Every winter, we look to the splashy Super Bowl commercials for their entertainment value. But this year, with the economy in tatters and so many of us mired in misery, it’ll probably take more than some stupid animal tricks and talking babies to boost our saggy spirits.
Yes, I can just picture millions of sofa spuds on game day this weekend, coldly staring down their television sets, gritting their teeth and saying:
Pressure's on for big-game advertisers to bowl us over
“Good ahead, amuse me. Make me laugh - I dare you.”
Considering how so many businesses are downsizing and that the stock market has performed about as well as the Oakland Raiders, perhaps we should just be delighted a few American companies didn’t need a government bailout to fork over the record $3 million NBC is charging for a 30-second ad spot.
Sure, some Super Bowl mainstays, including General Motors and FedEx, have elected to sit this one out, citing the recession. But don’t go feeling sorry for NBC. Obviously, some money’s floating around.
Never mind NBC, though. What’s most important, of course, is us - the viewers. After a year of tightening our belts and gnawing on fingernails, we yearn to chill out and lose ourselves in the sweet, only-in-America orgy of excess that is the Super Bowl. We want to forget our troubles, let loose and be enthralled, if not by the game itself, then by those commercials with the sticker-shock price tags.
But are we expecting too much? By now, it has become cliche to say that people watch the Super Bowl for the ads - and that the ads are the best part of the telecast. But I’m not so sure that’s true anymore.
Think about it: Can you recall, in vivid detail, any Super Bowl commercial from this time last year? On the other hand, the New York Giants’ stunning victory over the New England Patriots sure was spellbinding.
In recent years, the highly hyped commercials have, for the most part, been huge letdowns. Too many have followed play-it-safe game plans. Too many have been as derivative and formulaic as a CBS crime show.
As for this year, I’ve already seen a handful of Super Bowl commercials on the Internet and so far I’m not feeling an audacity of hope. GoDaddy.com, for example, is once again relying on the sex appeal of race-car driver Danica Patrick in a couple of edgy - and unfunny - spots. Oh, how cutting-edge.
Also, we again have a lot of weird and wacky animals doing a lot of weird and wacky things. And though I have yet to see the spot, E-Trade is bringing back that creepy talking baby.
Let’s just pray that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals inject a little more originality than that into their playbooks.
In fairness, many ads are still under wraps. Perhaps the groundbreaking 3-D commercials (did you get your glasses?) promoting the DreamWorks film “Monsters vs. Aliens” and SoBe Life Water will blow our minds. Or maybe the Bridgestone Tire ad starring Mr. Potato Head will stop us in our tracks during a fridge run. And we can usually count on Anheuser-Busch to tickle our funny bones and/or tug on our heartstrings once or twice.
It could be interesting, also, to see if advertisers attempt, in any way, to strike a different tone given the dark economic times. Will they try to appear less over-the top? Will they be sensitive to the mood of the country? Along those lines, I’m thinking the old Nationwide Insurance commercial that shows rap star MC Hammer on the curb in front of his foreclosed mansion probably wouldn’t seem nearly so funny today.
Then again, maybe this year it really shouldn’t be about which commercials bowl us over with their humor, tone and entertainment value. Maybe this year it’s more about which companies can provide the enticing deals, discounts, incentives or must-have products that get us pumping money back into the economy once again.
In other words, they’ll really have to make their blitz plays count - and more than ever, the pressure is on. Can they perform at crunch time?