I disagree with other critics--I thought this year's Super Bowl advertising was great.
Some questions continue, like how many bold, annoying, risk-taking dot.com spots a viewer can take within the context of one game? And given that parade of sameness, by next year's Super Bowl, how many blow-the-whole-budget-on-one-commercial dot.comers will be dot.goners?
Still, I felt it was the first collective array of spots since 1984 to live up to the hype and promise of "1984.'' That, of course, is the commercial created by Chiat/Day to introduce Apple's Macintosh computer. Not so much watched as worshiped, "1984'' has ascended to the status of a holy relic.
That's because the Macintosh spot had a truly revolutionary, history-making, culture-changing product to introduce. This understanding makes the work a lot more credible and interesting; it's not like flogging a better-tasting chip. Perhaps that's why the dot.com spots had an immediate advantage last year. The medium, a mass event where everyone watching has high expectations, matches the message: The Internet is new and can change your life.
The Macintosh spot--with a woman in running shorts exploding the screen--was more telling than it knew. The two trends/themes that emerged in this year's crop of spots were technology and women. It seems crazy that in the year 2000 targeting women was a big breakthrough, but it was.
So as an advertiser, Oxygen had two distinct, attention-getting advantages in this year's ad standing: a spot aimed entirely at women, ("by women, for women'') for a spankin' new Internet/TV network.
I liked the spot showing newborn baby girls throwing off their pink hats and booties; later, one raises a dimpled infant fist and arm to the cry of a reworked, contemporary Lilith Fair sounding "I am Woman.''
The birth metaphor was great. Babies, like animals doing tricks, are always cute; and the doffing of knit caps paid homage to that seminal 20th-century TV feminist Mary Tyler Moore, when she threw her beret to the winds of Minneapolis.
I also liked it a lot more than the previous Oxygen commercial, which didn't run on the Super Bowl. Though incredibly well-shot, it degenerates into a lame joke--a pot shot at men. (One more reason it's good to be a woman: back hair.)
The point of the Super Bowl spot was to applaud these babies for throwing off the confining pink labels so they are free to be from the moment of birth. So why define men by their backyard rugs? You can't have it both ways, liberationwise.
But back to the birth of the Oxygen network "It's in you'' spot. That was a cool, funny message aimed at women, but it was followed by another chick-targeted Internet spot, OurBeginning.com, which was so staggeringly ill-conceived I thought it must be a parody of a stupid commercial. No such luck.
"You said you had a large selection of invitations,'' a crying bride in full white regalia and veil says to the stationary salesman. The place is overrun with brides in giant '80s- style costumes. He starts to answer her with patronizing baby talk, when another bride elbows out the whiner and asks, "Well, why does she have my invitation?''
The place descends into nuptial chaos, and for my money, there's nothing funnier than a woman in a veil and a white dress pulling the hair of another woman in a veil and white dress! Then another one stomps on her flowers! And the place explodes! Meanwhile, the hapless grooms are shown standing outside watching.
I get it. To sell an exciting new technology, an Internet service to help couples plan a wedding, the ad people drag out the worst cornball stereotypes about jealous, insane brides. This is so astonishingly demeaning to women--and especially the kind of woman who would order invitations over the Internet--that in sheer offensiveness, it reminded me of last year's shockingly racist entry from the neophyte advertiser Just For Feet.
By the way, Just for Feet ended 1999 in bankruptcy.
And another thing: I know this is suppose to be humorous, but since when do women pick out invitations in bridal gowns? The invitation stage is long over by the wedding date.
On thing I can say for OurBeginning.com is that its catfight fits in with the cat sub-theme this year.
There was the great Mountain Dew spot with the cheetah, of course. "Bad, cheetah!''And the cat herders for EDS, which was brilliant. That spot was a big piece of film--wonderfully shot and very cleverly written. I also loved the Pets.com sock puppet.
But overall, the E*Trade spot featuring the garage chimp, dancing and conducting, was easily the best of the show. If you're going to go all ironic and self-conscious, you can't do better than one good monkey.
Last year's best spot was for Monster.com. Shot in black and white, it showed children mouthing off about what faceless, nameless, bureaucratic jobs they would like to have. "I want to be in middle management.'' It begs for a sequel. Million-dollar ideas like this spot are a rarity.
But instead, Monster.com went all sophisticated, Seven Sistersish. It quoted Robert Frost and showed a young woman standing on a corner watching people go by, including little girls in school uniforms.
Yes, it was dark and dreamy, a really nice spot that aimed at nice young women who want to work at Condƒ Nast, but it wasn't big enough for the Super Bowl.
On the opposite end of the demure, tasteful spectrum was the big game's biggest shocker: the Nuveen spot.
Obviously, Christopher Reeve believed in it and cooperated, and the money he received is probably going to his medical care or research, so I feel ghoulish even criticizing it. Still, it was an unfortunate entry.
The opening seemed promising--a New York of the future with a strange funnel building added to the skyline and a futuristic subway station with monitors everywhere.
But then we get to where a Big Brother-like character is giving out awards for medical advances. Through the miracle of modern digital technology, Reeve walks to the podium to receive an award. We're supposed to cry and feel pathos, which we do.
But the special effects are less-than-skillful and his body looks strange, walks stranger and has Reeve's present, understandably bloated face attached. It's a Frankenstein moment, and it is grotesque.
So is the commercial's giant stretch of a strategy: Unless you put money in a Nuveen account, there won't be enough funds for medical research to help people like Christopher Reeve walk again. This twist is akin to buy this magazine or we'll shoot the dog.
To put the spot in a reasonable context, Nuveen should have offered a Web site or phone number for viewers to send contributions directly to medical-research funds. Soliciting funds for Nuveen by showing the shock of Reeve walking is crass and manipulative.
At least there was a clear link in the spot between advertiser and message in the spot featuring a tight close-up of a heavily breathing Muhammad Ali for WebMD. I appreciated the minimalism, the flatness of the space and the broadness of his face.
He's still able to box for the camera, but I thought the spot spoke simply and eloquently about his advancing disease. For Ali, time is an enemy.
If anything, the parade of dot.coms proves that time is in permanent overdrive. Like the E*Trade monkey, we're dancing as fast as we can.
Mullen Advertising, Wenham, Mass.
(in-house) Buena Vista, Calif.
Mullen Advertising, Wenham, Mass.
BBDO, New York
Fallon McElligot, Minneapolis
TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis
Leo Burnett, Chicago