Sunday’s marquee match-up proved obligingly competitive — but enough about Coke vs. Pepsi. America’s national celebration of advertising gluttony for once couldn’t overshadow the game, as the New York Giants improbably triumphed in a low-scoring, down-to-the-wire Super Bowl, while many major advertisers squandered the year’s grandest showcase with spots ranging from overly esoteric to “Why bother?” All told, the advertising did precious little to keep viewers awake, much less inspire them to rush to watch encores on MySpace.
Notably, after a relatively muted presence in 2007, movie studios returned in a substantial way, though as is traditionally the case, many struggled to craft the sort of distinctive creative effort necessary to stand out amid expensive commercials generated for the event.
Universal acquitted itself well with an eye-catching spot for “Wanted,” featuring a half-naked Angelina Jolie, and “Leatherheads,” a comedy starring George Clooney. Disney also successfully whetted appetites for its “Chronicles of Narnia” sequel “Prince Caspian” while awkwardly enlisting its “Toy Story” stars on behalf Pixar’s harder-to-sell “Wall-E.”
Big, dumb comedies like Columbia’s Adam Sandler vehicle “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” and New Line’s Will Ferrell starrer “Semi-Pro” fared reasonably well. By contrast, Paramount’s “Iron Man” whizzed by so rapidly it was hard to make out much about the lesser-known Marvel character, and the special effects looked slightly unfinished.
Anheuser-Busch remains the preeminent Super Bowl showman, though even the beer marketer settled for mixed results. Highlights included a cavemen spot and a Clydesdale undergoing a “Rocky”-esque training session for the privilege of pulling Budweiser’s beer wagon. On the flip side, Bud Light spots featuring Carlos Mencia and suds imparting amazing powers fell pretty flat.
Coke won the cola war, with a wry ad in which Macy’s floats fought over the soda, which even brought together Democrat James Carville and Republican Bill Frist just in time for Super Tuesday. Pepsi’s response — a “Night at the Roxbury” send-up and Justin Timberlake being sucked through a straw — mostly evoked a collective “Huh?”
True creative standouts were few and far between. Audi scored early with an extremely clever “The Godfather” spoof, and FedEx delivered a laugh-out-loud commercial in which an alternative delivery system — giant carrier pigeons — yields disastrous consequences. Victoria’s Secret proved it’s hard to go wrong with a gorgeous woman in underwear. There were some other arresting visuals: Shaquille O’Neal playing a jockey for vitamin water, and a slobbering dog for Gatorade.
Unfortunately, the prevailing response to most of this year’s ads was at best a shrug. GoDaddy.com wasted its seven-figure time urging people to go watch a racier ad online. Doritos showcased amateur-produced bits that did nothing to sell chips. Under Armour aired ads that didn’t even clarify what the product is, and Careerbuilder’s entry was in questionable taste, as the heart of a woman in a deadend job explodes from her chest. Indeed, after Internet outfits dominated the game in past years, Salesgenie, Cars.com and Etrade hardly registered.
Auto companies veered into a ditch as well, including Toyota, Hyundai, GMC’s Yukon and Jeep-Chrysler.
Fox did take full advantage of the occasion to promote its primetime wares, including a concentrated push for “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” in a forum that could do the series considerable good. The net’s game tandem Joe Buck and Troy Aikman also performed admirably, aided by a contest that wasn’t decided until the closing minute.
Alas, the protracted pre-game festivities felt as bloated as ever. The most ponderous and pandering moment was an elaborate staged reading of the Declaration of Independence, while Terry Bradshaw barely gave Patriots QB Tom Brady a chance to respond during a giddy non-interview — time-wasters surpassed only by Ryan Seacrest’s paper-thin star parade, which included Samuel L. Jackson appearance to talk football and tout the upcoming 20th Century Fox release “Jumper.”
That promotional stunt proved doubly effective, since by that point, the idea of jumping ahead to the actual game sounded especially appealing.