The hype around Super Bowl commercials has now become so intense that few advertisers could hope to live up to it.
The game itself has become something of a red carpet for Madison Avenue to roll out their gems. Advertising rates command almost as many headlines as the game itself, and the scenarios in the ads command almost as much analysis as the game plays. They have launched and revived careers and have added catch-phrases to America's collective conscience.
But as the commercials have became sexier, flashier and more elaborate, the simple joys of wit seem to be fading.
Super Bowl ads have commanded attention since the mid 1980s when the now-legendary "1984" MacIntosh spot premiered. But they have grown into an event only since the early 1990s.
Over the past decade the ads have been elevated into an art form, what movie maker Ridley Scott (who directed the "1984" MacIntosh spot) once referred to as "filmlettes."
Michael Jordan starred in an early classic, the McDonald's "Nothing but Net" piece in which he played a game of Horse with fellow basketball great Larry Bird, for a Big Mac. The commercial in part helped establish Jordan as an advertising giant, and he has since pitched everything from shoes to shampoo (despite the fact that he has no hair).
Pepsi had a number of great spots in the mid-90s including one that featured a boy literally sucking a Pepsi down to the last drop, sucking himself into the bottle. A great special effect used to great comedic effect.
But it's Anheuser-Busch that has emerged to reign as King of advertisers. The spots have always rated high with audiences, and over the past three years they placed at the top of USA Today's annual Super Bowl Ad-Meter (in which viewer rate the ads). Yet much of their charm comes from their simplicity. In 1995 three frogs who chanted the syllables for Bud-Wei-Ser became instant legends. In 2000 everyone was yelling "Whaaazzzuupp" to the tune of a couple pals watching TV and drinking a Bud. Even Budweiser sent up the success of the spot a year later with some yuppies yelling "What are yoouu doing."
But the Budweiser ads have been exceptions to the increasingly bland formuliac approach advertisers are taking.
In 1999 the Super Bowl was invaded by dot com commercials, including the incredibly annoying Pets.com sock puppet, and a horde of online investment firms that promised easy money. It seems they didn't make wise investments and viewers can draw some satisfaction that their extravagant marketing expenditures led in part to the demise of many of the online companies. It seems that there wasn't a market for people looking for dog food on the net.
One of this year's most anticipated spots,was also one of this year's most dissapointing. One has to wonder whether Pepsi is peddling soft drinks or Britney Spears. The ad had an interesting concept involving the singer traveling through time appearing in Pepsi ads through the decades. But at a minute-and-a-half, the spot ran much too long and Spears' singing was nothing impressive. The worst was her romp through the sixties, appearing as a pseudo-hippie crooning along to some horrible psychedelic tune. For Pespi as well as for many consumers the spot was more about showing off star power than selling cola, and the ad rated at the bottom of the ad-meter. At least it was far more tasteful than last year's Pepsi spot which featured Bob Dole ogling the pop-diva.
Some advertisers such as FedEx and Taco Bell merely recycled their commercials. Others such as Subway touted tired concepts such as Jared's low fat diet.
But some favorites such Cedric the Entertainer (who played a matchmaker) in a Budweiser ad and the E-Trade monkey (who sang in a musical) proved reliable. And others like the Lipton Ice-T puppets staging a revolution provided some redemption. But overall the ads lacked the cleverness and sheer silliness of years' past when Grizzly Bears danced to "Y.M.C.A." for Pepsi, Jordan played with Bugs Bunny for Nike and copiers dispensed Bud Light.
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