Any Super Commercials?

Well, the ceremonial Gatorade has been dumped, The Who offered up a laudable fifteen minutes of song, the script on the field didn’t go quite as the pundits and oddsmakers had written it–and (as a result) the Ain’ts ain’t no longer!

The question “Who dat gon’ beat dem Saint’s?” has finally been answered with a resounding “no one!”; so: congratulations New Orleans, after all these years, hats off to you!

It was quite a Super Bowl, all things considered. But how about the ads? Did they live up to expectations? Or even surpass them? Well, like art, cuisine, literature, fashion, human attraction — any number of subjective undertakings — it probably depends on who you ask. Which is why, we should ask you!

Before I do, consider some of the early reviews.

In The Los Angeles Times Charles R. Taylor, Professor of Marketing at Villanova University, was quoted as observing that this year’s focus had shifted from entertainment more toward an emphasis on product. And surely CarMax took a stab at this, but I didn’t see as much effort at edifying viewers as Taylor did. listed the following as their top-ten ads–few, if any, pure informericals:

  1. E-Trade: Jealous Girlfriend

  2. Anheuser Busch: Clydesdale Friend

  3. Doritos: Dog Gets Revenge

  4. Google: Parisian Love

  5. VW: Punching Game

  6. Dennys: Grand Slam

  7. KGB: Sumo Wrestling

  8. Coke: Sleep Walking

  9. Doritos: Play Nice

  10. Dodge Charger: Mans Last Stand

And identified their top five spots as follows:

  1. Lost Parody

  2. Casual Fridays

  3. Coke: Simpsons

  4. Doritos Play Nice

  5. Google: Parisian Love

Fan reaction appears to be akin to a broken-field run after a fumble recovery. Judging from comments on this site, there is a lot of support for the Doritos “playing nice” spot, a vote here and there for Mom Tebow’s anti-abortion spot, Betty White playing football, and the e-trade jealous girlfriend/milk-aholic ads. I was a little surprised (and disheartened) to learn that people seem to have found the Doritos dog-shock collar humorous. It’s a little too lowest-common-denominator for my taste, but maybe that just proves I’m a snob.

I did find the following comment (pardon the pun) spot-on, though:

What’s up with all the the female-bashing in the Super Bowl XLIV commercials? Women were either portrayed as emasculating, domineering beeaches or bimbettes with less value than the tires on the car. How old are these ad execs writing these commercials….12?

Of course, for any regular viewer of TV in the U.S., such egregious genderisms are S.O.P. But, clearly, today’s Super Bowl ads had their fair share of this. From the medium close-up of the sashaying backside in the Doritos “play nice” ad (along with the reaction shot of her appreciative date’s face) to the faceless driver willing to jettison his curvaceous (leather-clad!) wife to gun-toting villains, rather than part with his tires, the objectification of women appears alive and thriving in American advertising, circa 2010.

But I was also struck by that second component of the commenter’s remarks: how controlled and, yes, impotent, ads suggested men are and/or perceive themselves to be. In such cases the product advertised was either a means for liberation from this condition, or else was a means by which their domination was revealed. According to these ads, the control literally begins in the cradle (as reflected in the eTrade spot) and continues into middle age (as exemplified so concretely in the voiceover for Dodge Charger). And even the Dove ad–which many have pointed to as some sort of breakthrough (both in terms of product and life perspective)–the man is presented as having been “tamed”, domesticated, socialized. For rugged individualists bent on independence and freedom, Dove did not offer up a pretty picture at all.

One of the recent trends in advertising has been the conscious strategy of creating ads that are likely to be rejected by network censors, as a way of generating advance and/or sustained buzz for a product. This seems silly, as outlets like the Internet exist for ads that are beyond mainstream sensibilities, but the idea seems to be to court the rejection first with great subsequent fanfare, then post on the web later. All the more attention to the “victim”, right?

This year, probably the biggest winner in this category was KGB, whose “head up their ass” seemed to make little or no effort to stay within the recognized lines of propriety. (They did manage to get in another ass jab, with their face-sitting sumo spot, so that gives some indication of where their agency’s minds are centered). By contrast, the ad for gay dating service, Man Crush had little luck with their relatively tame ad that, nonetheless, received a red card and was booted from the game. After Brokeback Mountain isn’t American society past such mindless priggishness? Well, I guess that shows that American network TV is truly among the last bastions of unfettered expression.

Of all the banned ads, though, the one for Bud Light (below), struck me as a serious attempt at pushing the envelope without simply trying to generate a foul for the sake of earning a (de)merit badge. It certainly was aiming at causing Monday-morning discussion around the water cooler (especially since it was set in an office), but it managed to remain cute, without being gratuitous. It’s not clear (despite all the blacked out privates) why this work didn’t warrant inclusion on the public airwaves. File this under “risque, but tepid fare”.

What I like most in this spot is that it doesn’t simply stop with its off-beat premise. Like well-crafted humor it continues to built toward a conclusion and gains through accumulation; the situation goes from wry to incongruous to a form of banal normality. The humor grows out of the fact that so may in the office see their behavior as appropriate. At the same time, the two staffers who remain clothed (and grow increasingly off-put, if not disgusted) work as foils, serving as the conscience of the larger (TV) audience outside. They enable us all to ask:”what is wrong with these people?” (who are taking off their clothes), and in the process they serve the advertiser’s aim of getting us all to the great “a-ha” moment that all ads seek: to get us to conclude “oh, that product must really be something great if all those people are willing to strip for it. And, more: to act as if their decision is the most natural thing in the world.”

Well, since that ad couldn’t be on my best-of list, I guess I would have to go with either FloTV’s “My Generation” or else Audi’s “Green Police” spot.

FloTV’s spot is clever insofar as it takes advantage of the presence of The Who at this year’s event; but there is more to it. Substantively we learn about what the product can do while also processing a stream of historical and political content. Any ad that serves such a purpose is both rare and to be valued. And the inclusion of the tragedy in Haiti makes it both topical and public service-oriented (even if it is only trying to cash in) . . . although the exclusion of 9/11 is a glaringly, curious choice: in some ways an effort at de-politicizing a political ad.

As for the Audi spot, from sampling viewer comments on a few message boards it seems that there is resistance to it; possibly because it hits the political hot button of an (over-)regulated society. There is a lot of Rush Limbaugh lurking beneath its surface, I suppose. And that is ironic, since the whole green thing is really a product of the left. Nonetheless, there are images, as well, of the right cracking down on liberality, so the spot endeavors to straddle a rather thin line of distrust and rage on either side. Aside from the crafty extension of dystopian logic, the spot works for me in large part because of the word-play associated with the background music (by Cheap Trick).

So, there’s my choice. And my list top to middle might go something like this.

Which was your favorite ad during Super Bowl 2010?(survey software)

But, in looking at the list, let’s be clear: by “best” here I mean “most effective” or “most clever”, “cute”, “well-crafted” . . . “something with a heart beat behind the movement of brain cells” (which explains the presence of the Tebow spot that actually falls somewhere on the opposite side of my valuational continuum). We don’t have to endorse everything in order to recognize it’s quality, or power, or elements of strength, right?

Which is how we get to your part . . . the vote I promised you. If you would care to, tick off one of the radio buttons above — the ad you think was best among all the Super Bowl offerings. If you don’t find the one you most liked, then punch in “other” and have at it in the comment box below.

And if you wish to give the lot of ’em further scrutiny, you can find them here, at Happy voting.