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Ads not so Super

POSTED February 12, 2010 9:59 p.m.

“Wow, what a game on Sunday, am I right? That Drew Brees, he, uh, he looked good out there! And Peyton’s interception, when he threw that ball to that guy in white and gold! He’ll never get into the Hall of Fame now!”

I wish I was exaggerating, but the above is a near-direct quote from, well, just about everyone I spoke to on Monday. For some reason, each and every one of the record-setting 106.5 million people who tuned in to the Super Bowl became an instant expert on the game of football come Monday morning.

But, really, I don’t judge these pigskin rubes. Football is far too arcane for the vast majority of viewers to understand much more than “that guy threw the ball to that other guy!” or “that guy hit that other guy really hard!”

As such, I’m not going to waste any more of this column talking about the actual game. As an Oakland Raiders fan, I’ll pretend that I’m boycotting the Super Bowl in solidarity with my team.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the real attraction for at least half of those who tuned in on Sunday: The commercials.

The Super Bowl really isn’t about football, let’s be honest. The whopping 40-minute halftime show featuring what appeared to be the reanimate corpses of a band once known as The Who – inexplicably, with Ringo Starr’s son on drums – drew more discussion than the play of Colts running back Joseph Addai.

And if a group of Super Bowl partygoers can’t talk during the commercials for fear of missing a bad joke, then when else are they to talk but during a touchdown pass?

Sadly, this year was undoubtedly a low-water mark for creativity and intrigue doled out in 30-second increments.

Sure, I’ll grant the Volkswagen “Punch Dub” ad a nod both for an unexpected punch to the genitalia and the use of a song by Grizzly Bear. I appreciated the E-Trade ad with the “milkaholic” baby. And the Pop-Secret / Emerald Nuts joint ad – which, quite frankly, I still cannot explain – left me slack jawed for a good three minutes.

But outside of these three ads, I struggle to remember much of what I saw. And I don’t think it had anything to do with the Alaskan Amber.

The Letterman spot was passable, I guess. The vaunted Tim Tebow anti-abortion ad was seemingly over before it started. And I’m sure I saw some Doritos, Hyundai, and GoDaddy.com ads, but I can’t recall the specifics of a single one.

Call me crazy, but this leads me to believe that a whole lot of companies poorly spent their $2.7 million.

I understand these are tough economic times. I get that companies have cut back on their advertising budgets. But why on earth would you spend money on a Super Bowl ad if you didn’t have 30 seconds of pure comedy gold?

Even the usually trusty Bud Light failed to be memorable.

I think the problem is, quite simply, that advertisers aren’t taking into account the situation in which their ads are viewed. Super Bowl parties are inherently loud, boisterous, drunken affairs.

Millions of Americans don’t want to sit hushed up, listening for a clever pun. They want something that offers a visual story, something that catches the viewer’s eye and is comedic – or, rarely, heartfelt.

If you think back to great ads of the past, each had some visual hook. Think of Apple’s 1984 Macintosh spot, or the original iPod ad. Think of Budweiser’s frogs showing up on screen.

And these ads weren’t just visually interesting – to draw the attention of the inebriated masses – they also told a story of some sort.

Which brings me to the big advertising winner of this year’s Super Bowl: Google.

It’s interesting that a company who earns their keep through Internet advertising was the only one able to shoot a truly memorable television ad. But as you watched the searches scroll along onscreen, as you – the viewer – figured out what was going on, the ad drew you in.

And Google did all of this without a single line of dialogue.

An oft-heard piece of advice to writers is that we should show, not tell. Google showed 106.5 million Americans why we search, and what role their Web site plays in our lives.

If you ask me, that makes Google’s 30 seconds of glory much more important – in the long run – than anything Drew Brees did. But don’t tell the State of Louisiana I said that.

To contact Alex Cantatore, put out an ad in the Super Bowl that contains your phone number in large, flashing numerals. And be sure it’s funny, or he won’t call you.

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