Star power not enough this year in Super Bowl ads

By Bruce Horovitz, Laura Petrecca, Theresa Howard and Erin Kutz, USA TODAY

The days of Super Bowl ads littered with celebrities may be numbered. Celebs of various sorts showed up in 18 ads this year, but not one cracked the top five in USA TODAY’s Ad Meter, an exclusive real-time consumer rating of the ads.

Shut out of even the top 10: Pepsi’s (PEP) high-priced Justin Timberlake, Carmen Electra for Ice Breakers, Shaquille O’Neal for Vitaminwater and Richard Simmons and Alice Cooper for Bridgestone. In the game’s celeb heyday of the 1980s, Michael Jackson could make a Pepsi ad an event, and Michael Jordan took ads into rare air. On the latest Super Sunday, some celeb ads even crashed.


How celebrity ads ranked in the 2008 Ad Meter:

No. 7: Charlie Brown, Coca-Cola

The top-rated celebrity in the game was a balloon: cartoon character and a perennial loser Charlie Brown. In this ad for Coke (KO), a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon of the Peanuts character beats balloons of Underdog and Family Guy‘s baby Stewie to grab a giant floating Coke bottle. Charlie helped Coke trump Pepsi for top soft-drink in Ad Meter.

No. 10: Naomi Campbell, SoBe Life Water

Supermodel Campbell, dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was upstaged by gyrating lizards. The lizards also made some viewers think the ad was for Geico, which has a gecko mascot. “Geico has the lizard market cornered,” says USA TODAY reader Michelle Couwenhoven. “SoBe not so much.”

No. 13: Shaq, Glacéau Vitaminwater

Shaquille O’Neal looks huge. The horse looks tiny. But that one-trick pony of a sight gag didn’t gallop Glacéau Vitaminwater — now a Coca-Cola brand — into Ad Meter’s top 10.

Give Shaq some credit, though: No stunt doubles were used in the making of this ad, even though just about everyone involved (including maybe the horse) wanted to hire one.

“I’m an all-purpose man,” O’Neal told USA TODAY. “I’m pretty good at riding the horse, being from Texas and all.”

No. 16: Cooper/Simmons: Bridgestone

Let’s see. Besides a raccoon or possum, what creatures might appear in the road in a night driver’s headlights? A deer, of course — and rocker Alice Cooper, above, and exercise guru Richard Simmons. Ironically, Bridgestone scored far better — No. 3 — with an ad starring just forest critters screaming than it did with putting these celebs in the woods.

No. 21: Justin Timberlake, Pepsi

This Pepsi ad was proof that Big Stars can’t always guarantee Big Ads. In the spot, Timberlake is inexplicably yanked into a series of hazards by a young woman sucking her Pepsi through a straw. One laugh: Timberlake gets caught on mailbox post, and his crotch gets crunched not once, but three painful times. Cosmic punishment, perhaps, for his hand in Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction.”

No. 23: Adriana Lima, Victoria’s Secret

It sounds like a recipe for love: sultry supermodel Adriana Lima in lingerie with Brenda Lee’s I’m in the Mood for Love playing in the background. But it was a so-so turn-on for Ad Meter panelists. The ad was shot in one take, and Limas told USA TODAY her instruction was to “think about your boyfriend watching the Super Bowl and you are trying to get his attention.”

Lima tried her darnedest, but it was an unusually exciting game.

No. 28: Barkley/Wade, T-Mobile

Basketball all-star Dwyane Wade can’t get Charles Barkley off his case. No matter where Wade goes, Barkley finds him on his cellphone. Problem: The ad goes on for 60 seconds instead of 30. Ad Meter panelists wanted to hang up on it. So did USA TODAY reader Richard Shapiro of Tampa, who said that the ad “made it very clear to me NOT to get a T-Mobile phone.”

No. 38: Will Ferrell, Bud Light

Will Ferrell was a hit on Saturday Night Live. Ditto for his string of films, including Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights. In this Bud Light commercial, however, based on his character in his upcoming basketball flick, Semi-Pro, Ferrell shot an air ball with the Ad Meter panel.

No. 44: Carmen Electra, Ice Breakers

Carmen Electra apparently is supposed to be funny in this poorly ranked spot in which a fan impresses her (and upsets her bodyguards) by offering her some Ice Breakers Ice Cubes gum. He is wrestled to the ground for his troubles.

The Ad Meter panelists were less impressed — and forgot to laugh. Maybe they could find some comic relief in her Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease exercise videos.

No. 48: Danica Patrick,

Race car driver Danica Patrick may have crashed and burned what seemed a promising ad career by showing up in this oh-so-tacky Go Daddy commercial — actually a promo to go online for the even tackier “real” ad rejected by Fox. She unzips the top of her racing suit, hinting there’s more online. There’s not — only a tasteless joke involving a live rodent. Wave her off the track.

Some of the faces in the crowd

No. 8: Missy Elliott, Diet Pepsi Max. The singer led a celeb-filled cast, including LL Cool J, Macy Gray and Busta Rhymes. The premise: Diet Pepsi Max, with ginseng and extra caffeine, cures nodding off. The ad, with its pumping dance track (What is Love), perked up Ad Meter panelists.

No. 9: Faux Ugly Betty: Planters. Christa Woomer, 32, is not America Ferrera of Ugly Betty, but the reference was clear. The mono-browed faux-Betty who sent lads swooning to the tune of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You also outsmarted the beautiful people. “Pretty girls have their place,” she says, “but it’s wonderful to show a little less glamorous character. Most of us don’t look like Victoria’s Secret models.” They can, however, finish 14 spots higher in Ad Meter than a real one.

No. 12: Carlos Mencia, Bud Light. Mencia is the famous face, but his co-stars steal the ad as immigrants he tutors in picking up women.

No. 18: Chester Pitts, National Football League. It was an ad for the self-promoting NFL, but this endearing story of a grocery bagger becoming an NFL star scored at least a field goal in Ad Meter.

No. 29: Bill Frist/James Carville, Coca-Cola. Coke figured election-minded viewers would love seeing the former GOP senator bond with a famous Democrat over a Coke. Maybe next year Coke should try George Bush and Al Gore.

No. 42: Alex Rocco, Audi. This parody of the horse-head scene from The Godfather may have jarred film fans because Rocco was a different character in the 1972 film. Then again, a lot of viewers weren’t born when the film was made.