Monday, February 02, 2009

The Swan Tunes In: Super Bowl XLIII commercial post-mortem

It's been something of an SSTOL tradition to recap the best commercials from the Super Bowl.

But a weird thing happened this year...

The game was actually better than the ads.

That is in part to the credit of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, who delivered a whale of a show (congrats to Coach Mike Tomlin and his crew for the last-minute, come-from-behind victory over a team no one — including your Uncle Swan — thought could even compete with them). It's also a sad commentary on this year's Super Bowl ad crop, which was, to put it politely, lacking.

In fact, before I sat down to review the spots online this morning, only one had insinuated itself into my memory — the truly bizarre ad featuring washed-up celebrities Ed McMahon and MC Hammer. That was memorable not for its persuasive power, but for its sheer breathless lunacy: Hammer and his "gold medallion showing me wearing a gold medallion!" and Big Ed with his gold-plated toilet.

Among the few other highlights:
  • I was entertained — and baffled — by Pepsi's testosterone-fueled spot showing manly men enduring all kinds of physical punishment with a casual "I'm good." (I confess that I don't understand the whole Pepsi Max concept: Diet cola for men? What, too much estrogen in Diet Pepsi?)

  • NBC gave us a clever house ad for its online video service, starring Alec Baldwin in a scenario inspired by Men in Black. (I always knew those Baldwin brothers were aliens.)

  • The most exciting ad of the bunch was Audi's slick, dialogue-free chase sequence with Jason Statham reprising his Transporter film role.

  • The "best storytelling" award goes to's documentary-style take on the life of a nerdy young man who succeeds at everything he attempts, but who can't buy a car without the aid of a certain Web site.

  • Doritos offered a couple of decent spots: the one involving the "magic" crystal ball was funny, and another in which the protagonist's fantasies become reality every time he crunches into a Dorito (a female pedestrian's clothes disappear; an ATM spews cash) was predictable, but well-orchestrated.

  • NBA star Carlos Boozer played Big Brother to a gaggle of cute kids for Not as splashy as most of the ad fodder, but warm, fuzzy, and authentically charming. Best of all, it made a solid selling point about the product — something too many of the high-ticket Super Bowl ads forget to accomplish.

  • And, though I'm not a Conan O'Brien fan, I did chuckle at the goofy Bud Light spot that featured Conan as the reluctant star of an absurd Swedish commercial.
As usual, the Budweiser Clydesdales wore out their welcome — one ad showcasing these handsome animals is fine, but four or five get old quickly. Also as usual, served up a pair of tasteless, sexist trifles designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator (arrested-adolescent males who've been swilling beer all afternoon) and rile up the feminist crusaders.

But enough about the commercials...

It's Boss Time.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band cranked up the best Super Bowl halftime since Prince took the stage a few years back. The Boss and Company delivered a fun, upbeat, energetic set, weaving together a couple of classic favorites ("Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," "Born to Run") with the title track from his latest album. (Asked in a pregame interview why he had finally decided to accept the Super Bowl gig after more than a decade of refusing the NFL's invitation, Springsteen was characteristically forthright: "I've got a new record to promote.")

The production pulled out all the stops — fireworks, a five-piece horn section, and a gospel choir for the finale. All the fluff couldn't mask the raw power of Springsteen's music, nor the joy that he and his bandmates (including Clarence Clemons, who worked it out on saxophone and cowbell; guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt, looking aged and road-worn; and Bruce's wife Patti Scialfa, who stepped forward for a backing vocal spotlight on the final number) still derive from their music after 35 years.

I'd have gladly ditched all of the fancy advertisements, and just let The Boss play during the commercial breaks.

That's why they don't let me run the show.

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8 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Avitable offered these pearls of wisdom...

This is the first time I've ever watched a single second of the Super Bowl and it was relatively interesting, especially that 2nd quarter touchdown. The Hulu ad was the best ad of the night, and the Budweiser ads are just getting stupider and stupider every year.

12:53 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Avitable: So glad we've lured you over to the dark side, my friend.

Yeah, that 100-yard interception return by James Harrison goes right near the top of my list of all-time great Super Bowl moments. And for a 49ers fan, that's saying something.

We agree on the Hulu and Bud spots. Anheuser-Busch needs a new ad agency, I think. They used to set the standard -- and I don't even drink beer -- but now they seem to be treading water in the creative department.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous offered these pearls of wisdom...

Don't even remember what it was advertising but the dig on Roger Clemens "mis-remembered" was not appreciated. Leave the guy alone already.

7:38 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Anonymous: I must have missed that one.

Clemens, though, should thank his lucky stars that the advertisers were only joking about his "mis-remembering," and not about his formerly underage mistress.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Scott offered these pearls of wisdom...

LOVED the Hulu ad, but then Hulu has proven to be pretty savvy on all points. The Doritos ads were good too. I actually like the Bud ad where the horse chased his true love to the circus. What that has to do with beer...

The Coke bugs ad was pretty awesome from a technical perspective.The Pepsuber ad was the first time I've seen an SNL skit turn ad.

8:47 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Scott: I liked that one Budweiser ad too, but as you point out, it had absolutely nothing to do with beer. As an advertising copywriter, I have a strong bias against ads that don't either (1) give the consumer a reason to buy the product or service, or (2) establish brand recognition. Most of the cute or clever ads, this one included, are geared toward winning awards for ad agencies (feh!), and do not serve the client or the consumer.

I found the Coke ad a little creepy. I don't want to think about bugs being around anything I'm going to eat or drink. I didn't understand the "Pepsuber" spot, but I quit watching SNL a couple of decades ago.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous FirstTimeLongTime offered these pearls of wisdom...

I totally agree that the game was great, but the 100 yard run back is near the top of your all time Super Bowl moments?!? Maybe... if it had been a clean play. That one begged the question: Who was at the controls of the instant replay machine?

10:12 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

FTLT: I dunno... I saw all the replays NBC showed, and it looked good to me -- and I didn't have a rooting interest in either team.

It was an exciting play, regardless of how you look at it.

4:05 PM  

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