Barbara Lippert’s Post-Super Bowl Wrap-Up

Who could have predicted that with all those advertisers ponying up all those supersized bucks, the post-Super Bowl buzz would be about Janet Jackson’s nipple?

Those Jacksons have a way of defying the time and space continuum: After a hiatus from the pop charts and the public eye roughly as long as Justin Timberlake’s life, Janet and her boob are all over Page One. (Maybe it was Justin’s way of repaying Britney for the MTV kiss with Madonna.) We now have a great new term, right up there with the Twinkie Defense as a behavioral excuse: “wardrobe malfunction.”

But back to our show. Overall, the advertising was weak this year: certainly not Budweiser’s best, and not Pepsi’s, either. It seems that no matter how low Budweiser sinks, the beer maker will come out on top of the USA Today poll, because with that many spots, viewers have to remember some of them.

The below-the-belt focus of most of the Bud jokes was gross, but right in keeping with the rest of the show, because while Bud yukked it up about getting certain private parts waxed or bitten off, the erectile-dysfunction advertisers were there to press for sustained elevation. That CBS allowed two of them on the air (with a Cialis voiceover actually cautioning that a four-hour erection requires “immediate medical help”) was yet another affront to the millions of families with younger kids watching the game.

Moving from the front to the back, isn’t it sad that Bud was reduced to buying a laugh over a horse fart? (Aside from being jaw-dropping, it’s George-robbing: “Seinfeld” devoted a whole show to the same concept back in the mid-’90s.) The spot involving the ref with the screaming shrew for a wife was really demeaning to women. I wanted to love “Donkey,” and did right through the part about the hair extensions, but then it went nowhere: no payoff.

And how many monkeys does it take to fill all the Super Bowl spots? Is it that E*Trade had such success with a monkey for three years running that now it’s considered a must-have? Let us count the ways. The Bud spot with the talking chimp who becomes a playa as soon as the guy turns his back, and asks the girl, “How do you feel about back hair?” was funny in the beginning, the first time we see him talk, but again went nowhere. The Dodge Magnum spot, featuring a guy with a monkey on his back, was a great idea that was well executed. But despite the sexy-family-car problem, the visual could have provided a great joke for any brand–it didn’t have a strong enough connection to the Dodge solution.

In the car category, Ford had one commercial with a great tagline: “the pace car for an entire company.” That was for men who love to shift. But I couldn’t believe that the one aimed at women actually had a guy explaining to the little lady about the place in the back to keep her groceries, so she wouldn’t have to worry about a flying “can of corn.”

The mention of the flying corn was just too apt. Away from all that, the best car spot by far was Chevy’s “Soap.” (If only we could have used something similar to wash out the crude jokes of other advertisers.) It’s great-looking, beautifully executed and surprising until the very end, where the phenomenal-looking car is the perfect foil for the joke. Forget all the bears and monkeys: It was one of the very few commercials of the evening that carried a refreshing and distinctive visual style and a true brand message. (And who knew the weird, wise-beyond-his-years mini-Eminem kid from the Linux commercials actually got out of the lab and into this Chevy SSR spot?)

The Mitsubishi commercial was exciting but truncated: a big build-up that just stopped. I understand that it’s a smart integrated marketing move to have viewers leave the tube and finish the race online, but what we got viscerally was Galantis interruptus.

Similarly, the Willie doll for H&R Block looked funny, but I couldn’t understand a word it said. And the big surprise ending, kept under wraps for weeks, seemed to come out of nowhere. To have Don Zimmer as the piece de resistance punctured any previous humor. And given Mike Dytka’s new hatred of baseball, I thought he might appear to tell Zimmer he needs Levitra.

Still, I’d put the Charmin commercial, with its stale “end zone” puns and weird homoerotic subtext about fondling the toilet paper hanging at the guy’s waist at the very bottom of the rankings. With some interesting work coming out of P&G these days, it’s shocking that this was the winner of a companywide contest.

The game was wildly exciting–it’s too bad the spots were so underwhelming. But then, every year we get all worked up and excited at the prospect of the Super Bowl ads, expecting miracles, and every year, it’s more painful than we remembered. (The buildup and then the actual show are kind of like childbirth: You forget the pain.)

This year, was it that a still-weak economy had advertisers going for the tried and true, repeats of old jokes, afraid of anything new? Or does the idea of reaching close to 140 million people calls for dumbing down and blanderizing everything? I’d hope for the opposite. And hope springs eternal.