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.

Welcome to the annual Ad Report Card Super Bowl Special. I'm taking over for Seth Stevenson  this year and feeling a bit the way Aaron Rodgers must have the first time he jogged out onto Lambeau Field. (Note to Seth: I'm comparing you to Brett Favre the Super Bowl champion and future Hall of Famer, not the avid sexter.)

First Quarter
It's a Super Bowl tradition: Each year Bud Light buys the first spot of the game, and each year it's a stinker. A couple takes part in a spoof of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The host shows the couple to their renovated kitchen, but it turns out the only change he's made has been to place a bucket of cold Bud Light longnecks on the counter. Dumb, but slightly less sophomoric than openers from previous years—there's not a single groin or head injury.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

The bodily-harm drought ends with the second ad of the evening. Doritos has again offset the hefty price tag for Super Bowl ad time—upward of $3 million for 30 seconds—by farming out the creative work to nonprofessionals via a contest. A man standing behind a plate glass door taunts his girlfriend's pug with a bag of Doritos. The pug charges, flattens the door and the man, and gets his little paws on the nacho chips. The message: Doritos is the official snack food of dudes who are mean to dogs. The ad does leave the viewer with a burning question: Was that Kristen Wiig? (It was not.)

Audi presents a high gloss, high concept ad. Rich guys mount an escape from some kind of special prison for the ultra wealthy. There are a couple of funny gags as the authorities attempt to capture the fugitives—I laughed when the warden cried "release the hounds" and a pack of well-coiffed Afghan hounds gave chase. But the payoff is disappointing: The prison break turns out to be an elaborate set-up for a bland tagline: "Escape the confines of old luxury." What's more, the ostensible hero of this spot is a wealthy criminal. At a moment when America is still licking its wounds from an economic collapse that was fueled in part by the greed and malfeasance of fat cats, is this the man you want representing your brand? That the ad debuted during a showdown between teams representing two proudly working-class cities doesn't much help Audi's cause, either.

Pepsi Max sets race relations back a decade or two with a mean-spirited ad that culminates in a black couple assaulting a blond jogger and then fleeing the scene of the crime. Did this really trouble no one at PepsiCo? The ad came out of the same contest that produced the Doritos spot. You get what you pay for.

Earlier in the evening, Chevy embarrassed itself with a tasteless ad for its Cruze Eco that touted the vehicle's excellent fuel economy by  making fun of deaf old people. The automaker redeems itself with an amusing spot in which a Chevy Silverado HD plays the role of Lassie, riffing on the old joke that Timmy's father could somehow discern from Lassie's barking that his boy had been bitten by a rattler in yonder woods. (Here, the pickup's horn replaces the collie's bark.) I liked how each of the calamities that befell the young boy allowed the trusty pickup to show off its torque, towing capacity, and other features.

In the worst moment of personal branding of the evening, Alex Rodriguez, arguably America's most unloveable sports star, allows himself to be caught by Fox's cameras in the stands, having several kernels of popcorn smooshed into his mouth by Cameron Diaz. Are there even any Yankee fans left who like this guy?

It's not till the end of the first quarter of play that we have our first effects-rich, blockbuster-caliber ad of the night. A Kia Optima is stolen, in turn, by a rogue police officer, a Bond villain, a sea god, aliens, and ultimately by an Aztec warrior.   The clever tagline: "One epic ride." It's worth noting that the plot of this ad is only slightly crazier than the plot of Cowboys and Aliens.

Second Quarter
The only Budweiser ad of the night is a dud: A surly Old West gunslinger is about to shoot up a saloon that's run out of Bud, when a last minute shipment arrives, saving the day. The gunslinger is so happy he bursts into a rendition of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." Can we all agree that the trope of a tough guy doing something kinda gay needs to be retired?


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