I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen and heard enough about Super Bowl XXXVIII next Sunday. I’ve studied the charts, seen some of the action clips on television and the internet, and I have my winner.
It’s the Frito-Lay commercial featuring two barely ambulatory grandparents who get out of their chairs and race each other across the room for a bag of potato chips. Grandma gets the early lead but Grandpa trips her with his cane. When she tries to get up, Grandpa pushes her back down with his cane and ambles past. He wins, but looks back to see that Grandma has taken his dentures.
Sounds like a winner in my book in what has become a game within the game. In many living rooms, the contest between Carolina and New England will take second billing. InsightExpress, a research firm, found that 54 percent of the country will tune in to the game, and half of them say they will watch specifically because of the commercials. There are even sports books that will allow you to bet on the winning Super Bowl ad as determined by the USA Today poll.
Super Bowl commercials have become a big deal, as well they should considering it costs $2.3 million for a 30-second spot. And considering the game will attract a TV audience (about 90 million in the U.S. alone) that more than triples that of the top-rated network show (CSI, about 26 million), it’s expected that companies will put their best feet forward.
Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. Many overdo it from a silliness standpoint and fail to get their message across. And others are just downright ordinary, not even worthy of weekly network airing.
It seems the majority of the commercials are pure slapstick, designed to make you laugh more than give you compelling reasons to buy a product. Others, like car commercials in recent years, promote their products but fail to connect with viewers because they aren’t funny.
A couple days ago, I began to write a list of my favorite commercials over the years, and I was torn between those that made me laugh and those that did the best job of selling their product. I tried to reach a happy medium, but I’m not sure I did. Here are my favorites, in order:
Bud Bowl I. It wasn’t the funniest, but the series of games that began in 1989 between Bud and Bud Light certainly was unique and drew a lot of attention. In subsequent years, bookies even took bets on who would win the game between the animated, helmet-wearing bottles. Several games were won with trick plays.
The E-Trade dancing monkey. Two old men sit in a garage, clapping out of beat while a monkey dances on a garbage can. After 25 seconds of this nonsense, the announcer says: “We just wasted two million dollars. What are you doing with your money?” Did you get their message? Yes, loud and clear.
Herding cats. I could have watched that one over and over because of the sensational graphics of Marlboro Man-type cowboys herding a bunch of furballs across the plains. Like so many viewers, though, I had to go back and look up the name of the sponsor. It was Electronic Data Systems.
Dirty Birds. The Nissan Maxima commercial in 1997 just hit a funny bone. Three pigeons hovered over a car wash, waiting for a cleaned car to come out so they could get it dirty again. A Maxima races out, and the birds chase it in Top Gun fashion. Just as they catch up, the car pulls into a garage, the door comes down, and the birds crash into it.
Talking Frogs. Eight years later, how many of you remember, or still say, “Bud…Weis…Errr”?
Instant Replay. Last year’s commercial featured a football game between the Budweiser Clydesdales, and the game was stopped while the referee, a zebra, consulted the instant replay screen. When the real game resumed, Tampa Bay challenged a call on the kickoff and instant replay reversed the decision.
FedEx’s apology. Very simple, very inexpensive and very effective. In 1998, this commercial ran with nothing more than a color bar and scrolling message that said the intended commercial, featuring singer Garth Brooks and dancing kangaroos, could not been seen because the ad agency had not used FedEx to deliver it.
There are others, such as the prophetic Apple ad 20 years ago that introduced the Macintosh computer, an excited Cedric the Entertainer shaking up a Bud bottle and accidentally spraying his date in 2001, and the McDonald’s game of “horse” played in 1993 between Michael Jordon and Larry Legend.
Will another 30-second spot next Sunday join the list of legendary commercials? Yes, if the rest of the race between Grandma and Grandpa is as funny as the opening seconds that have been previewed. My darkhorse this Sunday, no pun intended, is the Bud spot about a donkey that wants to become a Clydesdale.
Warner Hessler can be reached at 247-4648 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org