Super Bowl's TV commercials largely fumble

Read more at: SFGate

The first runaway hit among this year’s Super Bowl commercials was leaked to YouTube three days before the game, featuring a child in a Darth Vader costume who seemingly uses the Force to start his dad’s car.

It was downhill from there Sunday, with Richard Lewis replacing Betty White, pointless violence filling in for wit and a tasteless streak that should cement at least two of this year’s ads on all-time worst lists. Armchair Mad Men complain every Super Bowl that the latest collection of ads is among the most disappointing ever. This year, it’s a fair assessment.

How bad were the ads?

— The first two commercials for Pepsi Max featured the same punch line at the end: someone getting hit in the face with a can.

— rekindled memories of the Holiday Inn fiasco of 1997, creating an advertisement with a payoff at the expense of a transvestite.

— Along with commercials poking fun at elderly people in a retirement home, Groupon premiered an amazingly tone-deaf commercial about Tibet. It featured Timothy Hutton declaring “the people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in jeopardy” … before boasting about the half-off coupon he received at a Stateside Tibetan restaurant.

You know it’s a bad year when the perpetually misogynist ads don’t even register an honorable mention on the worst-of list.

There were a few bright moments. Bridgestone tires had a series of clever, upbeat and mayhem-free advertisements, including a beaver that saves a careful driver from a collapsing bridge. The ETrade talking baby had a nice moment with his tailor, Enzo, and two of the three fan-made Doritos spots were winners. (The third, featuring a guy who licks the cheese dust off other people’s fingers, was appetite suppressing – but at least it was memorable.)

And an inspiring runner-up to little Darth Vader arrived courtesy of Eminem of all people. Following a lesser ad earlier in the game for Lipton Brisk ice tea, the rapper narrated and appeared in a pulse-pumping pro-American manufacturing spot for Chrysler. Like very few of the 2011 Super Bowl ads, it picked up on the national zeitgeist and left viewers feeling good.
From there it was more sex, violence and weirdness. Even the little Lord Vader, when he finally appeared, was a mild disappointment. (Volkswagen aired a shortened version of the YouTube clip.)

All that’s left to debate is whether the advertisers were having an off year or the badness was indicative of a greater decline in culture. Witnesses to the Black Eyed Peas audaciously bad halftime show might be tempted to choose the latter. A year after the Who was widely viewed as a disappointment, guitarist Pete Townshend and his low-hanging gut would have been a welcome sight.