Super Bowl Ad Lineup -- It's a Zoo

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/01/26/DD141433.DTL

John Carman

I’m not precisely sure what Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) does, except make funny TV commercials.

On Super Bowl Sunday, that’ll do.

EDS was a crowd favorite last year with its “Herding Cats” spot, in which frustrated cowboys tried to herd unruly cats along the trail.

This year, the Texas-based company is back with another commercial that’s likely to jump out from the Super Bowl clutter.

Called “Running With the Squirrels,” it’s slotted for the first quarter of the game between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants.

You’ve seen venturesome men daring death in the annual run with the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, Spain.

Same idea. But squirrels, not bulls.

“When you’re running with these animals,” says one dead-serious participant,

“the one thing you can never do is show fear.”

SQUIRRELS AS BUSINESS RIVALS

Filmed near Madrid with production values that would be the envy of any full-size TV show, the 60-second spot reminds business owners that it’s “quick,

nimble” competitors they need to worry about, and that EDS can help.

Because you’ll want to know on Sunday, maybe, the eight squirrels used to film the commercial were all orphaned in infancy and hand-raised by trainers. The rodent stars have names, too, including Rocky, Scooty, Skippy and Goober.

There’s no uniform price to place commercials in the Super Bowl. But Advertising Age magazine reports that CBS charged clients this year anywhere from just under $2 million for 30 seconds to upward of $2.4 million.

The rate is so high that E-Trade, the Menlo Park-based online brokerage, pointed out the extravagance in a Super Bowl spot last year.

The spot featured a monkey standing on a bucket and dancing for half a minute to “La Cucaracha.” Then E-Trade told viewers, “Well, we just wasted $2 million. What are you doing with your money?”

MONKEY BUSINESS

E-Trade returns to the big game this year with a new monkey-mercial, which is being kept under wraps until it airs on Sunday.

“Our brand deals with a very serious issue, your financial future, but it does so with a smile and an honesty that’s very true to today’s consumer attitudes,” says E-Trade marketing chief Michael Sievert.

“It’s important that people don’t just know E-Trade. We want them to like the brand. The Super Bowl is a great venue to build that kind of preference.”

E-Trade was part of a dot-com parade in last year’s Super Bowl, when Internet companies accounted for nearly half of the commercials. In the brutal shakeout since then, some of those firms have died. Only three dot-coms — HotJobs.com, its rival Monster.com and E-Trade — are back this year.

The new HotJobs commercial is called “Gravity Balls.” That’s the name for the popular desk toy with the swinging metal balls. One ball breaks free in Sunday’s commercial, rolling across the office building and onto the street, to the tune of the Mamas and the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go.”

The implied message, as the ball comes to rest in a kids’ marbles game, is that the online jobs site can help you break out of a rut and find more rewarding work. It’s a sweet tie between concept and visual symbolism.

Some of the other Super Bowl commercials you’ll either forget instantly or be talking about on Monday:

— San Francisco’s Levi Strauss simulates an organ donor episode, with an apparent medical team called to the spot when a young man falls off his carousel horse. The prize, rushed to a lucky recipient via helicopter and ambulance, turns out to be a pair of “re-issued” 569 Levi jeans. It’s risky humor, and might leave viewers feeling a vaguely unsettling edge in their chuckles.

— First-time advertiser Accenture is heavily into the Super Bowl, with several spots intended to establish a company name that used to be Andersen Consulting. The theme: “Now it gets interesting.” In one spot, called “Car Salesman,” a customer vanishes from behind the wheel while taking a luxury sports car on a test drive. Seems a bit obtuse, though the Accenture brand name is beginning to sink in.

— Subway restaurants will feature its poster boy, Jared Fogle, a doctor’s son from Indianapolis who lost 245 pounds eating Subway turkey sandwiches for lunch and veggie sandwiches for dinner. Aside from Fogle’s feat, it’s an unremarkable spot, and not exactly brand spanking new for the Super Bowl. It premiered on TV earlier this month.

— MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign chugs along with two new commercials. At a snooty auction house, the letter “B,” the color red and gravity are put up for auction. But, of course, they’re among the “things money can’t buy — for everything else, there’s MasterCard.” A second spot, featuring senior citizens cavorting at a lake with old friends, doubles as an invitation to register for a MasterCard sweepstakes contest to win a resort vacation.

— Pepsi-Cola hawked Mountain Dew last year. This year, the spotlight falls on the Pepsi brand, with a “joy of Pepsi” theme. In one commercial, former Sen.

Bob Dole spoofs his role as a Viagra pitchman. He tells us he’s found a product that “makes me feel vigorous, and most importantly, vital again.” But this product is packaged in cans and bottles. Another crisply produced spot stars chess champ Garry Kasparov.

— Pizza Hut presents Penn & Teller performing trickery in the cause of stuffed-crust pizza. The idea is that you’re supposed to eat it backward. In one spot, Teller’s head twists in a Linda Blair-styled 360-degree spin to demonstrate. Fine, but the main thing is that the pizza looks pretty darned tasty. They do deliver, right?

— Visa, based in San Mateo, promotes its “check card” with a spot set at a pet store. A dad wants to buy a pet rabbit for his daughter. But the process of writing and clearing a check takes so long that the rabbits multiply. It’s no knee-slapper, but makes its point.

— Anheuser-Busch is all over the Super Bowl, as usual. The Budweiser brewer didn’t make its commercials available in advance. But before I’d bet on the Ravens or Giants, I’d lay odds that the expression “whassup?” will be heard.

E-mail John Carman at [email protected].

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page D1