The best and worst Super Bowl ads. (VIDEO)

Advertising deconstructed.
Feb. 7 2011 7:58 AM

The Best and Worst Super Bowl Ads

Darth Vader and Eminem win. Kim Kardashian loses.

(Continued from Page 1)

Motorola makes the ballsiest move of the night, advertising its Xoom tablet by evoking one of the most famous Super Bowl ads of all time: Apple's "1984," which presented Apple as an upstart brand for right-thinking rebellious types. This new spot imagines Apple as the hegemon, showing us a world in which all of humanity dresses in identical white jumpsuits (and listens to identical white ear buds). The only outlier is a scruffy young man who will save us from this homogenous dystopia by … using his tablet computer to make a lame animation for the cute girl who sits near him at work. I like this ad's pluck, but I imagine the meta-narrative was lost on many viewers, and the spot failed to show me why the Xoom isn't just going to be the next Zune. (It takes pictures, which an iPad doesn't do, but otherwise it seemed pretty similar to the product Motorola was rattling its saber at.)

Volkswagen plugs the Passat in one of my favorite ads of the night. A small child decked out in an impressive Darth Vader costume storms around the house trying and failing to use the Force—on the washer-dryer, the family dog, a doll. About to give up, he makes a final test of his powers on his dad's sedan—and manages to use the Force to start the engine. (Or so he thinks—his dad has turned the car on with a remote starter.) I confess I'm an easy mark for this ad: I spent some time as a boy testing out my own telekinetic powers. I also own this. But there's a sweetness to the ad that I think resonates regardless of whether you know how to spell the name of the Wookiee home planet.   The contrast between the large, scary mask and the small frame of the child was adorable, as was the child's stutter step of shock when he thinks he's pulled off his trick. I also loved the cocked brow of the father; something tells me he's living vicariously through his son—or daughter—in that moment.

Like many advertisers this year, Volkswagen made its Super Bowl ads—including the Vader one—available on the Web well before kickoff. The idea is to generate some buzz in the run-up to the game. This strikes me as a wise strategy in the case of VW—the Vader ad got more than 13 million views and some nice mentions in the press before the game, but it was still new to the vast majority of television viewers. Plus, the Web version is a full minute in length, allowing for a less hurried pace that better sets up the kicker. Here's the 60-second version.  

Just before halftime, Chevy comes back for thirds and introduces the single stupidest car feature in automotive history. The aforementioned Cruze will read your Facebook news feed aloud to you as you drive. Climate-controlled cup holders now seem practical by comparison. Also, this can't possibly be safe. I trust the New York Times' "Driven to Distraction" team is already on the case.

Halftime: Despite the complex wiring required to make the Black Eyed Peas' light-up costumes a reality, there's not a single wardrobe malfunction. Mazel tov to the crew!

Third Quarter
Is there a less sexy word than posturepedic? I can't think of one. But kudos to Sealy for providing the sexiest ad of the broadcast. It's a wonderfully simple concept: Overhead shots of attractive couples enjoying post-coital bliss, scored to Carmen McRae's sultry "Just a Little Lovin." Though there's no question about what's being depicted, the vibe is playful and tender, with no hint of the tawdriness trucked in by the likes of GoDaddy. (The couples are conservatively swaddled in linens.) I loved the tagline: "Whatever you do in bed, Sealy supports it." A nice play on words, and a touching sentiment. An open-minded mattress manufacturer! It warms the heart.

Mini Cooper reminds us that a silly concept can be winning if well-executed. Here we have a mock game show, "Cram It In The Boot," in which the contestant must cram as much stuff as he can into the trunk of the new Mini Countryman. The items he's asked to load into the trunk are delightfully gonzo—a six foot sandwich, a tiered wedding cake, a large tree branch complete with wasp's nest. There's not much to this ad, but it made me chuckle and it succeeded in impressing me with the size of this small car's large boot.

Coming back from commercial, Joe Buck pays tribute to the American servicemen and women watching the telecast in 175 countries worldwide on the Armed Forces Network. I was surprised to learn in an article in Advertising Age last week that AFN does not carry ads—members of the military who watch the game on that channel see only football and public service announcements. This strikes me as unpatriotic. But at least one of the PSAs this year was damn slick. In this spot, a ballpoint pen is convincingly filmed in a closeup that makes it look like a rifle, a reminder to military personnel serving overseas that they should make their voices heard by voting. 

Coca-Cola returns to a tried and true theme: The universal appeal of an ice-cold soda. Two guards eye each other warily as they patrol either side of a remote, contested border but briefly let down their guard so they can share a Coke. The ad has a careful vagueness about it—clearly the folks in Atlanta didn't want these enemies to evoke any real border dispute. The guards' archaic, tasseled uniforms and swords suggested some benignly bygone conflict. But I was impressed that after the guards finish their Cokes, they resume their lonely marches, less thirsty but still sworn enemies. I admire an ad that is realistic about the power of soda to alter geopolitical realities.

I am pretty sure this Hyundai ad is actually an outtake from The Big Lebowski.