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A Brown and Bubbly Evening: The Best and Worst of Super Bowl Ads

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Pop quiz: You’ve just placed an ad at Super Bowl XL.
When it’s done, you want the viewers to associate your product with (a)
a cavity search; (b) Leonard Nimoy; (c) being "brown and bubbly."

If you answered "any of the above," you should be
directing a corporate ad budget. These were the dubious messages of (a)
a Sierra Mist spot, (b) an Aleve painkiller ad and (c) a commercial for
Diet Pepsi, in which a Pepsi can gets P. Diddy to help it record a
single called "Brown and Bubbly." Seriously, you back up a money truck
in front of Diddy, and that’s the best thing you can get him to say
about your drink—that it’s brown, and it’s bubbly? That makes it sound
like a Superfund site.

The animated corpses of The Rolling Stones played
tonight’s halftime show, and it was an ironic choice at America’s
greatest national feast of advertising. The Stones played
"Satisfaction"—Mick Jagger noted that they could have played it at
Super Bowl I, in 1967 — and the Super Bowl is, of course, the event
where you’re watching your TV, and a man pays two and a half million
dollars to come on and tell you how white your shirts can be. (The
closest the Stones came to a Janet Jackson moment, by the way, was when
ABC, on tape delay, bleeped the end of the line "You make a dead man
come" from "Start Me Up.")

Much like the halftime show, this year’s lackluster
crop of ads broke no real new ground. Instead they reprised several
trends of the last decade or so—animatronic animals, inscrutable tech
ads, ironic humor, lowbrow humor and plenty of celebrity appearances.

But there were a couple new trendlets. First, cell
phones are apparently the new dot-coms—there were a good half-dozen ads
for phones and services, including a baffling Motorola ad that implied
its phones fell to Earth 2001-style (which would make us the
australopithecines) and a clever NFL Mobile spot in which an old man
lectures a younger guy that in his day they got game scores the
old-fashioned way, by going to the Internet. There were also,
reflecting the oil-shocked outside world, a couple smug ads for "green"
hybrid cars; neither, however, was as enjoyable as one for the
old-fashioned gas-guzzling Hummer H3, which portrayed the behemoth as
the love child of a monster and a giant robot. (It’s funny because it’s
true!)

As usual, there were several blockbuster movie
trailers, some promising (Mission Impossible III, Pixar’s Cars), some
not so much (16 Blocks, Poseidon). The most unfortunate was for the
dystopian thriller V for Vendetta, not only because it gave away
several images from the movie’s climax but because, with its pictures
of a Big Brother-like dictator, the ad—and thus the movie—looked like a
weak imitation of Apple’s classic "1984" Super Bowl spot.

The Super Bowl, the biggest broadcasting event of the
year, also draws the broadest audience of the year, and it sells
everything from pricey cars to cheap beer. One of the most obnoxious
ads of the night showcased the voice-activated on-board computer of the
Acura TL, showing various white-collar drivers talking to their cars,
asking them to place calls and order Chinese food. The ad would have
been perfect if it had ended with one of the distracted yuppie yappers
crashing in a huge fireball.

Conversely, some of the best spots were good old dumb
beer commercials, like a Bud Light spot in which a man builds a
revolving wall to hide his fridge full of beer. ("Guys, hurry up! The
magic fridge is back!" yells his neighbor on the other side of the
wall.)

The rest of the best and worst fell into no
particular category. Dove ran a beautiful spot featuring little girls
with body issues ("Hates her freckles," "Thinks she’s ugly"), even if
the subject (a corporate "self-esteem fund"?) is dubious at least.
FedEx was reliably funny, with a caveman sending a package by
pterodactyl, which was eaten by a T. Rex (and yes, Dr. Science, I know
cavemen and dinosaurs did not co-exist). And a Michelob Ultra Amber
commercial—with a man brutally tackling a small woman in a friendly
football game—had me laughing, I’ll admit, harder than any spot
tonight. ("The world of light beer," read the tag, "just got a little
darker.")

Internet registry service GoDaddy.com, on the other
hand, ran an annoying reprise of the spot that, last year, tweaked the
Janet Jackson controversy using a busty spokesmodel: funny in 2005,
self-congratulatory in 2006. Gillette ran a goofy, futuristic spot for
its Fusion razor—dudes, I want to shave my face, not master freaking
quantum physics. Fidelity ran a tone-deaf ad giving Paul McCartney as a
financial role model:  "The key is, Never stop doing what you love."
Uh, no, the key is, write dozens of the most successful pop songs in
history and spend the rest of your life collecting the money. But
Fidelty isn’t going to help you with that.

A few ads were simply puzzling, like one, with people
toasting the camera in different languages, from "The Beer Institute,"
a body that I did not know existed but the knowledge of which makes me
think I seriously misspent my college education.

There were also the ads that were good for me, bad
for them: spots that, caught up in the annual pressure to entertain and
make a statement, were fun to watch but did nothing to sell the
product. Ameriquest Mortgage aired two hilarious spots about mistaken
circumstance ("Don’t judge too quickly"), but, if I didn’t have a TiVo
with a rewind function, I could not have told you what either one was
for.

By that standard, then, what was the best commercial
of the night? Definitely that Diet Pepsi "Brown and Bubbly" ad. I doubt
I’ll get that God-awful jingle out of my head until the day I die.
Mission accomplished, Diddy.

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