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.

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An ugly missed field goal set up the night's best ad, one so strong I don't even mind that it was paid for with my taxpayer dollars. In a mesmerizing 120-second spot, Chrysler, which still owes the U.S. government $5.8 billion, sets out to introduce its new 200 model and to rehabilitate Detroit's tarnished image while they're at it. The ad's co-stars are the city itself, shot in blue-gray hues, and one of its proudest sons, Eminem, who drives a 200 around town wearing a look of defiance familiar from his turn in 8 Mile. The rapper's impact is diminished slightly by the weak, stop-motion spot for Lipton Brisk iced tea he was featured in earlier in the evening, but the opening strains of his anthem "Lose Yourself" are the perfect accompaniment to this audacious ad. "I got a question for you," the ad's salt-of-the-earth narrator says in a voice-over. "What does this city know about luxury? What does a city that's been to hell and back know about luxury?" He goes on to offer a compelling answer, arguing that Detroit is a city whose residents have auto-making in their bones. Anyone who has driven a Sebring, the unloved model the 200 is replacing in the Chrysler fleet, might uncharitably note that Detroit's years of experience haven't always served it well. But the spell the ad casts doesn't admit such thoughts. It left me pumping my fist and pledging to buy American everything.

Fourth Quarter
A mash note from the NFL to its fans splices together Super Bowl moments from across television history—Happy Days, Seinfeld, TheSopranos, Cheers, and other classic programs are represented. I'm a sucker for a good montage, so I appreciated the gesture, but I'm still mad at the NFL for its slow response to the concussion crisis.

A driver swerves to avoid hitting a beaver, and the beaver returns the favor six months later by saving the man's life. I enjoyed this lighthearted ad for Bridgestone tires. It dramatized an experience I imagine most drivers have had, that strange reflex that leads you to endanger your own life to spare the life of a varmint. I like the idea that each time you dodge the poor creature you're paying into some kind of karmic reserve fund. It makes me worry about my father, however, who lives by the cold-blooded rule that it is always better to stay in your lane, the squirrel be damned.  

Skechers has installed Kim Kardashian as the new spokesperson for ShapeUps, its appallingly ugly line of workout sneakers. (She replaces Joe Montana, whom I won't be able to forgive for several more years.) Like many brands this year, ShapeUps coordinated its Super Bowl strategy with its social-media strategy, announcing the Kardashian ad, a steamy affair in which she breaks up with her hard-bodied personal trainer on the brand's Facebook page. The move seems to have paid off, eliciting enthusiastic responses such as these:

Geri Anton: Love my Skechers but I do not respect Kim as a front runner for the ads. She is not a good role model.

Annette Pentecost: Skechers; you have gone down in my opinion of your shoes by having anything to do with the Kardashians. I can't stand them and by the comments I have read on here neither can many of your other shoe purchasers.

You can't buy that kind of word-of-mouth. OK, time for me to slow down this ad for Rio on my DVR so I can get the code to the special level of Angry Birds—seems like a good way to unwind after a long night of ad viewing. If I didn't discuss your favorite ad, please do the honors in the comments section below. Apologies in advance for fans of talking babies and middle-management monkeys—those venerable Super Bowl friends were basically just doing the same old same old, so I skipped them.

Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers on their victory, and good luck to the NFL's players and owners. The specter of a lockout looms over next season, which raises a question. If an agreement isn't reached by this time next year, and the Super Bowl is canceled, will advertisers sit idly by? Or might we spend a Sunday night next February watching back-to-back ads, with no distracting interruptions from the gridiron?

Corrections, Feb. 7, 2011: The article originally misspelled the words Wookiee and Aztec.

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