Super Bowl football, not an ad

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JOHN HEINZL

Every year I hear people gripe because they don’t get to see U.S. ads on the Super Bowl. “The American ads are so much better than the Canadian ones,” they whine, which is like saying Chinese water torture is so much better than getting your fingernails pulled out.

They’re ads, okay? They interrupt the game.

If you must see U.S. commercials, go to a sports bar with a satellite dish or watch them on adcritic.com, which plans to post them on Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 28. (Good luck; I tried last year and the server was so busy I could have shot the ads myself in the time it took to download them.)

If you feel the need to expose yourself to more advertising, you can always tune in to CBS on the Saturday night before the big game for a show called Greatest Super Bowl Commercials. There, you will likely see audience members voting on their favourite Super Bowl ads of all time, the point of which is lost on me, but I don’t get Survivor, either.

Presumably, there will be commercials between the commercials, and perhaps one day people will vote on those, too, giving the networks another batch of ads to pass off as programming to an unsuspecting public.

Hasn’t this obsession with Super Bowl advertising gone a bit far? Are Super Bowl ads really so wonderful, or has Madison Avenue, whose powers of persuasion should never be underestimated, somehow convinced us that if we don’t watch the ads we’re missing the best part of the show?

Last year, the ads fell well short of the hype. A few U.S. commercials even made our own schlocky Tim Hortons and Canadian Tire spots look like festival winners. LifeMinders.com, for instance, aired a spot that showed a few words on a yellow background while someone played chopsticks on a piano. The ad billed itself, in a lame attempt at self-deprecating humour, as the “worst commercial on the Super Bowl.” It was.

Then there was the silly spot for on-line brokerage E*Trade that featured a monkey dancing to music while two men clapped. The punchline: “Well, we just wasted two million bucks.” That was one of the most celebrated ads, which is all you need to know about the others.

This year, thankfully, most of the dot-coms that crashed last year’s game have either gone bust or taken their ad dollars elsewhere. Just three — HotJobs.com, Monster.com and E*Trade — are expected in the lineup, down from 17 last year. The rest of the field will be rounded out by traditional advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch, Levi Strauss, Federal Express, Pepsi and Visa.

Partly because of the dot-com meltdown, plenty of commercial time remains up for grabs. As of earlier this week, CBS was still trying to sell about 10 per cent of its ad inventory — or six 30-second spots, which are going for between $2.3-million (U.S) to $2.4-million each. With so many companies spending millions on ads, no wonder word trickles down that they’re a must-see.

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