The best and worst Super Bowl ads.

Advertising deconstructed.
Feb. 2 2009 4:45 AM

The Super Bowl Special

Were the ads any good?

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A Coca-Cola spot shows a young man walking through a town populated solely by online avatars. These fantastical creatures, taking over the real world, represent the idea that people now conduct much of their social interaction over the Internet. At the end of the spot, a shared bottle of Coke helps a young gentleman realize that the jumbo-sized ogre sitting next to him is actually the avatar of a cute girl. This is the eternal message of the Coke brand: Pausing for a moment to enjoy our fizzy beverage will help you remember the simple, classic pleasures of life. Two thoughts: 1) I like online avatars and hope one day to achieve immortality by downloading my brain into the body of a computer-generated elf character. 2) This is the opposite of Pepsi's branding approach, which always rushes to embrace the newest fad (see, e.g., will.i.am). Pepsi would have happily shown two avatars enjoying a virtual cola together, somewhere out there in the cyber-ether.

A spot for Monster.com opens on an executive sitting in an expansive office, with a moose head mounted on the wall above him. The camera swoops around to the other side of the wall, where we see a lackey working at his far more humble desk—with the rest of the moose, and especially the nether-regions, protruding into his face. I thought this was the funniest ad of the night. It also felt timely, as it takes a shot at corporate fat cats and perhaps even references the John Thain office-decoration scandal. Seemed like a clever attempt to capitalize on America's stick-it-to-the-greedheads mood.

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A Budweiser spot serves up an origin story for the Clydesdale mascot. This is the third hokey Clydesdale-centric ad Bud has aired tonight. I wonder if there's a risk that—like Joe Camel before him—the lovable Clydesdale will be condemned as a Trojan horse (if you will) designed to attract children to the Budweiser brand. I also wonder why the ad's equine narrator, who says he's a third-generation immigrant Clydesdale, still retains a thick Scottish accent. Assimilate already.

Fourth quarter: In which the game suddenly becomes a real game, and the referees attempt to set an NFL record for dubious, outcome-altering calls.

Oh my, it's an ad for Cash4Gold. Billing itself as "America's #1 Gold Buyer," this outfit, according to its Web site, buys gold "strictly for its melt value." There was some pregame discussion among advertising types about whether this spot is the first "direct response" ad to air during a Super Bowl. Direct response means the ad urges consumers to contact the product's sales team directly—often via a 1-800 number, or, in this case, through a Web URL prominently displayed throughout the ad. It generally implies a down-market vibe.

This ad certainly reflected the desparate-ish tenor of the times. In the spot, ex-talk show sidekick Ed McMahon and ex-hip-hop idol MC Hammer (both known for having made and then lost fortunes) display the multitude of gold objects they plan to sell through Cash4Gold.com. Among these items: a set of gold golf clubs, a gold hip replacement, and (you knew it was coming) gold Hammer pants. By my count, this is at least the third time MC Hammer has appeared in a Super Bowl ad as the corporeal embodiment of squandered fame and wealth. Great gig. But how much longer can he pull off the role? Haven't all these advertising paydays restored Hammer to solvency?

In the final big spot of the night, Web site registration service GoDaddy.com reprises its long-running marketing theme: boobs. Several chesty women are for some reason testifying before a congressional panel, arguing over which of them has been "enhanced." In the feeble punch line, racecar driver Danica Patrick says, "Yes, I've enhanced. … I've enhanced my image with a domain and a Web site from GoDaddy.com."

GoDaddy has worked assiduously to make itself the laddish, soft-core porn brand of the domain registration category. This seems very limiting. No other domain-registration sites advertised during the Super Bowl, so GoDaddy had an opportunity to differentiate itself in any way it wished. Why go after Maxim readers? Do women not register Web sites? And are we to believe that a GoDaddy Web site—backed by bosom-centric marketing—is really the best way to enhance one's professional image? This ad actively drives me away from the brand.

And that's a wrap, folks. Nothing left but a thrilling finish to the game. For the second year in a row, the on-field action was more entertaining than the commercial breaks. Let's hope this doesn't happen again.

No doubt I've left out your favorite ad. Or maybe your least favorite. You can tell me all about it—and also suggest other, non-Super Bowl ads you'd like me to review—by e-mailing me at adreportcard@gmail.com.