Tuned In

Best and Worst Super Bowl Ads 2010: The Good, the Bad and the (Misogynistically) Ugly

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My quickie reviews of last night’s Super Bowl ads (all of them, with a few exceptions, 68 in total) are up at time.com. I grade them not as an advertising professional but simply as a guy who watches TV and buys stuff, though I try to take the effectiveness of the message into consideration.

My favorites included: Google’s surprisingly sweet love-story-via-Web search; Betty White (and Abe Vigoda) taking a hit for Snickers; Kia’s road trip including Muno from Yo Gabba Gabba!; the Hangover-esque whale tale from Bridgestone; Hyundai’s vision of Brett Favre’s future; C. Montgomery Burns pitching for Coke; Cars.com’s we-sell-confidence spot; and David Letterman and Jay Leno making (somewhat) nice with Oprah. (The Late Shift’s Bill Carter has the story on how the ad got made.) That “controversial” Tim Tebow Focus on the Family ad, on the other hand, ended up being notable mostly for its anticlimactic dullness.

Least favorites? Oh, there were plenty. But the worst trend overall was a running streak of misogyny that made the cheesecake GoDaddy ads look like PSAs for female empowerment.

The most jarringly ugly spot was an ad for Dodge (above) which shows close-ups of grim-eyed, put-upon men while the narrator, Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, runs down all the indignities they put up with for their women, concluding–and I am paraphrasing–You have ruined my life, you soul-killing, ball-breaking succubus, and therefore I am goddamn well going to go out and buy the goddamn car that I goddamn want.

Just listen to the calibrated rage in that monologue; between that and the choice of Hall as narrator, I half expected one of the men to snap and go on a killing spree. It was less like watching a Super Bowl ad and more like eavesdropping on the beginning of a marriage-ending fight.I think Edward Albee may have gotten a script credit.

In a Bridgestone ad, an unseen man hands over his wife to a (disappointed) mob of Mad Max bandits rather than give up his tires, a joke that hasn’t gotten funnier since Henny Youngman used it. In a FloTV spot, sportscaster Jim Nantz gave an “injury report” on a dude who had lost his spine to his girlfriend, who was forcing him to—ick!—shop with her instead of watch the game. In another, a guy sits down with some boring-ass chicks at their boring-ass book club and pretends to care about their boring-ass opinions because they have Bud Light.

Other spots peddled the girl-o-phobia more lightly or instead painted a sad picture of what it’s like to be a guy. In one new ETrade spot, the brand’s baby dealt with a complaining video chat with his girlfriend. A spot selling Dove skin-care goods for men, meanwhile, pitched the product by reminding middle-aged husbands of all the chores, kids and generally exhausting husband/dad duties that have made them “comfortable in [their] own skin.”

Neither spot was as harsh on women as, say, the Dodge commercial. But they come from a similar premise: Sometimes, it’s hard to be a man. Where ads might have once gotten men to bond over ogling women, these ones appealed to a kind of crabbed bitterness in their audience, asking them to commiserate together over the sad lot of the domesticated family man. (Even the KIA spot, which I loved, had an element of escaping-your-stultifying-life fantasy, as it showed a set of kids’ toys dreaming about partying in Vegas, then revealed that they were stuck in the backseat of a practical family car with the kids.)

The big irony here is that much of the buildup to the Super Bowl focused on CBS’s confusing exercise of “standards” in deciding what games would and would not run in the game. The network decided to allow Focus on the Family’s ad, which bothered some women’s rights and pro-choice groups because it was meant to promote FoF’s anti-abortion-rights agenda. And CBS nixed an ad for a gay-dating site, though it would not specify its reasons.

But the same “standards” operation that runs pretty much every Bowl ad through an opaque process of content review for supposed offensiveness somehow did not pick up on, or did not care, that there was an aggregate of ads that conveyed the message that women are annoying, emasculating bitches that men can barely put up with.

Now as I’ve said before, I don’t particularly want CBS or any other network appointing itself an arbiter of moral values. I’d rather the network did not censor ads period, be they from Focus on the Family or mancrunch.com. But once you start applying nebulous “standards,” you deserve to be judged for a lack thereof.

Still, as with all ads–and as with all speech–the most effective response comes not from the network but from the audience. So I wonder what the fallout, if any, there will be for advertisers among the women who, after all, make up an estimated half the Super Bowl audience (and according to at least some studies watch more for the ads than men do). Women (and men) of Tuned Inland, what were you buying last night, and who failed to close the deal?