I swear the Super Bowl ads get worse every year. We did have one of the best of all time last year with Google's entry, but it's not just the infrequency of the best ads. The middle class of passable, acceptable but generally forgettable ads, ones that won't win any awards but simply don't annoy the hell out of us, seems to be getting smaller every year, as more and more companies watch their millions swirl into a howling vortex of crap. Don't believe me? Take a look at our preliminary guesses for this year's Super Bored Awards - as well as the slew of potential runners-up - and tell me this isn't one of the most dire-looking crops you've seen. It's going to take a lot of overachieving to make 2011 a banner year in the megabucks ad world.
The Apple 1984 Memorial Award for Least Shitty Ad
Explanation: I don't know if we actually need to keep explaining these given that this will be our fourth year handing these awards out... but whatever. This award, pretty evidently, goes to the least awful ad that airs during the game. Sometimes these ads are legitimately great (Google), sometimes they're more just decent and inoffensive (Coke in 2009, Gatorade in 2008), but either way we're just hoping we see at least one worth giving the award to.
Prediction: Scrolling through Ad Age's list of this year's buys, as I said earlier, makes for pretty dismal reading. There are a few that look like they could be undistinguished, but that would give them the win on a technicality, which sucks. Quivering's suggestion was Coke because they're the only major corporation we can trust to make a passable ad, especially with stalwarts like Nike and Gatorade apparently off the game entirely. Mercedes-Benz and BMW (the latter buying an ad for the first time in ten years) are both options to class up the joint, but car commercials these days always seem to be at least a little stupid.
Most Overproduced Ad
Explanation: You can understand, I guess, why advertisers feel the need to try to make their commercials these larger-than-life affairs - spend millions on a 30-second ad and it damn well better be memorable. But the best ads aren't always the ones that go utterly for broke. The worst ones often are.
Prediction: Here's Ad Age's summary of SalesForce.com's campaign: "Ads were developed with help from Will.i.am, part of half-time show act the Black Eyed Peas. The spots happen to feature animated characters called the 'Baby Peas.'" Anyone who was watching CNN on Election Night 2008 saw Will.i.am manage to overproduce the political process, and if you've heard any of the Black Eyed Peas' recent hits, you know that they go hand in hand with overproduction. As Quivering put it, sounds like we have the makings of a spot that would make Liberace blush.
Worst Use of "Humor" Award
Explanation: Another one that could easily go to two-thirds of the ads on the broadcast, this simply "honors" the ad that tried to be funny and failed the hardest.
Prediction: E-Trade. The E-Trade baby will apparently never die, because if there's one thing funnier than womanizing, cheating, boozing and generally being an asshole, it's when babies womanize, cheat, booze and generally behave like assholes. E-Trade has bought into the babies so much that their commercials don't even always mention trading anymore, which is never a good sign.
The Carlos Mencia Book Prize for Most Egregious Use of B-List Celebrities
Explanation: Shelf life is not a common concern for Super Bowl advertisers, since a hugely expensive 30-second spot is the ad equivalent of blowing your load and then rolling over (especially for companies that either rarely advertise during the rest of the year or just run their Super Bowl spot over and over again). Nothing makes this more apparent than the title of this award - I mean, remember when Carlos Mencia was a noteworthy name? Seems like a million years ago. So this award goes either to a weak use of current minor celebrities or, alternately, a weak and embarrassing use of people who maybe were briefly A-listers, except it was two decades ago. Whichever is more desperate.
Prediction: Snickers' famous Betty White ad didn't win any awards with us last year, but it wasn't awful and was certainly one everyone remembered. Then Snickers did another one with Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli. This year... they're doing another one. The people representing who you are when you're hungry that isn't you? Roseanne Barr and Richard Lewis. Apparently this commercial was shot at the Improv in 1987. Keep your finger on that mute button, folks - it's going to be painful.
Flimsiest Pretense Award
Explanation: This one goes to the commercial with either the most inappropriate use of sex or the one that does the worst job of justifying it. You could easily stick GoDaddy.com in front of this since their entire schtick is using sex appeal to sell, of all things, domain name services... but at least they're consistent. It's the companies who suddenly bust it out that we're really worried about.
Prediction: Skechers. Shape-Ups are already in the recently-growing category of shoes designed to tone your physique - in particular, your butt, if you are a woman. Skechers' spokesperson of choice? Kim Kardashian. I think we can all see where this is going.
Cheapest Budget/Clumsiest Execution Award
Explanation: Pretty much what it sounds like. Does your ad look like you had three million and one dollars to spend and the first three million had to go to buying the 30 seconds? Then you'll probably win this award.
Prediction: Doritos and Pepsi are both running "Crash the Super Bowl" contests again this year where users submit homemade ads, thereby costing the companies nothing except the ad space. And because they're user-submitted, they usually look pretty cheap and/or awkward. Plus while we're sure there are some pretty decent user-generated spots out there, you have to bear in mind that Pepsico executives will be choosing at least one of them.
SkyMall Championship Trophy
Explanation: You know how when you flip through SkyMall on an airplane, you find yourself looking largely at weirdly specific products that probably don't need to exist, and the pitches for most of them are totally insane? That's kind of what we're going for with this award - the product that has no business running a Super Bowl ad (like the Census Bureau last year) or simply the weirdest overall attempt to sell a product.
Prediction: Volkswagen. The Ad Age description says that the spot for the new 2012 Beetle "will make use of a 'Black Beetle' character jumping along to the song 'Black Betty' by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion." Um, okay. Was this just the result of some weird train of thought brainstorming exercise that the ad agency had? It will be interesting to see how that ad comes together. If it does.
The GoDaddy.com/SalesGenie.com/Bud Light/Miller Lite/Emerald Nuts Award for Worst Super Bowl Ad
Explanation: No real explanation necessary - when you get beyond all the particular reasons to hate an ad that feed into the other categories, which was simply the worst? This year's winner will join luminaries such as SoBe LifeWater (2008), CareerBuilder (2009), and E-Trade (2010).
Prediction: If you look through that Ad Age list, you know there are at least half a dozen candidates. But one that stands out as a possibility is Best Buy. Why? Three words: Crispin. Porter. Bogusky. Just do a search for that agency on this site and you'll see what we mean - note in particular the plethora of Burger King ads, but don't forget that they were also the geniuses behind the ill-fated Jerry Seinfeld/Bill Gates pairing of 2008. This is also Best Buy's first-ever Super Bowl buy, so they'll probably be on board with all kinds of ridiculous shit just to make a splash - Ad Age gently warns us that "a celebrity or two could also be in the mix." God only knows what that means.