Super Bowl XL! The blitzes, the Mick, the flying pickles! When it comes to humor, I usually like my funny simple. Just because the sporting event is extra large doesn't mean the commercials have to be. In the past, some of the most overproduced spots have also been the most underperforming.
So I watched the opening few seconds of the Burger King "America's Favorite'' spot, cringing at the thought of Crispin's attempt to pull off a major Broadway musical moment.
For all its extravagant stage sets and synchronized bodies, the Busby Berkeley style that "Whopperettes'' imitates is rather ancient (Gold Diggers of 1935, anyone?) and probably familiar to current audiences only from other ad parodies. (It's so old Campbell's Soup has a parody of its original parody with Ann Miller.) Plus, even when Broadway musicals are great, they often seem stilted and terrible when excerpted for TV.
But here's the beauty of the long-form (60-second) thing—from the it-could-go-either-way establishing shot, it soon became clear that this was hilarious send-up—particularly with the dancing comestible show girls enunciating the words "spiel,'' "hard-core'' and "freaky King'' in their high-pitched ditty. (They even acknowledge what a tough thing this is to pull off when singing, "We don't blame your jaw for dropping.")
If BK is going to bring back the whole '70s "Have It Your Way" idea (hold the pickle, hold the lettuce), this is the way to do it—not with some beautiful, reverent reproduction of the original, like the Coke "Chilltop" disaster.
The spot hits its comic peak when the announcer (Alan Kalter, of Letterman fame) says, with the faux importance only he could muster: "Ladies! Build. That. Whopper.'' The bun lays herself out, a human sacrifice for the aerial landings of the burger, tomato, lettuce (talk about a bed of lettuce!) and the sister toppings to come. The unexpected plopping and grunting is funny. The costuming is drop-dead great. And I'm crazy about the tomato's hat.
The hamburger has a dress worthy of Sex and the City's Carrie, while in Paris. That black and brown couture rendition of chopped meat really holds the stage—I dare say she is the Angelina Jolie of patties. Her featured role made me wonder about the backstage drama among the rest of the Whopper Toppings—whether, say, Ms. Special Sauce had it out with the tomato.
And when the viewer starts wondering about the inner life of a pickle, you know you have a successful spot on your hands. It also incorporates the King in a highly amusing way, but with its crazed attention to detail, this over-the-top spot begs for extra viewings.
Amazingly, Bryan Buckley directed both BK and Sprint—and he seems to go from huge to small scale with equal dexterity. And for once, the BK spot might skew more females.
As with BK, Sprint advertising seems to have hit its stride in the last year and a half, coming up with fresh, talked-about work that remains consistent with the brand identity. I love the sticking-it-to-the-man spot; "Dance Party,'' featuring average white guys moving like they're on ecstasy in an incredibly boring back office, keeps attracting new fans. Though they're spots selling a service, they're also subtle; the appeal is in the dialogue, but much of it is also in the spareness and casting.
The same holds true for these two Supe spots. The first opens on a scene as weird as the one in "Dance Party": A Russian mafia guy in a track suit is sitting in his modern bachelor pad, telling an interviewer how he can download a song for everything. When asked what he'd do if his girlfriend left him, he plays "Baby Come Back" and grooves to it like a Talmudic scholar. After a couple more questions, the interviewer asks, "What if your couch caught on fire?'' and suddenly it does just that, as the Benny Hill song "Yakety Sax" starts, and we get a sped-up sequence involving a small, bald man in boxer shorts and a tall blonde nurse with a hose who chases the phone guy. As a Monty Python fan, I never much liked Benny Hill, but I can understand how it's used as almost its own joke on stupid slapstick gags used to get attention in Super Bowl ads.
I like "Crime Deterrent'' more. It's set in a locker room (that's pretty clever, since everyone puts down Super Bowl "locker room humor"). We get a big guy and a little guy sparring. Instead of snapping towels, they snap phones; they list the features on their respective Sprint phones (live TV, e-mail, check downloads, etc.). They one-up each other until the 90-pound weakling has had it and adds "crime deterrent.'' "Try to take my wallet,'' he goads the big guy, and then wallops him in the head with his phone. The outright hostility passing for male friendship is funny, but the spot manages some heavy selling as well. I could have passed on the guy dropping to the floor in agony, but as James Frey would say, it adds tension to the story.
My fave of the new work, "Argyle Socks,"was the spot not picked to run during the Super Bowl. It enters the male-female jousting territory of typical Budweiser ads, but with real attention to relationship nuance.
Both campaigns are memorable and promote the brand, and probably get better with every viewing.
Arson and ground meat—if you ask me, the rest is gravy.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami
Chief creative officer
Exec. creative director
Bob Cianfrone Evan Fry
New York and
Rio de Janeiro
Exec. creative director
Harold Einstein Gerry Graf