Lippert's Super Bowl Ad Critique

Denny’s, Pedigree, E*Trade and job sites score

Free stuff. And public service. That’s what I think viewers are looking for in this Super Bowl of our economic discontent.

First-time advertiser Denny’s is all over the free stuff: the restaurant chain offers up a spot with a mafia motif in which the joke is so clever that it makes up for using a moldy 2006-era Sopranos-style theme. Some wiseguys are having breakfast at another pancake chain, and the sound of the whip cream coming out of the can to decorate (or decimate) the innocent flapjacks with happy smiley faces makes it impossible for them to hear.

It’s a beautifully produced scene, but the next cut is what will get Americans cheering: an offer of a gratis Grand Slam Breakfast on Tuesday.

Free food trumps a good joke, but this spot offers both.

Pedigree is another first-timer, and its spot offers up a twist. This ad for dog food never shows a single hound. It examines a world without dogs, in which hogs and other under-domesticated beasts are used as pets. The visuals call to mind Roomba commercials, but those unfortunately linked the unlikely household animals with husbands.

Pedigree’s payoff is that the spot promotes doggie adoption. Who could be against that? Plus, it’s not like it pulls on our heartstrings by showing skinny big-eyed dogs plaintively staring at us from cages.

It’s unexpected and civic minded — with a bigger idea than where our next bowl of kibble is coming from.

In this economy, it makes sense that both and CareerBuilder are spending the big bucks.

Monster surprised me with a really strong spot. It opens with opera music and a shot of a lavishly appointed office — the kind of place Mussolini might have run the trains from. The camera pans across the room until we get a behind-the-scenes view of a guy sitting under a giant ass — the back end of a moose whose head is hung on the wall above a mahogany desk in the next room. It might make people who are jobless laugh and realize that their present condition could be worse.

Similarly, CareerBuilder leaves the chimps for a spot that plays on knowing when you really hate your job.

Although both sites no doubt advertise lots of jobs of dubious quality, both spots get us to think about but what we would do in the world of work if we had our druthers, and that’s gotta be an idea that resonates.

What does it say about our times when advertisers like Cash4Gold and Denny’s outdo Budweiser on the Super Bowl?

Like house and car loans, the industry is upside down. Having Doritos’ civilian filmmakers win the USA Today poll for most-popular Super Bowl spot proves it.

“Step back from guacamole and put the chicken fingers down,” the Boss instructed us during his halftime show. And we were happy to follow.

The Super Bowl is an artificial holiday, the kind of free entertainment that means more in a bad economy. Luckily, the game was actually thrilling; it was the gift that kept on giving. And the ads that resonated weren’t violent or slapstick. They were more like comfort food for thought.

“Refresh Anthem,” the Pepsi spot that used Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” redone by, felt right for the post-inaugural moment. Dylan is an exceedingly verbal troubadour. As such, he might have been the first rapper of the folk world, so it was smart to link him with Plus, the clever spot was perfectly executed.

I liked both of the Coke spots. The animation was exquisite and the message was the “real thing” in terms of the brand’s history. Even so, neither hit the majestic heights of last year’s commercial that focused on a Macy’s balloon.

Pepsi seemed to exchange places with Budweiser this year — right down to its Sybil-like complement of IDs. We got violent slapstick spots for Pepsi Max … and then there was PepSuber. I liked how they knowingly sold out the SNL skit and kept making fun of it. Meanwhile, those three syllables — Pep, Su, Ber — nest in your brain and never leave.

Speaking of gelatinizing brains, the Hulu spot with Alec Baldwin was spot-on. In terms of making fun of his own bloated persona, he’s heading squarely into Shatner territory. And the spot was inspired.

E*Trade’s “talking babies” were show-stoppers. You have to love that one infant who tells the other to stop singing “Love lift us up where we belong” because it’s “not the venue.” Great dialogue and mouth matching.

Let’s get to the bad spots. Teleflora was so awful that it exploded the space/time continuum. Speaking of coffins, H&R Block seemed to build itself a nice one by using the Grim Reaper, voiced by Abe Vigoda. What were they thinking?

Then there’s Doritos, No. 1 on the USA Today Admeter poll with a spot that not only encourages theft, butt ends with a poor old codger getting hit in the nuts. What a way to sell a salty snack!

The brand also scored at No.5 for a similarly miserable spot featuring an unclothed woman and fake flying banknotes.

I can only imagine that those polled have been programmed over the years to respond to crotch jokes. And when they saw the cavalcade of violent and stupid clichés in both spots (including getting hit by a bus, ha ha!), their hand-held meters forced their votes.

I would rank Doritos with GoDaddy, which forced one of my fellow Super Bowl Twitterers to respond, “I Want My Mommy!”

And that’s the way it is, in this era of ads as comfort food.