The Denver Broncos beating the Green Bay Packers wasn’t the only upset at Super Bowl XXXII. Perhaps even more shocking, the game turned out to be a lot better than the commercials, which included some memorable spots but tended as a group to be more elitist and tiresome than clever.
The Super Bowl is, of course, the annual high-profile and ultra-expensive — $1.3 million per 30-second spot — launching pad for company and movie industry ad campaigns. It was the Super Bowl, after all, that gave a jumpstart to “Independence Day’s” massive ad attack.
This year’s film ads included an impressive 60-second spot for “Armageddon” and others for “Lost in Space,” “The Mask of Zorro” and “Sphere.” The “Mercury Rising” spot was somewhat confusing, given that it shared the same star, Bruce Willis, and pulsating tone of the “Armageddon” spot that came before it.
In other ads, the blurbs touting the neon electrocution of the Budweiser frogs by some odd colluding frog-ferret combo was almost enough to make you pine for the days of the Bud Bowl. Some of us would rather watch beer bottles locked in gridiron combat than reptiles celebrating the misfortune of their fellow cold-blooded brethren.
A handful of productions managed to crash through the clutter to uphold the creative tradition of their Super Bowl forebears. Of those, the biggest standout was an energetic 60-second spot during the first quarter hyping Doritos’ new “3-D” line of corn snacks.
Fade in: A couple of guys are hanging out in the laundromat when an impossibly foxy female shimmies in with her basket. To impress her, they hyperactively toss chips into their mouths, only to have the fantasy femme grab the bag and pour its entire contents into a dryer. Within seconds, the snacks shoot out of the appliance like bullets all over the place, smacking off walls. But the woman snares every one in her mouth, leaping to and fro as she does — to the jaw-dropping amazement of the guys.
Okay, you kinda had to be there. But if you were, it was a genuine treat.
Also deserving of kudos were a couple of Pepsi ads, also during the first quarter (the big guns clearly weren’t taking any chances this year).
In one 60-second piece, a skydiver and a goose descend together to Earth, performing tricks all the while. Finally, in midair, the diver cracks the top on the can and pours his favorite cola beverage on a line straight into the bird’s beak, causing a flock to instantly arrive. It was as offbeat as it was absurd.
In another amusing spot, a computer-generated, cigar-chomping, sugar-ingesting mosquito does his best Mick Jagger impression to the strains of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” crooning into a matchstick microphone until getting crushed by one of Pepsi’s newly designed cans.
While most of the computer firm ads during the nearly four-hour Supercast were ponderous and/or incomprehensible — particularly a pair of black-and-white film noirish spots for Intel that looked more like something touting the work of the Centers for Disease Control — an Oracle commercial (also in the first quarter) that found Peter Coyote touting a revolution of “knowledge and access” was moving and smart.
There were also a few assorted ads that worked because they didn’t try so hard to be hip and diverting. One was a Visa ad featuring a girl and her pet elephant. Another, for AT&T, showed just how quickly word of a secret teen crush can spread in our communication-driven world. Pizza Hut also managed to digitally insert a singing Elvis into one of its restaurants, serving the King’s memory with an assortment of crusts and toppings.
The winner of the award for invention, however, had to be a commercial for Earth Co. Insurance. It featured a test pattern and a word crawl informing us that it had this great spot all lined up with “Baywatch” images and Garth Brooks tunes, but the ad agency didn’t get the tape to Fed-Ex in time and so $1.3 million was now “going down the tubes.”
A bit contrived, yes. But bonus points for no frogs.