The Super Bowl ads: too much hype, too little pop

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There was a lot of post-apocalyptic imagery for a Super Bowl Sunday, more than a few dogs, a couple of babies and, of course, the Coke polar bears. Seinfeld showed up, as did Jay Leno and Betty White. (Is it time, Betty? Time to stop all this showing up?) Will Arnett drank brains for Hulu, Motley Crue took a spin for Kia, Matthew Broderick channeled himself as a grown-up Ferris Bueller in a Honda and David Beckham stripped down to his tighty whiteys for….I think it was his new brand of bodywear, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the words.

We got a brief history of Prohibition, football and the American dance party as well as an ad for the resurging auto industry starring Clint Eastwood that had such political overtones that one expected it to be followed by someone approving this message.

What we didn’t get was a real “talker,” the kind of ad that gets more attention than the Super Bowl game itself. Yes, there was a bar scene from “Star Wars,” in which a character suggested that the current VW ad, which involved a dog pining for the return of the VW Beetle, was better than last year’s, which involved Darth Vader, but at that point we were so far into the super-nova of self-referential pop culture that meaning had lost all….meaning.

VIDEO TIMELINE: All-time best Super Bowl ads


Still, considering, or perhaps because of, all the hype around this year’s offerings, including VW’s doggie-chorus pre-ad, nothing really stood out in the welter of consumer-driven cleverness. Except the Dannon ad in which a smirking John Stamos kept stealing a young woman’s Oikos Greek yogurt until she head-butted him. It’s hard to beat a good head-butt.

Which doesn’t mean there weren’t some good spots. Audi’s homage to “Twilight” was a nice way to start things off. Young vampires partying in the woods met fiery death in the beam of a late-comer’s super-bright headlights. Although not moved enough to tweet the hashtag included in the ad, I thoroughly enjoyed both the sentiment and the visual of all those exploding vampires.

It was soon followed by a vision of the world’s end predicted by the ancient Mayas in which the only survivors were a few Chevy owners grieving their friend Dave who, alas, owned a Ford. Strangely, they were among the few big-ticket ads that seemed designed to court young viewers. Between Madonna’s half-time show and all those stars of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s touting cars, one had to wonder if viewers under 30 even knew what they were watching.

Certainly Honda was counting on winning the film-geeks-who-watch-the-Super-Bowl award. Broderick, as himself, calls in sick and takes a fun spin through L.A. while making all manner of references to the 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (which was actually playing during the Super Bowl on Cinemax).

Deconstructing old films is not for everyone, and one has to wonder how far back into Broderick’s career Honda wanted audiences to go--the actor accidentally killed two women while driving on the wrong side of the road in Ireland in 1987. (Motley Crue’s Vince Neil also killed someone while driving drunk in 1987, adding a rather troubling theme to this year’s car ads.)

Seinfeld, the other big get of the night, was a bit disappointing as he desperately tried to procure an Acura only to lose out to Jay Leno. Although his offer of “the last living Munchkin” was funny, the Soup Nazi just doesn’t work out of context.

The ads came and went, some repeated, some (Budweiser and GE) overlapped, some (Jack in the Box) bombed (seriously, “you may eat the bride”?) but none of them really truly popped, and in the end, one was just forced to watch the game. Imagine.


Ferris Bueller drives a Honda

David Beckham strips to his undies

Full Showtracker coverage of Super Bowl ads

-- Mary McNamara