Lippert Rates the Super Bowl Spots

NEW YORK Happy days are here again — or at least we can dream they are.

In possibly the most thrilling Super Bowl ever played, the Giants came from behind, like some preposterous ragtag team in a Disney movie, and won.

Though they were created long before kickoff, the two best spots of the evening — Coke’s “Balloon” and Anheuser-Busch’s Clydesdale commercial — expressed the same humanistic, uplifting themes. They even included an underdog and an underhorse — a great metaphor for human vulnerability.

Yes, in a year where there was decidedly less farting and groin bashing (staples of past big-game ads), we were instead rewarded with a refreshing dose of kindness.

Once more, Coke is it. The Wieden + Kennedy spot, wordless, evocative and hopeful, featured parade balloons of Underdog and Stewie fighting, as Charlie Brown ascends to the heavens. A giant Coke bottle (looking like a fabulous soft sculpture) floats nearby. And with Lucy nowhere in sight, Chuck finally gets his wish and hugs the football — er, Coke bottle — as it sails into orbit.

The characters were unexpected and the cinematography (a fine interplay of light and shadows in the city) gorgeous. The outcome: a Coke and a smile. I think this is one for the ages — right up there with “Mountaintop” and “Mean Joe Greene.”

Through the sheer number of spots that they run, we’re programmed to love A-B commercials. Although it’s already a familiar theme, and the Rocky music is a bit dated, the DDB-created Clydesdale spot also packed a wallop in terms of story, build, emotion and human spirit. And that paw-to-hoof action was adorable. I also liked the fake cheese spot, although it too reminded me of “Magic Fridge.” And the fire-breathing guy ended up burning his girlfriend-shades of the notorious flatulent horse of yesteryear. While Bud did well enough on the USA Today ad meter, the brand seems to be copying itself.

And others are copying Bud. Though Bridgestone Tires scored well on the ad meter with the squirrel and the screaming, I couldn’t help thinking it was derivative — like Geico meets “Whassup.” But props for getting attention. Speaking of The Martin Agency and Bud, whassup with that Cavemen spot and the wheel?  By now, I think we are caved out. Though it started promisingly enough, the joke got diluted.

I also thought Audi did well. Its audacious move made sense because the company has a new car to sell. Though the Godfather theme was a bit moldy, this was an unexpected, attention-getting turn of events. With the first-quarter in-game placement and the big-movie parody evoking Europe old and new (ew, an oily front bumper in the bed!), Venables, Bell scored in a major way for its client.

Also, although it wasn’t new, the Tide-to-Go spot rocked (now every agency will want to work on stain removers.)  Like Coke’s “Balloon” ad, it was a perfect, cohesive piece of communication. Nobody had to say, “Who did the talking stain?” In CG-land, the stain actually held its own among dancing lizards and a jumping heart, but the stain stands alone! It was delightful and inherently memorable.

Sobe got lots of attention for the lizards and Naomi, and the Thriller dance was fabulous. But I could hardly tell that was Naomi Campbell — and again, Geico and Bud anyone? I will say the branding and signage in the stadium was great, so we now know that this is the Sobe lizard.

I thought a lot of stars were wasted. Case in point: Carmen Elektra for Ice Breakers. That spot didn’t connect at all. Justin Timberlake actually did a great job for Pepsi, and I love the fact that he made fun of himself and the spot even alluded to Britney (Andy Samberg in a blonde wig) and his past association with Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction.” (Given the Samberg cameo, Pepsi is now forever linked to, um, Dick in a Box.)

But I thought the spot was overly complicated, and for Justin’s audience (teen girls!), there was too much violence.

I actually liked the NFL story work; again, it was human and vulnerable and even elegant, so kudos to BBDO. And the FedEx spot polled well; I admit, I’m a sucker for pigeons in helmets.

The great irony is that the guy who was actively trying to make the worst spot — Mr. owner — lost in his race to the bottom. I don’t think he knows why the spots were bad, but how about starting with the Chinese and Indian stereotypes? But worst? Hardly.

Sunsilk was insanely bad. The graphics reminded me of a local hair salon’s attempt to be hip. And what was the message? Hair icons? Not so much. Dead heads? More like it.

With its Ugly Betty takeoff, Planter’s commercial from DraftFCB scored well, but I hated it. (Ugly Goober?) The idea that a woman who was cartoon ugly, with a unibrow, could attract a lot of male attention because she rubs her nuts was, well, plain ugly.

But something’s up in the culture, in a kinder, gentler, sweeter, lower-key zeitgeisty way, when a VIctoria’s Secret spot is that tame. I thought it was tasteful. Amazingly enough, I liked it.

Even GoDaddy was not the lowest of the low. The stunt was cheesy, yes, and the commercial looked bad, but at least the client didn’t unleash the beavers on an unsuspecting audience filled with kids. And more than a million people actually went to the Web site, so the insane amount of publicity worked.

All in all, I thought the spots were better this year than last. Sure there were some lead balloons, but don’t puncture my bubble.

Barbara Lippert is an ‘Adweek’ columnist.