Baseball’s All-Star Game was famously described as having been “invented for Willie Mays,” the Giants’ star outfielder, and the Super Bowl in some respects could be christened “the event they invented for Budweiser.” Plenty of sponsors anted up to participate in TV’s annual day of gluttony — the one program where zapping past commercials is verboten — but by virtue of sheer tonnage, the cheerful stupidity of its spots and the symbiotic relationship between big men hitting each other and adult beverages, the beer company reigned supreme among advertisers, for good and ill.
That’s not to say Budweiser got the most mileage from its $2.6 million for each of those many 30-second gems and rhinestones; rather, that distinction belonged to FedEx — with the day’s first truly creative spot, featuring a moon-based office; and Sprint, which spoofed erectile dysfunction ads by coining its own term for the broadband age, “connectile dysfunction.”
It was also a splashy and eclectic day for Coca-Cola. The sugary-water peddler crafted an extremely clever feel-good spot resembling the nasty vidgame Grand Theft Auto, a visually stunning glimpse inside a vending machine, a funny bit about an older guy trying Coke for the first time, and a classy Black History Month-themed ad. (Doritos tried this too, with less success, seizing on the hook of two African-American coaches, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, leading the competing teams.)
In terms of Budweiser, it was the usual mixed bag, with more hits than misses. Highlights involved an auctioneer brought in to speed up a wedding, an ax-wielding hitchhiker (with Bud Light!), gorillas plotting a beer heist and beer-worshiping crabs. Ads featuring comic Carlos Mencia, a hardball game of rock, paper, scissors and a needy dog, by contrast, were about as fizzy as day-old pilsner.
Perhaps the most-ballyhooed ad, featuring Kevin Federline flipping burgers, was kitschy, to be sure, though it’s hard to see how that benefits the bottom line of financial provider Nationwide. Ditto for personal-navigator Garmin”s “Power Rangers” spoof. Um, yeah, OK, now what?
Other products and categories, meanwhile, largely squandered their expensive showcase.
Also-rans included Schick, essentially all of the auto makers — whose commercials didn’t try anything new — and every dot.com that bought into the game, reflecting that sector’s decline as a marketing force. The roster included loud and perplexing spots from Careerbuilder, mildly annoying ones from Salesgenie and E-Trade, and simply more of the same from GoDaddy, whose product (something about domain names) remains a mystery despite the bosomy hard-body trotted out annually to, er, front it.
Few movies bothered to show up, which is wise based on their spotty history within the game. MGM ran the toothiest spot for “Hannibal Rising” during the fourth quarter, while Disney’s “Wild Hogs” simply looked like an impressive assortment of actors in a mundane comedy, and it was hard to discern much about the animated “Meet the Robinsons” or Lionsgate”s “Pride.”
Honorable mention in the “Yes, ad guys still smoke pot” dept. went to Emerald Nuts, which featured a wall-crawling Robert Goulet messing with people”s offices and thwarted by the product. Dude, like, whoa.
The game itself, often overlooked in the process of sorting through the ads, stayed interesting if not exactly pretty into the fourth quarter, with an error- and turnover-plagued first half played in a camera-clouding downpour before Indianapolis pulled away to win, 29-17.
CBS’ Jim Nantz called his first Super Bowl and clearly wasn’t overwhelmed by the size of the stage, but his play by play fell somewhere between rising to the occasion and the melodramatic, cliché- and trivia-spouting babble associated with Brent Musburger. Oddly, the best moment came on the very first play, when cameras caught Chicago’s Devin Hester watching himself on video screen as he ran the kickoff back for a touchdown.
In between blurbs for the Grammys and “Survivor,” the Eye net used the occasion to air several plugs for struggling anchor Katie Couric’s touchy-feely “CBS Evening News” series this week about “good people doing great things.” Not only did the tone feel a tad desperate, but it paled next to an inspired, blink-and-you-missed it moment featuring David Letterman cuddling up with Oprah Winfrey.
To his credit, Prince delivered a true superstar-quality halftime show, with an especially appropriate rendition of “Purple Rain” given the conditions. Notably, the wardrobe of his backup dancers functioned just fine, which — after CBS’ Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake experience three years ago — might just qualify as the play of the day.