The best and worst Super Bowl ads.

Advertising deconstructed.
Feb. 8 2010 7:31 AM

The Best and Worst Super Bowl Ads

Google wins. Talking babies lose.

Also in Slate: Josh Levin analyzes how the Saints pulled off their Super Bowl victory.

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HomeAway.com resurrects the Griswolds, the hapless tourists from the Vacation films, played by Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo. Nice gag about the "complementary" water in snooty hotel rooms. ("With an E—it complements the rooms. It's not free.") But the ad simply teases a longer video posted to the Web at the expense of explaining to the Super Bowl audience what HomeAway.com is and how it works. I, for one, am not anxious to log on and view more sweaty Chevy Chase antics. I'd rather watch the depressing, fully-clothed jiggle footage at GoDaddy.com.

The E-trade talking baby sweet-talks his girlfriend over video chat—and then gets busted for two-timing when his girlfriend realizes "that milkaholic Lindsay" is over at our hero's crib. Maybe talking babies are your thing. They don't do a lot for me. Whatever. Can I just point out: The original idea behind the talking baby was to send the message that E-trade is incredibly easy to use (so easy that an infant can do it). The ads have now lost all connection to this logic. They're just a series of 30-second Look Who's Talking sequels.

The rumblings were correct: Google bought its first Super Bowl ad. True to form, the company didn't attempt to shape its brand with a celebrity spokesperson, a lame comedy bit, or shenanigans involving animals. Instead, an almost all-text ad told the story—through search engine inquiries—of a guy who visits France, meets his soulmate, and starts a family. This was one of multiple ads this year tracing long character arcs (Cars.com and Dove Men+Care both followed a character from birth through adulthood), but, amazingly, the narrative here was expressed entirely through a product demonstration. Ad Report Card has long considered the melding of practical sales pitch with uplifting emotion the holy grail of advertising, and here's a prime example. Frankly, I'm getting a little of sick of Google doing everything right.

Fourth Quarter
An ad for Vizio televisions—touting their ability to display content from the Internet via special included software—shows you all the incredible Internet stuff you could be watching on your Vizio TV: dramatic gopher, the "Numa Numa" guy, the "Chocolate Rain" guy. … Wait, this is what's supposed to convince us we need the Internet on our TVs? Ancient YouTube clips? Tell me honestly: Are you excited to watch content like this on your TV? If so, please let me know, so I can decline your invitation to come over and watch TV.

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Emerald Nuts and Pop Secret (both owned by Diamond Foods) team up to share a 30-second ad with the tagline "Awesome + awesome = awesomer." I can't decide whether it's appealingly frugal for two brands to split the expense of a single ad or whether it's just low-rent. I'm leaning toward the latter.

A man is so protective of his Doritos stash that he uses the savory snack chips as ninja throwing stars when someone tries to steal a bag from him. I admit I chuckled at the suit of Samurai armor made entirely from Doritos. I also liked the earlier ad in which a little boy admonishes his mother's suitor, "Keep your hands off my mama, keep your hands off my Doritos." In the battle of pure humor spots, I'd say Doritos bested Bud Light. Which is remarkable when you consider that all the Doritos ads were submitted as part of a contest, while the Bud Light ads were made by an expensive advertising agency. Chalk one up for the slightly superior mediocrity of crowds.

Two-Minute Warning
With the game slipping out of Peyton Manning's hands (how delightful for this Patriots fan to once again see the glazed eyes, flushed skin, and pursed lips of a whupped Manning), Joe Montana celebrates his intact legacy as the greatest Super Bowl quarterback of all time. How does he celebrate? By doing a voice-over endorsement for Skechers Shape-ups—the butt-toning sneakers that look like orthopedic hospital equipment.

And thus ends a decidedly uninspiring slate of Super Bowl commercials. Will we still be talking about any of these ads years from now as we do with truly great Super Bowl spots? I doubt it. But we can talk about all of them today, in the comments section. Have at it.