Super Sell Sunday Super Bowl ads are overhyped, overgrown and even terrifying but we love to see them play
Super Sell Sunday Super Bowl ads are overhyped, overgrown and even terrifying, but we love to see them play
By Tom Shales THE WASHINGTON POST
Super Bowl? Super Mall. Commercials have become so prominent a part of the annual January rite that a commercial for America Online during this year’s game advised viewers that they could run to the Internet after play ended and “replay all your favorite Super Bowl commercials.”
In terms of production, the commercials generally were not lavish and most didn’t look outrageously costly.
FOOTBALL TOOK BACK some yardage from Madison Avenue with last night’s game from San Diego, however. It may have started slow but it was hardly a bust, and it included a spirited comeback attempt in the fourth quarter by the Oakland Raiders – who nevertheless lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-21.
Sponsors paid an average of $2.1 million for a 30-second spot on the ABC telecast, according to Wayne Friedman in Electronic Media, up 10 percent over last year’s prices despite the sluggish economy. In terms of production, though, the commercials generally were not lavish and most didn’t look outrageously costly.
Among the guaranteed crowd-pleasers was a spot for Pepsi Twist featuring those MTV-reality stars Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. Ozzy has a nightmare in which the children turn out to be Donny and Marie Osmond (good-naturedly spoofing themselves) in disguise.
The only thing better than getting Michael Jordan for your commercial, meanwhile, is getting three Michael Jordans, a neat computer trick pulled off by Gatorade. Jordan appeared as he is today, as he was in younger days and, for a kicker, as he was in still earlier days – a great basketball player no matter when, of course.
Jordan also appeared in an entertaining spot with Jackie Chan for Hanes underwear later in the game. Chan did all the work, however.
Another much-ballyhooed ad came off well: Willie Nelson’s spot for H&R Block, sort of a “reality commercial,” since Nelson played himself under assault by the IRS for back taxes, which actually happened. To make money, Nelson agrees to do the unthinkable – a commercial for shaving cream. The moral of the pitch: “Don’t get bad advice.”
Reebok introduced a promising if ultra-violent new character, “Terry Tate, office linebacker,” in a new commercial for its sports gear. Tate was employed to make an office a tight ship, literally mowing down employees who wasted time, or tackling them to the floor. He also screamed and yelled at them to get them to work harder.
Sony dared to build an arresting spot around an elderly man, a pleasant change from all the buff bods of young hotties and hunks.
MOVIES AND BEER
The most advertised products were movies and beer. ABC essentially let the Super Bowl become one big Super Spiel to promote the forthcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Terminator 3.” The star, looking a bit old for such high jinks, appeared in an “Are you ready for some football” taped opening, comparing football players to terminators. Both are “programmed to search and destroy,” he said. Arnold also uttered old Termy cliches like “Hasta la vista, baby.” It was kind of sad.
Then came graphics heralding “Super Bowl XXXVII – Rise of the Machines.” Huh? Had real live players been replaced by androids or robots? Much later, during an actual commercial for “Terminator 3,” the phrase “The Machines Will Rise” appeared. So that explained that. It seemed pretty chintzy of ABC to let the first commercial appear to be part of the program.
Schwarzenegger ended his introduction, incidentally, by removing sunglasses to reveal one gruesome gouged-out metallic eye, not just the thing parents may have wanted their kids to see as they all sat watching the first half.
Budweiser appeared to own the beer franchise, though ads for Coors and Michelob were sneaked in during the second half. Bud’s ads included distasteful spots, one involving a man with three arms, another about bargoers watching in disgust as a man in a clown suit appeared to pour the brew into his, um, rectal orifice. This was implied, not shown, but very graphically implied.
Some commercials, inevitably, were eye-poppers. In one ad a huge herd of buffalo roared through the empty streets of a big city. A young man and woman strolled down the middle of another street. Eventually they stood in the path of the charging buffalo, which roared past them. What a rush, huh? The kids were still standing at the end – in their new Levi’s jeans. Does that mean Levi’s protect you from buffalo stampedes? Perhaps they do; it’s not as if you’d get many chances to prove they don’t.
Sony dared to build an arresting spot around an elderly man, a pleasant change from all the buff bods of young hotties and hunks. The old man goes to Moscow. Why? To take a ride on the Russian space shuttle. He videotapes Earth from outer space for his grandchildren.
KISS KISS, BANG BANG
Dodge Trucks probably took the gross-out honors with a commercial about a man choking to death on a piece of beef jerky.
ABC’s promos relied heavily on sex and violence, especially desperately pandering spots for the action series “Alias,” which would air after the game. The spots boiled down to the “kiss kiss, bang bang” phrase that critic Pauline Kael once saw advertising a James Bond film in a foreign country. ABC showed the heroine in a bikini, sometimes a wet bikini, and guns being fired. These images took turns filling the screen.
Promos for ABC’s revival of the “Dragnet” series were slathered with blood and filled with violent imagery.
Many of the movie ads were violent, too, including those for the Bruce Willis film “Tears of the Sun”; the crash-bang comedy “Anger Management,” with Adam Sandler billed above Jack Nicholson, incredibly enough; Universal’s new version of “The Incredible Hulk,” not due in theaters until June 20 (write that down now); yet another action film, “Daredevil”; and two separate sequels to “The Matrix.”
Federal Express offered a good-natured, nonviolent movie parody: a scruffily bearded castaway (à la the Tom Hanks film) arrives at a woman’s door with the FedEx package he was attempting to deliver when marooned on an island. Ironically enough it contained seeds, tools and other items he could have used for sustenance.
Dodge Trucks probably took the gross-out honors with a commercial about a man choking to death on a piece of beef jerky. His friend driving the truck slams on the brakes and a bit of digested food flies out and splats on the windshield. Sierra Mist lemon-lime drink had the most unimpressive overproduced spots, one aping the monkey sequence from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
NBC entreated viewers to skip the stadium halftime show and tune over for a half-hour “Saturday Night Live” special starring “Weekend Update” anchors Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon. There were plenty of laughs jammed into the show, which included Horatio Sanz hilariously imitating Gene Shalit and Chris Kattan as that ugly little hairless creature in the new “Lord of the Rings” movie.
Director James Signorelli contributed a deft parody of the kind of super-annoying NFL promotional ad that ran during the Super Bowl. Fey was terrific and Fallon could handle his own talk show starting tonight if it were offered him.
But then it was back to the second half of the game on ABC and more commercials. Just before the game had started, Celine Dion, seemingly in pain of some kind, sang “God Bless America” and the Dixie Chicks nimbly performed the national anthem. Far above, Navy jets did a majestic fly-by over the stadium – but ABC’s director caught only a part of it. He did, however, give viewers a fine, unobstructed view of the “Qualcomm Stadium” sign. Super Sell XXXVII was underway.