Feb 12

2012 Ad Bowl: more of the same

Looks like Super Bowl advertising has officially settled into a pattern. Though we cling to this romantic notion that the night will be filled with amazing ads, the reality is that we usually get a couple of good ones and a bunch of forgettable ones.

But before I get into the ads themselves, I’d like to lodge a complaint. Part of the fun of watching the Super Bowl ads used to be that it was a night of surprises — on the field and in the ads. This year, a ton of the ads were released days earlier. I count 28 that I saw before the Super Bowl.

Message to whoever is responsible: cut it out. You’re seriously letting the air out of the balloon before the party starts. Thanks.

So on with the reviews. As I’ve done in the past, I’ll just call out the ads that struck me as comment-worthy. Don’t be offended if I didn’t choose the one that you loved most. I’m flawed that way.

Toyota Camry: It’s Reinvented. Had its moments, but felt like it was trying very hard to be funny. When a 60-second spot feels longer than 60 seconds, that’s not a good sign. (The 2001 soundtrack made it feel longer too.)

Pepsi: King’s Court. This one has everything you could ask for in a Super Bowl spot: major celebrity (Elton John), big production values and some neat effects. Kind of fun — but due to the formula, managed to feel a bit old-school.

Chevy Silverado Apocalypse. With its grand scale, well-done effects, dark humor and a message delivered with absolute clarity, this was my favorite spot of the night. Love the idea of having the Chevy truck survive a convergence of disasters (Mayan prediction, giant robot, flying saucer and meteor), and putting it all against the hopeful “looks like we made it” soundtrack. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a competitive line delivered in quite the same spirit as “Dave drove a Ford.” The offer of a Twinkie immediately afterward beautifully minimizes the man’s demise.

Chrysler Halftime. Last year, Chrysler created a magnificent two-minute ode to Detroit featuring native son Eminem. It really moved me, and I thought it was best-in-show. This time, Chrysler talks about the whole country, using Detroit as an example, and Clint Eastwood tells the story. I have a feeling I’ll be in the minority on this one, but I didn’t love it. The spot starts like a political ad, painting our current state in a very negative light. “We’re all scared because this isn’t a game,” says Clint. (Actually, I’m concerned but not scared.) Somber organ music throughout adds another level of doom. Creatively, I was turned off by the shadowy narrator at the start. That only tells me there will be a surprising reveal at the end. It would have been more surprising — and less tricky — if we simply heard Clint’s voice throughout and then saw him at the end. Last year’s spot was a wonderful tribute to a city in dire need of a positive image. It was effective because it was so authentic. That authenticity isn’t there this time. Maybe it’s because Chrysler is borrowing Clint’s tough-guy image, maybe it’s because the spot is speaking for a whole country and not the city. All that said, I do appreciate Chrysler’s willingness to spend this kind of money to say something important while its competitors are running more conventional spots on the game.

Acura NSX with Seinfeld: It’s coming. Good to see Seinfeld on his game again. Ending the spot by bringing in Leno as his nemesis was a nice touch, but only if you’re aware that both men are avid car collectors — which I was not. I suspect this one will be rated highly by many.

GoDaddy Body Painting. Never failing to disappoint, GoDaddy goes as low-brow as you can get. Please don’t remind me how successful they’ve been with these ads over the years. It  makes me fear for the future of mankind.

Teleflora Adriana Lima. Like GoDaddy, Teleflora goes the sexual innuendo route. But at least they give it two things GoDaddy does not: a coy sense of humor and good production values.

Kia Dream Car. Good one. Lots of effects, but well done. Fresh creative idea in the notion that even the Sandman can screw up — he drops an overdose of sand on a sleeping man, which triggers a testosterone-laced dream sequence. Kia has done a good job of creating a personality, considering where they started not too many years ago.

Cadillac Green Hell. Boring. If their goal was to outdo the BMW 3-Series as they say, they probably shouldn’t have used a bunch of driving footage that looks like a tired BMW ad.

Hyundai Think Fast. Some ads start with a great concept. Others start with a funny punch line and work backward from there — like this one. The whole ad exists to pay off the last line: “It’ll get your pulse going.” Funny, but in a superficial kind of way.

Century 21. Smarter. Bolder. Faster. And stupider. I’m sorry, but it’s very hard for me to enjoy an ad that features Donald Trump — especially when his joke is so weak.

H&M: David Beckham Bodywear. Let’s put it this way: I’m not even remotely tempted to buy any new underwear today. Though I’m thinking seriously about the tattoos.

Bridgestone Performance. Give them credit for finding a way to make tire commercials not feel like typical tire commercials. They ended up with more of a “heh heh” than a “ha ha,” but I imagine they’re dancing in the aisles at Bridgestone today.

Honda CRV: Get Going. Another celebrity spot, this one featuring Matthew Broderick doing a takeoff on his classic Ferris Bueller. One problem with reprising a 25-year old role is that the star looks 25 years older. This ad probably felt much funnier back at the agency than it turned out on TV.

E-Trade Fatherhood. Am I a bad person if I’m sick to death of talking babies?

MetLife Everyone. Here’s an idea — bring together a whole bunch of cartoon characters that never appeared together before. Oh wait. Didn’t Roger Rabbit do that 24 years ago? That aside, this spot should have been far more charming than it was.

Audi Vampire Party. I liked this one a lot. Great solution from the creative team. The new LED headlights are as good as daylight, so how do they demonstrate that? Well, daylight kills vampires, right? And vampires are a pretty good trend to tap into. Favorite moment: the clueless vampire who tries to get in a “hello” wave before he’s turned to ash.

Coca-Cola Polar Bears. Now I’m just getting cranky. Please add Coke’s polar bear commercials to the list of things I’m sick of. They were terrifically charming when they started out many years ago, but these spots just weren’t very appealing. The Catch was the only one that seemed at all interesting. Time to freshen up your Super Bowl presence, Coke.

Hulu with Will Arnett. Hulu has a cool product, and they’ve been doing some smart and fun advertising. I like Will Arnett. Made me laugh.

Droid Razr. To be honest, this is a spot I would have left out of this article, but some are making a big deal of the product so I feel bad ignoring it. If the RAZR is really that cool, it deserved a more interesting ad. A robotic assembly line, spraying colors onto the RAZRs? Pretty lame.

Hyundai Rocky. When a frustrated Hyndai employee indicates he can’t solve a problem, the entire facility breaks out in an a cappella version of the Rocky theme. I thought it was one of the most awful and embarrassing spots of the night. I can only imagine how they felt when they were filming it.

Hyundai Cougar. Marginally better.

M&M Chocolate. M&M characters meet The Full Monty. Never imagined it would happen, but there it is. Got some laughs in my house.

Best Buy Innovators. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever liked a Best Buy ad before, but I do like this one. Offering a tribute to people who have changed the world is a nice way to put your own values on display (like Apple did with Think different).

Doritos. Doritos has established itself as a reliable laugh-getter, and did well with Sling Baby and Man’s Best Friend. Just keep in mind that squeezing comedy out of a tortilla chip is a bit easier than some of the other products on the game last night.

Camry 7 Million Stories. A few one liners from people talking about their Camry. Then “There are 7 million Camry stories out there. Tell us yours.” Another spot that feels about 20 years too late in idea and execution.

The Voice promofeaturing Betty White. I was wondering if we were going to get through the night without an ad that used Betty White. Nope.

Ford, with Derek Jeter. I’m a much bigger baseball fan than football fan. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like Jeter was crashing the party here. One of the spots featured a bunch of video clips of him playing baseball too. It’s like asking me to watch basketball clips during a baseball game.

Samsung: Galaxy Tablet. Apparently they made enough of a splash with their first Apple-mocking ad that they spent the big bucks to do it again here. Fine with me. Two things, however, made me gag. First is Samsung presenting a stylus as a “feature.” Second is the big concluding line: “The next big thing is already here. Again.” Huh? I guess I missed the last next big thing, because as far as I can tell, nobody has yet put a dent in iPad’s stranglehold on the category. We may have to wait for the next next big thing.

There’s another honorable mention here, but it’s an ad that apparently only ran in the Canadian broadcast. Take a look at Budweiser Canada Flash Fans when you can. It’s a fun, feel-good kind of spot — an interesting idea executed well.

Now, on to the Oscars…

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  • Paul

    Doritos did well with “Man’s Best Friend?” I’m not an animal activist or pro-PETA by any means, but what’s so funny about killing a cat? Kind of sick and the premise of the “humor” is really not very creative—been done before.

  • Bill

    I agree on the Eastwood ad. It got way too political-sounding. Plus, I don’t think you can do the Detroit thing twice.

    The M&Ms? They NEVER disappoint. I originally thought they might be coming from Leo Burnett (where I once toiled), but apparently someone else has found the trick to coming up with memorable “critters.”

    And Cadillac? Ouch!

  • Scott

    I enjoyed all 3 of the Hyundai ads. Perhaps I have a slight bias since I own a Santa Fe and a Kia Forte, but I thought they were clever. Each made me chuckle. I didn’t see the Rocky one durning the game, but watched it online tonight. Maybe my expectations had been lowered based on your comments, but I enjoyed it.

  • ken segall

    You’re still welcome here despite this obvious lapse of good taste :) This is one article I never expected to have a lot of agreement on — Super Bowl ads are about as subjective as they come. You do make me wonder just how abnormal I am…

  • George

    Samsung: “The next big thing is here. Again.” Followed immediately by “Coming soon.” Then a epilogue mocking Apple with a sign saying “It’s coming.” I guess that’s a case of having your tagline ready before your product!

  • Scott

    I appreciate the free pass Ken. As for how normal you are, well that’s still up for debate :-)

  • Joost

    I like the Budweiser Canada ad.. but it’s a bit of a lame rip-off..

  • Engineer

    The best I thought was the teaser for the volkswagen ad. I didn’t care for the actual ad- a dog losing weight is ok.
    But the chorus of dogs barking Vader’s march theme was hilarious…. A clear viral hit too.

    I think Volkswagen won with that one.

    Also-I only watched the ads online. Didn’t watch a minut of the Super Bowl- we cut the cable years ago.

  • peter

    the only ad that actually stopped conversations (positively) where I was watching the game was the ad for the fiat 500.

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