally, the next play in the real game was challenged, and the official went to the replay booth.

The Super Bowl game itself is usually anticlimactic, as was last night’s rollover, which left us wondering who brought the bigger choker to San Diego: Shania Twain or Al Davis? But long after we’ve forgotten the final score, we’ll remember the TV commercials. In fact, a recent survey concluded that 40 percent of us watch the game primarily to see the ads.

The year’s biggest TV event is also a glorious, high-stakes showcase for Madison Avenue. With a television audience topping 100 million people, advertisers use the occasion to unveil their best and brightest. Of course, when you’re paying upwards of $2 million for 30 seconds of airtime, you’d better bring your A-game.

Humor was the hook for the best of the ads, as it always is. But perhaps it’s indicative of the troubled economic times that, overall, yesterday’s spots didn’t have the surprising bite we’ve come to expect on Super Bowl Sunday. Even the cleverest seemed to embrace the familiar.

The best of the night: The evening’s most inspired ad, for Pepsi Twist, served up pop culture with a wicked twist.

Ozzy Osbourne, the frazzled star of MTV’s hit reality show The Osbournes, is in the kitchen muttering to himself when his terrible teens, Jack and Kelly, walk in and reveal that they are the Osmonds, Donny and Marie. She’s a little bit country, and he’s a little bit rock and roll.

Ozzy wakes up in a cold sweat. It was all a terrible nightmare. He turns to tell his wife of his dream. But instead of Sharon, he finds that ’70s family-show icon, Carol Brady (played by Florence Henderson).

That twist is a homage to Bob Newhart. In the final episode of the Newhart show, Newhart awoke to find a previous television wife by his side. But it also showed how altered the TV family model has become.

(Last night’s commercials were big on tube nostalgia, even reviving Gilligan’s Island for mLife.)

Anheuser-Busch Inc., the game’s biggest ad buyer, had some fun with the NFL’s instant-replay rule.

Budweiser’s mighty Clydesdales thundered over snow-covered ground. The footage kept jumping back and repeating. Then, we saw a zebra peering into a video monitor on a field. Now we get it: The horses are engaged in one of their now-familiar pasture football games. And the zebra is studying instant replay. Two cowboys lean against a fence watching. One says, “This referee is a jackass.”

This spot was a clever story advance for an old campaign (as was the game’s updated flower-shop commercial featuring the Barber twins, Tiki of the New York Giants and Ronde of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

And what timing: The very next play in the game was challenged by Tampa Bay, resulting in the official scurrying over to the replay booth. Even $2 million can’t buy you a coincidence like that.

Reebok had a winner with a self-referential gridiron theme. As a CEO calmly describes how much production is up since Terry joined the firm, we see the aforementioned new hire. Wearing a football jersey, the bald behemoth lays bone-crushing tackles on a series of white-collar office geeks. Boom! Splat! Then he lectures them loudly on their transgressions: late reports, missed meetings, long-distance calls.

It’s Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, an exquisite blindside collision of the civilized and the barbaric.

Diet Pepsi, in a clever spot, managed to evoke youth, freedom and abandon – then snatched it away hilariously.

While a metal band hammers away on stage at a big rock festival, the crowd is sloshing around in the mud right in front of the stage. Down in the mosh pit, a guy covered in mud looks at the happy headbanger to his left. His jaw drops open. “Dad?” he says incredulously.

Best film teaser:Hollywood studios were snapping up Super Bowl ads as if they were beer nuts. Among some adrenalized eye-openers (Bad Boys II; Matrix Reloaded), the most intriguing was the commercial for The Hulk. The big guy looks absolutely awesome.

As you saw him tossing tanks as if they were throw cushions, you couldn’t help wishing the Raiders had been able to draft him with one of those picks they got for Jon Gruden.

The worst ads:Commercials at their best should surprise or entertain us. They certainly aren’t designed to repulse. But three spots last night managed to do just that. We have a three-way tie for grossest Super Bowl ad:

A clown comes into a bar upside down, walking on his hands, and orders a Bud Light. As the bartender and patrons look on with disgust, the clown puts the bottle up to his gluteus maximus. Yuuck!

We finally get to see why only four out of five dentists recommend Trident. The fifth was having his private parts attacked by a squirrel. Didn’t need that image.

A construction worker shows us how to use a Dodge Ram truck for the Heimlich maneuver, getting his coworker to disgorge a chunk of beef jerky on the windshield. The wrong kind of gag.