Commercials suck. Nobody likes it when their favorite television show or movie gets interrupted with minutes upon minutes of mind numbing advertisements bent on convincing you that living life without their product is unbearable.
However, despite a near ubiquitous disdain for advertisements 364 days of the year, the Superbowl represents the one day that Americans across the country (and people all around the world) come together with the united purpose of watching 60 minutes of football and 3 hours worth of commercials. And make no mistake, the highlight of the Superbowl for everyone that does not have a vested interest in the game itself is the commercials.
The Superbowl is when advertisers are supposed to break out their proverbial A-game, and when ad spots cost an average of $3.5 million for the most watched television event every year, viewers not surprisingly expect the most creative, funniest, and clever commercials of the year. In fact, the Superbowl generally acts as the testing grounds for the rest of the year’s commercials. The best ads will inevitably be aired throughout the remainder of the season or act as the template for subsequent follow up commercials.
In the weeks leading up to the game, we have been treated to some incredibly inane ads. The past couple of years have seen advertisers falling into the trap of using past advertising successes to create ever more ridiculous commercials until the advertisement loses all context in relation to the product that is being sold. The best example of this is the series of hamster ads to promote the Kia Soul. The most recent involves this absurd series of events in where rapping hamsters roll up in the middle of a warzone and proceed to stomp the yard to the beat of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”. The warring factions (featuring robots?) proceed to pick up the beat and start a dance party and the hamsters roll out leaving a wake of peace, love, and happiness under the banner of “A New Way To Roll.”
Now, what the hell does that commercial have to do with the Kia Soul other than the product appearing for a few seconds? The commercial is a far cry from the original ad, which shows hamsters around town on a wheel until some ‘cooler’ hamsters roll up in a Kia Soul, perfectly driving home the point that it’s a unique vehicle that will set you apart from the masses. I’m no expert on advertising, but shouldn’t ads sell a product rather than simply reference itself and hope that the viewer gets the reference? Imagine seeing the LMFAO hamster ad with no knowledge of American culture or the previous Kia ads. You would have absolutely no idea what was going on or what was being advertised. If companies seek to increase ownership of their product, shouldn’t they make commercials that sell the product rather than the characters they create?
This year’s incredibly disappointing series of ads reflected this lack of creativity and self referential confusion. It seemed to me that almost every commercial simply decided to throw in a random celebrity to promote the product as we were treated to cameos from Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Matthew Broderick, Elton John, Ricky Gervais, Regis Philman, and countless others. Some of these were good, others were bad, let’s see which ones were the best.
Volkswagen probably offered up the best commercial of the game with an overweight dog trying to get back in shape so it can chase cars. This amusing montage was punctuated at the very end with the perfect tagline to sell the VW Beetle: “It’s back, and better than ever.” This flawlessly linked the dog’s product to the new and improved Beetle. This otherwise perfect commercial was dragged down by a pointless reference to last year’s Darth Vader VW advertisement. Yes, last year’s commercial was hilarious and clever. However, we don’t need to be reminded just how clever it was, and nor should you still be patting yourself on the back about it a year later, on national television nonetheless. Also, everyone knows that Darth Vader never returned to Tatooine after he got his suit, so come on, get with the picture!
Bud Light and Kia probably offered the other two best ads of the game. Although Bud Light went big budget for its Prohibition era ad, the company’s “Here We Go” standby ad featuring the dog Wego had the most impact on me. Despite creating the aforementioned abomination of an ad with its dancing hamsters, Kia actually revealed a successful ad Sunday with a surreal yet engaging dream commercial despite the random appearance by Motley Crüe. These two ads made their point and successfully linked their imagery to their product without alienating the viewer, though Kia’s ad definitely pushed the limits.
The worst ad we were subjected to had to be either Skechers’ commercial featuring Mr. Quiggly the dog, or Jack In The Box’s baffling bacon marriage. I love dogs, but could they have picked somebody as ugly as Mr. Quiggly for this ad? If there is a dog in a commercial, it had better make me want to buy the product rather than call for a nationwide boycott of it. Additionally, I simply didn’t understand what they were going for with the angle they took. I can see the pitch being made to Skechers’ executives right now. “Ok so we have this dog, but he has our shoes, because why would a person want to wear the shoes am I right? Anyways, the dog beats some dogs in a race, catchphrase, and then Mark Cuban. Deal?” I suppose they hoped the dog would do all the work for them. Too bad the dog apparently wanted to renegotiate his contract at the end of the spot.
Meanwhile, Jack In The Box simply missed the mark with its marriage commercial, stooping to the 5th grade adage of “If you like it so much, why don’t you just marry it?” Nothing about that commercial made me want to go to Jack In The Box. Rather than listen to the endless drabble about how great the new bacon thing was, I was distracted by the fact that I actually thought that Jack In The Box was about to endorse gay marriage in a national television spot for a couple of seconds. Regardless of your stance on the topic, that would have been shocking. And perhaps it would have made for a better ad too. Instead, Jack In The Box decided to exploit our expectations before dragging us along a random tangent about one man’s courage to love bacon freely.
The Ugly (Hey is that *insert celebrity here*?)
There were a lot of forgettable ads this year, most of which featured out of work actors and celebrities looking to make a quick buck. As far as I’m concerned, more power to them, but I have to say it was a little depressing seeing Matthew Broderick reprise his role in Ferris Bueller’s day off to promote a Honda. And while Jerry Seinfeld’s bid to own the first Acura NSX was entertaining, I was more concerned with what The Soup Nazi actor was doing by the end of the spot than where the nearest Acura dealership was. And what was Elton John doing? Seriously! Someone explain that to me. While these celebrity cameos were nice, and some of them even well done (Clint Eastwood’s ramblings about Chrysler, Detroit, and America comes to mind), I found them mostly unnecessary.
However, the award most jaw dropping, over-the-top, and out of context commercial with the most WTF cameos was the Samsung Galaxy ad featuring The Darkness and Brian Urlacher. This commercial started off innocently enough until everyone breaks out into “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” and chaos ensues in a sing-along worthy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s float scene with “Twist And Shout”. There’s explosions, Brian Urlacher makes a random appearance, and just all around confusion. While it made absolutely no sense, I have to admit that it was pretty damn entertaining. So that just about sums up this year’s Super Bowl commercials. Most ads ultimately fell flat or simply tried to take the easy way out by blasting us with over the hill celebrities or self-referential humor that has nothing to do with the product itself. Hopefully next year’s commercials will actually provide something a bit more substantial in terms of quality and content. However, there is much to be said about this year’s ads, no matter how disappointing they were; while The Darkness might not make me want to buy a Samsung Galaxy, they can sure put on a pleasurable if not schizophrenic minute and a half of entertainment, which is certainly more than I can say of Madonna’s halftime show.
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