Super Bowl Ads Mine Decades of Americana

Read more at: The New York Times

The advertising bowl that took place inside Super Bowl XLV on Sunday offered a wild — and somewhat welcome — ride through six decades of popular culture.

Thankfully, many viewers had probably fastened their seat belts before tuning in to Fox, considering that almost half the companies that bought commercial time in the game had something to do with the auto industry, among them nine car brands from A (Audi) to V (Volkswagen), along with Bridgestone, CarMax and

The traffic jam may be another sign of the postrecession recovery on Madison Avenue, but it made for occasional difficulty in distinguishing the Elantras from the Optimas.

It would also have been difficult to figure out most of the 60-plus commercials without a working knowledge of Americana or, at least, access during the game to Wikipedia (if not WikiLeaks). The spots dished up a dizzying — and at times ditzy — mélange of celebrity star turns, movie references, homages to television shows, snippets of songs and even hat-tips to other spots.

To fully appreciate the commercials, it helped to be at least passingly familiar with “Almost Famous,” “Back to the Future,” Roseanne Barr, Busby Berkeley, Justin Bieber, Adrien Brody, David Bowie, Diddy, the “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings, Howdy Doody, early video games, Thomas Edison and Eminem (who turned up in two spots, for Chrysler and Lipton Brisk).

Also, Facebook, geeks, “Glee,” Jimi Hendrix, Faith Hill, home-improvement TV series, Timothy Hutton, Janis Joplin, Kenny G, “Lassie,” Richard Lewis, nerds, “1984” (the novel) and “1984” (the Apple commercial from the 1984 Super Bowl).

Plus, Joan Rivers, silent movies, the Snickers spot from the 2010 Super Bowl, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, spy movies, “Star Wars,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Tiny Dancer,” “The Twilight Zone,” western movies, the “Where’s the beef?” commercial for Wendy’s and yuppies.

Whew. That is a big barrel of borrowed interest, to use the marketing term for wooing consumers by filling ads with familiar elements. The Super Bowl sponsors last year did it, too, rolling out proven draws like Kiss, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and Betty White, but they were pikers compared with the advertisers and agencies that raided the national memory banks on Sunday.