Scoring the 2009 Super Bowl Ads

Superbowl commercials as bad as the economy.

by Kim Freeman, Freelance Copywriter with special thanks to

Is there something about a lousy economy that makes advertisers go to nostalgia and slapstick? It seems those were the two popular routes taken this year, and in most cases, neither worked very well.

Bud Light in particular was very disappointing after so many great spots in the past. The spot where an office worker was thrown out a window for suggesting no more beer at meetings should have been shot down in the first agency presentation and the whole “Drinkability” approach is a non starter. One has to wonder if this is the alternative to the “non-drinkable” regular Budweiser.

Likewise, the Bud Light “Party starter” spot with Conan was pretty embarrassing, as was the skiing spot. Making skiers wreck with fake trees was another example of bad, undrinkable slapstick.

Of all the Bud spots, only the Budweiser Clydesdale playing fetch with a tree branch stood out. it was simple and enjoyable.

Usually, the Budweiser Clydesdale ads are beautiful, understated spots, but this year, they went overboard on the nostalgia with the “great Grandpa” Generations spot. And why would a third generation Clydesdale have an accent? Is Budweiser trying to seem like an import?

Other than the “golden morning light” in one shot, this one didn’t have the look of the classic Budweiser spots. In the “Daisy” ad, Budweiser is pushing too far away from the majesty of the Clydesdales and trying for kitschy comedy with cheesy music. Please, leave these icons with a little of the dignity they deserve.

Pepsi went for total all-out slapstick, stopping just short of Jackass. But it worked. Apparently men will endure all kinds of pain except for diet soda. The “true” part of this came from the comedy of always answering, “I’m good” no matter how bad the pain.

More slapstick showed up in the Doritos ads: the first with a guy getting smashed in the nads with a crystal ball, and then the guy who discovers the magic of the Doritos crunch runs out when the bag is empty gets hit by a bus. Good editing make this surprise ending work.

With a game so close going all the way to the end, a few advertisers may have wished they’d run spots later in the game. In the 4th quarter, there was a newcomer to the Super Bowl: Denny’s.

In a bid against against IHOP’s Rooty-Tooty-smiley pancake breakfast, the first Denny’s spot has thugs meeting for breakfast planning something sinister interrupted by noisy and profuse whip cream application. Quite funny. The best part was the tagline offer of a free Grand Slam breakfast on Tuesday. Really. Free. Not the usual, crappy, “Buy-one-get-one-for-half-price.” When’s the last time we got a totally free offer on national TV?

There were a lot of network ads this year and local spots, too. NBC in-house did a good job—if not better—than most of the agencies this year. The LMAO Clinic spot was especially outstanding.

Although Alec Baldwin as evil alien in the Hulu ad was really an NBC ad (and who else could afford a :60 during the Superbowl?) it was the one of the standouts of the evening. “An evil plot to destroy the world.. Enjoy.”

Alec Baldwin as evil alien out to destroy the world in Hulu ad

Perhaps the next closest thing to slapstick is butt humor, and Monster pulled off a comedy with a sad-sack, “need a new job” back office lackey perched under a giant Moose Butt.

Who the hell approved that?
On the “Huh?” end of the spectrum, we have the SOBE ads. What a mess. And disturbing, even with 3D glasses. No amount of gimmick and special effects can save a weak concept. This was basically a creepy, chaotic mess that didn’t make sense and will most likely scare away anyone who was considering the lizard beverage.

Career Builder was also a disappointment after several years of standouts. Note to agency creatives: don’t punch animals in your spots. The repetition made something that started out a funny “we understand” ad into a huge messy annoyance. It might even go on to spawn a new term to describe a potentially good ad gone bad: “Dude, you punched the Koala.”

Also on the “Who the hell approved that?” list was the mean Teleflora ad. Teleflora thinks it’s funny to slam their own customers? “Go home to your romance novels and your fat smelly cat,” the flowers say. They also told her nobody wants to see her naked. Awful. Cruel. And memorable enough to never use the service. This is a prime example only of how negative ads can sometimes backfire.

Another head-scratcher and bad use of the rhetorical question was the Toyota Venza ad. “Influenced by many. Defined by none.” At the end they ask, “Are you Venza?” Why would anyone answer with anything other than “No?

Most of the Super Bowl ads were just trying too hard. It might have been wiser to produce fewer over-the-top special effect monstrosities and more sensible, low-budget ads. Based on the class of 2009, perhaps the most telling indicator about our economy was that Cash4Gold dropped $3M on an ad–and with gold at $900/ounce this week, they just may get the biggest return on their investment.