The media have certainly hammered the Super Bowl’s status as a national celebration of advertising and gluttony into the collective consciousness. Indeed, it has become almost a patriotic duty not merely to consume the game but all of its sundry side dishes, including those much-discussed ads for which sponsors paid a gee-whiz $2.3 million per spot.
Yet Super Bowl XXXVIII (the Roman numerals underscore the put-on sense of grandeur) somewhat refreshingly confounded those expectations, inasmuch as the workmanlike, blue-collar battle between New England and Carolina was so in contrast with the bloated significance affixed to everything around it.
Hoping to get into the spirit, I watched the game while drinking three or four obscure micro-brews and wolfing down half my weight in guacamole. All I could think, however, is that Budweiser knows how to do Super Bowl advertising better than anyone and that the biggest on-field highlight came early, when Beyonce sang the national anthem.
As for movie studios, it might be time to reconsider allocating ad budgets to this particular venue, given that there’s really very little new or exciting that can be done to stand out from the crowd with a cut-down trailer. If anything, Warner Bros.’ “Troy” left out the killer shot from the theatrical trailer — the one with a thousand ships filling the screen — while Disney’s “The Alamo” ad was so choppily edited as to make the average MTV video look like a Merchant-Ivory film.
Comedies also tend to struggle in this venue. Either that, or the 30 seconds of mirthlessness touting Columbia’s “50 First Dates” and Warner’s “Starsky & Hutch” bode ill for both of those entries, though DreamWorks’ “Eurotrip” appears to brim with a certain irreverent charm.
The movie that most stood out, Universal’s monster mash “Van Helsing,” looked promising but also showcased some cheesy-looking special effects — a surprising shortcoming, given how that studio’s hastily assembled “The Hulk” spot last year helped place stench on the film from which it labored to recover.
Nope, the sponsors generating the biggest bangs for their ample bucks Sunday tended to be the usual suspects, from Bud Light’s latest Cedric the Entertainer showcase to its laugh-out-loud bit involving a flatulent horse to the full-strength version’s ad featuring a referee who endures more abuse at home than on the field.
FedEx also delivered a chuckle-worthy spot with an alien who can skate by invoking the product’s name, while Visa came up with an arresting ad in which female Olympians play volleyball in the snow.
By contrast, pharmaceuticals like Cialis and Levitra should give it a rest, and Pepsi’s much-ballyhooed array for the most part proved unmemorable except for one about downloading music with iTunes, which almost seemed to celebrate piracy, especially in that it featured 14-year-old Annie Leith, who was sued by the MPAA for downloading music tracks online. Someone get Jack Valenti on the case immediately.
Of course, CBS filled out the telecast with plenty of in-house promos, including a “We’re No. 1”-type blurb that seemed all-but pointless and what amounted to a “Please, oh please, do another year” ad aimed at the “Everybody Loves Raymond” creative team.
Not surprisingly, the pre-game and halftime shows have drifted into self-parody. Desperate to keep younger viewers from grazing, CBS trotted out country stars and Aerosmith before kickoff and an MTV-produced sensory assault that featured Janet Jackson (looking like a drag queen playing Janet Jackson), Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Justin Timberlake and Kid Rock during intermission.
CBS also opened the pre-game show with a strained attempt to justify all the pomp and circumstance, labeling the Super Bowl an event that stops the nation and “energizes its beating heart.”
Actually, if the nation were eating the usual assortment of football munchies, clogging its arteries would be more like it, but it’s all in the name of a good cause, keeping people indoors to watch television.