Super Bowl Special
The best and worst ads this year.
For the third year in a row, I have sacrificed my Super Bowl Sunday to review these ads for you. I've abstained from all beer drinking (and permitted myself only moderate food-gorging) so as to remain sharp and alert throughout my critique.
How am I rewarded for this effort? Each year, the ads have gotten progressively worse. I'm not sure this new batch offered a single watercooler-worthy moment. What's up with you, Madison Avenue? Do you want us to pay attention to the game?
I submit to you my cranky, underwhelmed Super Bowl ad diary:
Pregame. Conditions are still promising: We've got a couch, a very large television, a few friends, and takeout Chinese. Let the marketing begin.
Heading into the game this year, industry analysts said the ads would skew more female-friendly. (Supposedly, advertisers had discovered that women make up half the Super Bowl audience.) But the first major spot of the evening, for Full Throttle—a new energy drink from Coca-Cola—features scores of troglodytic male clichés. (Hydraulic hot rods. Shark fishing. Mexican wrestlers.) The tagline is "Let Your Man Out." At one point, a massive 18-wheeler with Full Throttle logos terrorizes a puny, foreign-make pick-up with Red Bull logos. Clearly, Full Throttle seeks to feminize, wussify, and emasculate its main competitor. This worked astonishingly well when the GOP did it to the Democrats, and I see no reason why it can't work again.
Team introductions: The Seahawks run out to "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve, while the Steelers counter with "Right Here, Right Now" by Fatboy Slim. Is this 1998? In Britain? No time to wonder, because here's the kickoff. And if you must ask, yes, I am indeed ready for some football.
As with last year, our first in-game ad arrives courtesy of Bud Light. And, just like last year, it's a bit of a dud. A man hides bottles of Bud Light around his office, causing a frenzy of destruction as co-workers hunt for them. This is not all that funny, nor all that distinctive. Just more slapstick dross from a beer brand. What a letdown—America waits all year for these ads, and this is how we kick things off?
Ah, now here's a showstopper that should have been our lead-in: Burger King puts on a Busby Berkeley musical number. Singing and dancing "Whopperettes" dress as various burger components (my favorite is the mayonnaise dress, followed by the beef-patty tutu). This was the only ad all night that was outsized and garish enough to be Super Bowl-worthy. Thus, I approve. I'm still not sold on BK's mascot, though. "The King" is a silent, frightening weirdo, whom even the Whopperettes refer to as "freaky." No doubt he appeals to Burger King's core demo of 18- to 25-year-old men. But I get the sense that he repulses everybody else.
Toyota hawks a new hybrid Camry. A Hispanic dad explains to his son that their car runs on both gas and electric power—just like the dad speaks both Spanish and English. Cute. And likely effective with the target market for hybrids (progressive, forward-thinking people who think bilingualism is hip). But does anyone not understand, at this point, the basics of the hybrid concept? Do we need a reductive explanation couched as a discussion with a child? Also, my friends felt the analogy could have been less trite and more fun. What if, say, a bisexual mom explained to her kid that—just as the car runs on two kinds of fuel—she's attracted to both men and women? Now, that's the kind of boundary pushing that a Brokeback-loving, hybrid-buying America wants to see.
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.