I think it's finally time to just come out and say it: Super Bowl ads have jumped the shark. Whether it's the economy, a general dearth of creativity, the pressure of wanting to clear a higher bar every year, or whatever else, I don't know - but the time when the game was really a showcase for new marketing has come and gone. Maybe in the early 1990s, when the Super Bowl was routinely a shitty game, it might have been reasonable to say "I watch the game for the ads!" or "The ads are the best part of the game!" Lately? If you like football, the game has regularly been better than the ads, and if you don't like football, you've probably been really, really upset at wasting all that time. If anything, people have talked themselves into still liking the ads only because they think they're supposed to. If the majority of these ads were dumped during a rerun of "Two and a Half Men," no one would even blink.
With that little rant out of the way, let's get on with it: the best, and mostly worst, of Super Bowl XLIV.
The Apple 1984 Memorial Award for Least Shitty Ad
Windier: We said in the preview post that there's a reason we use "least shitty" here and not "best." But there's no getting around it: this ad is an absolute tour de force, for any number of reasons. The biggest of those is this: we've all seen the awful Bing "search overload" ads that treat the end-user like a complete moron. Recently, noted terrible ad maker KGB has gotten in on the act, claiming that "KGB is a better way to answer any question." They also ran an ad during the Super Bowl suggesting that KGB can tell you how to say "I surrender" in Japanese faster than a web search. I could point out that the very first Google hit is the correct answer and that the odds of KGB texting you back faster than that are approximately nil, or that KGB is probably just using Google on their end anyway... but this isn't about KGB. The point is that in one fell swoop, Google has demolished both the Bing and KGB ads.
Knitwear: Agreed. The Google ad clearly demonstrates how the average Internet user would use a search engine. This includes realistic errors (such as misspelling "Louvre"), as well as the immediate presentation of the obvious answer ("You're very cute") to a clearly phrased request ("translate tu es très mignon"), rather than forcing you to comb through a list of links to dictionaries or blog entries. Google trusts the consumer to use its product correctly, rather than likening you to a caricature of the average Internet user who needs his or her hand held by the benevolent Bing and KGB overlords. "You are clearly too stupid to be trusted with your own search. Give us 99 cents to handle the heavy lifting."
Windier: Google probably doesn't need to advertise - their name has entered the lexicon as the default verb to indicate a web search. They also don't need to call out their competitors - and they haven't; the destruction is entirely implicit. They've just run a classy, understated ad, which even in its bare-bones simplicity comes as close to the idea of ads being miniature movies as any of the loud, obnoxious spots that surround it. All that and it actually sells its product. No wonder I get chills every time I watch it.
Most Overproduced Ad
Winner: Emerald Nuts
Quivering: It was a category with any number of potential winners this year, but Most Overproduced had to go to Emerald Nuts' frenzied, panicked spot. Not only are the human dolphin show visuals nonsensical and upsetting, but so is the branding in the commercial itself. Emerald Nuts and Pop Secret? I guess. Don't really see the point of combining those two distinct brands into one commercial, except maybe to save money. Those products are hardly what economists would call perfect complements.
But the real tragedy is the offensive-on-every-possible-level tagline "AWESOME+AWESOME=AWESOMER." This is obviously stupid. But it's also LAZY. All you can say about combining nuts and popcorn is that it's some degree of "awesome"? How horrifyingly uninteresting.
Cheapest Budget/Clumsiest Execution Award
Winner: Focus on the Family
Windier: Remember how controversial this ad was supposed to be? Yeah. After seeing the actual spot, I feel like Focus on the Family would have come out just as well by backing out of the game - they'd still have gotten their publicity in the lead-up, and they wouldn't have had to spend three million dollars to air an ad about... well, what is this ad about? Tim Tebow's mom explains that her pregnancy was hard (okay) and that she still worries about her son's health (okay) and that her family needs to be tough (whatever). And then she gets "tackled" by Tim in a really bad CGI scene that must have cost at least half of this ad's $20 budget. And... that's pretty much the entire thing!
Yes, I guess you could argue that Focus on the Family played it safe. They made no mention of the fact that they are - as their website says - "a global Christian ministry that helps build thriving marriages that reflect God’s design, and equips parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles." They certainly didn't use Tebow's story to pitch a pro-life stance as everyone expected (aside from the "Celebrate life" tagline at the end), although they've done so elsewhere. They must have figured this wasn't the right forum - though I might argue that if you're not willing to promote your values in an ad, but rather slow-play it to try and trick people who don't already know what you are into visiting your website, that's a pretty weak cop-out. What if this were an ad for Oreos? "Hi, I'm Tim Tebow's mom. You know, when he was a kid, he loved Oreos. These days, we could all use more Oreos in our lives. Oh, you haven't heard of Oreos? To find out what they are, visit Oreos.com." Really, you were too afraid to just tell us? Feh. All that hand-wringing over nothing.
Worst Use of "Humor" Award
Quivering: An unfunny amalgam of an old Jack Benny joke and any Henny Youngman joke. Bridgestone spent three million dollars on half-a-century-old humor. Now that's thumbing your nose at the recession. It's also not selling tires.
Flimsiest Pretense Award
Windier: It would have been easy to give this to GoDaddy.com for the third year in a row. At least Megan Fox is legitimately hot; Danica Patrick's credentials in that department are questionable at best. Still, this commercial is particularly weak in justifying itself. There's no reason to have Fox in a bathtub other than that it's appealing; the copy certainly makes no attempt to put it in some form of context (and frankly the writing is just awful and hard to even follow). But it's what comes afterward that really puts the icing on the cake: the second post-tub scene is a mother banging on her son's bedroom door and demanding, "Timmy, what are you doing?" Really, Motorola? That's what you're doing with your Super Bowl ad - masturbation jokes? Way to class up the joint.
The Carlos Mencia Book Prize for Most Egregious Use of B-List Celebrities
Winner: Boost Mobile
Quivering: Kind of a weird one, because it's not really the 25th anniversary of the 1985 Bears, but rather the 24th (they won the Super Bowl in January of 1986). So this basically came out a year too early. And also, the Bears were not even in playoff contention this season. So this comes out of nowhere. Since Walter Payton isn't around to be a part of the commercial, you get a host of B-listers in this one, all deserving of the Mencia Book Prize. The most famous is either the former punky QB Jim McMahon, or perennial attention whore Mike Ditka (who just started his own line of wines!).
Also, be warned: do not "go online to find the rest of (their) jam." It's just more half-rhymes, and more old white man in a cheetah print thong than you care to see. I challenge anyone to remember that this commercial was for a cell phone company.
SkyMall Championship Trophy
Winner: The United States Census Bureau
Windier: To say that this ad - directed by Christopher Guest, by the way - features the weirdest attempt to sell a product doesn't even get at the root of the problem. I'm not even sure you could say that this ad is selling a product. The Census isn't a product, after all - the idea, I guess, is that people need to be encouraged to fill out their census forms. So, with that said... how in God's name does this ad do that? If you go on to YouTube, there is a wealth of related content, which probably explains the full concept if you actually bother to watch all of it (I watched about a minute and then got bored). But not everyone is going to check out your ancillary content on YouTube. The premise needed to be distilled down into a 30-second spot for mass consumption, and this ad does not do that. It features characters we don't know or care about (and makes no attempt to explain them), dialogue that's so vague it's virtually nonsensical, and one of the worst integrations of a brand name into an otherwise unrelated script that I've ever seen. John McCain (on his Twitter feed) called the ad a waste of money... and he's right. Not because the Census has no business advertising during the Super Bowl, but because the Census has no business making a bizarre, meaningless ad that almost fails to get even the bare minimum of its point across. You're not Bud Light, Census Bureau. If anyone should be making a straight-faced, non-hilarious ad, it's you. Instead, we got this mess.
Worst Super Bowl Ad of 2010
Quivering: eTrade - it's been a long time comin'. You've been annoying us with these cheaply edited voiced-over babies for years, and it's high time you get recognized for it. Consider this a kind of career accomplishment for all the torture you've unleashed upon the innocent American viewing public. This award is kind of like Martin Scorsese's Oscar for The Departed, except that we're trying to tell you that we hate you.
I've been wondering - what is it that's so darned funny about babies cheating on their baby girlfriends and lying about it? Ahh, right - nothing. And what is it about jealousy-fueled baby cat fights and references to infant "milk addiction" that makes me want to sign up for an online stock trading account? Hmm... oh yeah, I didn't do that, because I have a brain. There have been many head-scratching installments to this campaign, but the sheer shock factor in this one really has me wondering how this could possibly appeal to the practical-minded investor.
Oh, and eTrade? Now that you've won, please let these babies grow up and stop the campaign.