Slate Staffers Chat With Readers About This Year’s Super Bowl Commercials

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Feb. 6 2012 7:47 PM

Beckham’s Bod and Clint’s Politics

Slate staffers chat with readers about this year’s Super Bowl commercials.

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VW's Vader Kid makes a cameo in this year's ad. Good idea?

Ad Report Card columnist Seth Stevenson and Slate culture editor John Swansburg were on our Facebook page on Monday to chat with readers about this year’s Super Bowl commercials. They were joined by Slate editor David Plotz and senior editor Dan Kois. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Seth Stevenson: Hi everyone! John and I are here and ready to chat.

John Swansburg: Hi, I'm Slate's Culture Editor. Looking forward to taking my mind off of the Patriots by talking about the Super Bowl ads with you all. And with the maestro, Seth Stevenson.

Sandee Molenda: Hands down, Beckham's H & M ad was my favorite... for once it was nice to see that advertisers realize women watch football and we don't want to see Go Daddy commercials ad museum. My second fav was Clint Eastwood... nice seeing a Republican giving kudos to the President for helping to save the auto industry.

Chuck Kallenbach: Are you saying that the Clint Eastwood commercial wasn't for the Democrats? Halftime indeed!

Seth Stevenson: But isn't Clint a Republican? Interesting, because the ad did in some ways play like a spot for the Obama campaign. Morning in America-esque, favoring the incumbent at the helm of a turnaround.

Patrick Jean: Clint Eastwood's rah-rah speech failed to mention that Chrysler, for whom he was whoring, took a taxpayer-funded bailout.

John Swansburg: The politics of the Eastwood ad honestly didn't really hit me at first. I was worrying about the fact that the American experience is already halfway over. Though 450 some odd years ain't bad, I guess.

Cliff Shaw: I thought it was tasteless and very arrogant on the Obama / Biden team.

Jane Meyers: Setting aside the politics, I thought Eastwood's commercial was pretty good.

Delroy Baugh: Clint may not be a democrat but he is also not an idiot! He knows that the current state of the Republican Party is a mess. I think that his commercial was a very effective re-elect Obama ad and, except for the Fiat ad, was the best half-time commercial.

Rebecca Sha: I guess a registered Republican got it right this time. Clint for president!

Christine Bailey Whitely: First, Clint is a Republican. Second, Chrysler received a bail-out. Third, Fiat now owns Chrysler. I don't think it was a tip of the hat. Great spot, though.

Kerry Ballard: I think Chrysler's with Eminem was the best last year and Eastwood was the best this year. There is an element of real in those ads. They did not sugar coat what Detroit looks like or how tough it will be to build our way back. They're also not afraid to say we're succeeding despite far too many who wrote Detroit off just a few years ago.

Seth Stevenson: Agree, the Chrysler ads were my favorites the past two years. Imported From Detroit is an inspired tagline. And everyone loves a gritty optimist. We want to believe the US economy is turning around, and Chrysler has managed to entwine its brand with that shared hope.

Valerie Street: Don't think the Eastwood/Chrysler ad was in any way a nod to Obama or the Democratic campaign for anything. That's over-thinking things in a very unattractive, neurotic sort of way. It was just a good commercial, and a nod to AMERICA. Karl Rove kinda’ needs to chill.

Faraz Hussain: I don't get all the hype for the Eastwood ad. How low are manufacturing industry standards that they celebrate ability to manufacture 100+ year old technology? What next, bailouts for the horse-carriage industry and a Super Bowl ad next year celebrating its revival?

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Paul Hoogeveen: The ads? Dull, boring, pointless. Kind of like the Patriots' defense.

Seth Stevenson: Are you kidding, the Patriots defense was a non-stop thrill ride! Never a dull moment. Kyle Arrington is as unpredictable an entertainer as Lady Gaga.

Nariko Ott: They are advertisements and therefore have no artistic merit.

Kate Rhodes Burrows: Getting really tired of all the nonsense regarding the ball game, the commercials and how old or young Madonna looks. Enough please.

Angela Sumner: I took a break to read up more on Ron Paul, actually.

Seth Stevenson: Lot of haters in here. I think there are ads with artistic merit. Of course, they undercut themselves when they flash, say, a toothpaste logo at the end. But ads have provided some remarkable audio/visual moments over the years. Flecks of art, if not gobs of it.

Seth Stevenson: A lot more than the Mayans are giving us.

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Nora Merhar: Sooo... I liked the Samsung ad with The Darkness—it was obvious where the commercial was going, and then Justin Hawkins showed up, SURPRISE! Doesn't hurt that that's one of my favorite songs.

Seth Stevenson: Love The Darkness. But is it good marketing strategy to remind everyone that your competitor's product is so good, people stand in block-circling lines for it?

Nora Merhar: Well, it reminds me what simps people are to stand in block-circling lines for an electronic device. So there is a segment there that Samsung can talk to (i.e., people like me who think people who stand in block-circling lines for a phone are simps...)

Seth Stevenson: I hear you. But do people still have to stand in line for an iPhone 4s? I think I could get one tomorrow. And: stylus??

Nora Merhar: Stylus—good point, although it could be useful for taking credit cards using one of those CC reader apps. Bottom line for me, though, was that the ad got me interested in the product, and I remembered it. And since I am already overdue for a new phone (mine is ancient by electronics standards) that ad might have been the most effective one last night for me.

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John Swansburg: Am I the only person who kind of liked the G.E. turbines ad? I admired the goofy gumption of linking turbines and beer. So silly, but they went for it.

John Swansburg: Other things you presumably can't make without power: Preparation H, AK-47s.

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David Plotz: As a father, I was highly dismayed by the egregious GoDaddy ads. The teleflora ad, also appalling in its "give flowers, get laid" message, was too subtle for my kids.

Seth Stevenson: How did your kids interpret the ad? If you order flowers, they come with a sexy lady?

John Swansburg: I wondered about that. I was watching with adults, but kept thinking about how I wouldn't want to be watching with an eight-year-old. Even the naked M+M ad struck me as sort of PG-13. Also: I don't want my candy anthropomorphized. Or dancing nude.

Seth Stevenson: Yeah, I'm now forced to contemplate popping a nude, male being in my mouth when I eat an M&M.

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John Swansburg: Resolved: Jerry Seinfeld should be ashamed of himself.

Seth Stevenson: Defend your Seinfeld resolution. Is his sin selling out (horse is out of the barn on that one)? Or being unfunny (I thought the ad had a few grin-worthy moments)?

John Swansburg: I have no problem with the selling out. It was the unfunniness. There was a funny moment in the extended version where Seinfeld has a great aside about owning all the characters from his show (Soup Nazi, e.g.). Otherwise I found all the come-ons painful. And the Leno kicker excruciating. Leno was in two too many ads last night. Though it's NBC, so maybe I should be glad it was only two.

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Marilyn Tucker McCall: Beckham was gorgeous, loved the polar bears and Coke and Clint Eastwood—could listen to him read a grocery list!

Dan Kois: I was a big fan of the Will Ferrell Old Milwaukee ad, although I couldn't watch it because I don't live in North Platte, Nebraska. In the age of YouTube, should companies start microcasting more often?

John Swansburg: I totally think they should. So many of these ads were up on the web well before the game—I watched 85 percent of them on Boston.com yesterday afternoon. Why not microcast, particularly if you have a Ferrell to goose your "viral lift"?

Seth Stevenson: The ROI on the Ferrell ads is almost certainly better than 3/4ths of the ads that aired during the game. Perhaps a combo platter is in order—5 second teaser in the first quarter which sends folks to a viralicious YouTube vid. Cost effective, long half-life.

John Swansburg: Related, I always like it at halftime when the local ads come on. In NYC, we were treated to a Tristate Ford Dealers ad in which Derek Jeter looked absolutely ridiculous bopping his head to music while driving a Ford Mustang. Slim consolation for us Bostonians, but it was something.

Thora Reynolds: Audi's Vampire Party was easily my favorite. I do not have a TV, so I watched the commercials on Hulu.

Seth Stevenson: Fascinating. Madison Avenue loves you—you skipped the content and watched the commercials! And likely paid much closer attention to them then you would during an advertising pod on TV.

John Swansburg: I was sad about the use of Echo and the Bunnymen, but also impressed by it. I wished the driver hadn't gotten zapped at the very end. Felt like one beat too many. But otherwise, I liked the ad, though I also agreed with Seth that headlights alone do not make me want to buy a luxury automobile.

Nora Merhar: My BF pointed out that that Echo and the Bunnymen song was used in The Lost Boys. It was kind of an 80's-tastic night.

Seth Stevenson: VERY '80s night. But that's the age group most likely to be in the market for a new mid-priced automobile these days. Makes sense to use Ferris Bueller to hawk a unibody crossover vehicle to Gen Xers.

Jeremy Repanich: ‎ I'd say the same of the heated steering wheel BMW was touting

John Swansburg: ‎ Totally. Also, as my wife pointed out, is the message you want to be sending that the only thing that gets warm in your car is the steering wheel?

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Jeremy Repanich: What was the last truly great, memorable Super Bowl ad? It seems there wasn't one this year or even in the last few.

Seth Stevenson: I loved a Coke ad from a few years back in which giant Macy's day balloons fight over an inflatable bottle of Coke. Bart Simpson loses and (spoiler alert) Charlie Brown wins.

Mary Harriet Talbut: I think some of the disappointment comes from the availability of the commercials to be viewed before the game. Part of the fun is the surprise of the ad's story-line, which if previewed is lost.

Seth Stevenson: You raise a matter of great debate. Pre-releasing the ads probably gets them more views, builds buzz, etc., but it lessens their impact on game night. It's a trade-off. Advertisers in part justify the high cost of Super Bowl airtime by noting the water cooler effect, in which people discuss the ads for days before and after Super Bowl Sunday, creating much more engagement and attention than an advertisement usually gets.

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Seth Stevenson: Something I didn't mention in my Slate story: Many fewer one-liner, stupid guffaw ads this year. The two that come to mind were both from Doritos, and were user generated. Perhaps ad agencies have ceded that ground, acknowledging that it doesn't take a trained ad creative to make a 30-second video that makes people chuckle.

John Swansburg: Re the one-liners/guffaws: I found myself feeling like the Doritos ads were more effective this year because they owned that territory. I don't particularly like those ads, but the Super Bowl would feel weird without them, so I was grateful to Doritos for slingshotting babies and homicidal dogs.

Shirley Ann Sabot Adams: Two ads that actually hinted of abuse was the Doritos slinging a baby back across a yard in a sling (there actually might be ppl who will try that) and the other where a dog apparently eats a cat....what the hell? All the ads with scantily clad women in sexual poses and Beckham in underwear spoke to me that "sex sells."

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Nora Merhar: HATED the Skechers ad, BTW. On all levels, including the basic fact that French Bulldogs generally have terrible hips and, like most brachycephalic breeds, breathing problems.

John Swansburg: Better French bulldogs than Kardashians, but that's just me.

Seth Stevenson: Wait, they race Kardashians on a track? Where can I bet on this?

Seth Stevenson: My least favorite thing about the Skechers ad was the last-second, utterly pointless appearance of Mark Cuban. What value could he possibly bring? Is he an appealing figure you want to associate with your brand?

Nora Merhar: You know, I completely forgot about Mark Cuban in my general annoyance at the ad. Though I'm obviously not their target audience. My dog friends all preferred the Bud ad with Weego.

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Roman Strakovsky: Did anyone else find the "Euroness" of the Fiat Abarth commercial refreshing in a sea of Bud Light/Doritos/Coke ads?

John Swansburg: I did some research: Bud Light Platinum has higher alcohol content (and slightly more calories) than pre-alchemy Bud Light.

Seth Stevenson: I saw that. 6%! That's microbrew territory!

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John Swansburg: Seth, what did you think of Twinkies showing up in the Chevy apocalypse ad? a) Hostess is bankrupt and b) doesn't it sort of suggest that Twinkies are so far from being actual food that they just might make it through the end of days?

Seth Stevenson: I'm fascinated by multi-brand ads. Like GE prominently showing people drinking Buds. I think at this point everyone knows that the only items to survive the apocalypse will be Twinkies, cockroaches, the Chevy Silverado, and Joan Rivers.

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Kevin Dohner: The commercials were lousy this year. A few that were kinda’ funny, but it wasn't that much different than a playoff game commercial.

Tonie Lamar-Osborne: My main event was the great game with Eli winning.

Jeffrey Rickett: I liked the boy in the pool who had to go to the bathroom, all can definitely relate. But after some moments later we all forgot who the commercial was for until a bunch of us finally figured it out. But even now I forget the name of the Free Income Tax service.

Sophie Tesch: This one was my favorite.

John Swansburg: A subtle but really funny moment from last night: The Alec Baldwin joke slipped into the Best Buy ad starring all those wireless innovators.

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Amanda Wada: I was wondering about the local commercials. The likes of Central New York's locals would normally be expected during day-time TV, not during the Super Bowl. I thought the average cost was something like $3.5 million—there's no way our local pizzeria coughed up that much dough for the commercials we watched last night. So how'd they do it? Is there some sort of local/bulk discount?

Seth Stevenson: The local pods are definitely not selling for $3.5 million a pop. But I have to imagine they cost more than they would during Wheel of Fortune. Wish I had some hard info for you, might be able to report it out for a future article.

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John Swansburg: Big night for Friday Night Lights fans: Peter Berg directed the ad about NFL safety. Peter Berg is also inexplicably directing the inexplicable Battleship. Which stars Taylor Kitsch, who also stars in John Carter. CEFHCL!

Seth Stevenson: And the Wall Street Journal had Michael B. Jordan commenting on the game and the ads all night.

John Swansburg: When the aliens from Battleship complete their conquest of planet earth and begin to do some anthropology on the people they conquered, they will learn from Super Bowl ads that man's greatest ambition, other than a moon base, was a dog who could fetch a beer.

Seth Stevenson: If only Newt Gingrich had promised beer-fetching dogs, he might have won Florida.

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John Swansburg: What did people think of the VW ad? Was the Star Wars kicker fun, or was it trying too hard to relive last year's glory?

John Swansburg: I also liked another ad out of Detroit, though one with a totally different tone: The Camaro ad. As you noted, Seth, the product was front and center, and I enjoyed the kid's extended celebration.

Seth Stevenson: I liked that the girl accepts his marriage proposal on the basis of him owning a Camaro. I almost think that could happen. If the Camaro had just been through a car wash and was looking super hottt.

John Swansburg:‎ Totally: I mean, we saw that other lady accept a proposal in a Camry. Camry may be reliable, but those new Camaros are seriously badass.

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Seth Stevenson: Any thoughts on the Ferris ad? I felt the truncated version that was aired was not that great, but the extended version that's viewable online was chock full of fun Buellerania for folks like me. (The kind of folks who watched the movie in excess of 100 times when they were 12.)

John Swansburg: I agreed with your assessment that it needed more Ruck. And more Mia Sara!

Seth Stevenson: The world needs more Mia Sara. Remind me to lend you my Time Cop DVD.

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Seth Stevenson: Okay gang, I'm going to duck out—I've scheduled the next 30 mins for crying into my hoodie sleeve about the Patriots loss. Thanks to everyone for chatting!

John Swansburg: And I need to go bury the "confident me" who was hovering behind my head all afternoon yesterday going on about how the Pats had this one sewn up. Bye all!

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

John Swansburg is Slate's editorial director. Follow him on Twitter.