The build-up suggested this might be an unusual Super Bowl – cloaking the customary orgy of gaudy marketing, undiluted patriotism (Gen. David Petraeus handling the coin toss?) and collective gluttony with sensitivity toward the terrible state of the U.S. economy.
Yet despite a few commercial references to harsh times, the hard-fought game — which saw the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in the last minute — more than fulfilled the hype. The game’s equally hyped advertising spots mostly hewed toward familiar strategies — with ample slapstick, surreal flights of whimsy and the occasional huge waste of somebody’s ad budget.
Movies historically struggle to capitalize fully on this unparalleled platform, if only because they traditionally don’t develop scintillating creative campaigns designed specifically for the showcase. So credit DreamWorks with building anticipation for its 3-D “Monsters vs. Aliens” spot — which was big and loud and heralded several times in advance — though strictly as a movie, Pixar’s animated 3-D entry “Up” looked potentially more intriguing.
For whatever reason, action fare that involves blowing stuff up plays considerably better than comedies in this setting. Paramount’s “Star Trek” and DreamWorks’ “Transformers” sequel provided the most impressive adrenaline rush, with additional high-octane spots for Universal’s “Fast and Furious” and “Land of the Lost” and Columbia’s “Angels and Demons.”
Disney, meanwhile, actually managed to make “Race to Witch Mountain” look action-packed, and even a pre-game spot for “G.I. Joe” looked way better than it had any right to given the title. By contrast, Columbia probably could have saved its shekels on the Jack Black comedy “Year One.”
Ultimately, the Super Bowl has been and mostly remains a day tailor-made for Budweiser. The brewer started by addressing the subject of the economy with a funny spot in which a white-collar employee gets booted out a window for daring to suggest sacrificing Bud Light as a cost-cutting maneuver. Several Bud ads featuring Clydesdales — from silly to patriotic — followed.
Still, the win-win of the day had to be a Bud Light spot using Conan O’Brien, promoting both the beer and “The Tonight Show” host-in-waiting in an extremely clever manner.
The day’s other biggest advertiser was NBC, which instead of trying to establish any programs to bolster the floundering network oddly squandered that opportunity by repeatedly seeking to pump up its Monday lineup of “Heroes” and “Chuck” (a tough sell at this stage). What does it say, in fact, that the one really inspired NBC ad featured Alec Baldwin on behalf of its website venture, Hulu?
Aside from the ad glut pushing Mondays, NBC devoted time to “Celebrity Apprentice,” too subtly teasing Jay Leno’s upcoming move to primetime and too cutely employing celebrities to flog O’Brien. The main standout spot featured the “Heroes” gang using their superpowers to put an amusing spin on playing football.
Scanning the rest of the pack, Coke’s sprightly fantasy and ingenious update of the classic Mean Joe Greene ad overshadowed Pepsi’s slapstick and weird “MacGyver” spoof; Cars.com earned attention with an offbeat spot reminiscent of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Priceline made good use of William Shatner (and mixed in a reference to hard times); Hyundai touted a program to help laid-off workers; and whoever dreamed up Careerbuilder.com’s bizarre campaign should perhaps begin looking for a new gig.
As for the game itself, kudos to NBC Sports, which seemed to have the action covered from every conceivable angle, with replays of every key moment and penalty, and solid work by Al Michaels and John Madden. Bruce Springsteen’s halftime show was also way cool — the most infectiously energetic since they handed the break to rock acts –but just wondering: What the hell was Clarence Clemons wearing?
Before the game, NBC took the rare step of issuing a press release boasting that it had set records by selling $206 million in ad time during the game and more than $260 million total for the day.
Then again, given the disheartening economic data regularly reported by the Peacock’s sibling cabler CNBC, everyone could welcome hearing a bit of robust financial news — during a day meant to foster the audacity to hope.