Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Prehistoric Power

So the Super Bowl is over, and wasn’t that a slap upside the head! (Or a rock in the eye. Or a rip of the chest hair.)

In an especially violent year, I think the reason that the Blockbuster mouse and the Bud Dalmatian did so well in consumer polls is that the animals were, well, warm and fuzzy. In the midst of all the hitting and cynicism, viewers were desperate to connect, to feel something. As the ads unfolded, it seemed that the only characters allowed to show emotion were the critters (and the suicidal robot and the messed-up pedestrian heart), while the humans tended to act like animals.

In fairness, at this point, the Super Bowl is not really an advertising contest—it’s a “get-attention” contest. And a classic way for a kid to get attention (especially in one shot) is to hit somebody.

Nevertheless, there was one unheralded campaign that day that was phenomenal: It had wit, depth, texture, subtlety and humanity. Of course, it has had time to develop a story arc—millions of years, if you want to be clinical about it, though technically it had three years since the first of the spots featuring the Geico cavemen broke. (The first had the unusually hairy grip shouting “Not cool!” as he stormed out of the studio where a “ So easy a caveman can do it” commercial was being shot. Later, the two highly insulted cavemen, in wide-collared open shirts and blazers, are taken to an Ivy-like restaurant by the smarmy Geico announcer guy who offers an apology. That’s when one cavedude is so upset he can’t eat, and the other orders the now famous “roast duck with mango salsa.”)

At that point, I thought it was a one-note joke. But as the hominid characters develop, the campaign gets better and better—delightfully written, acted and directed. And the height of contentville so far took place during the Super Bowl pre-game broadcast with “Phil Simms All-Iron Team—The Difference Makers.” (That title is so awkward it could come straight from a Mentos promotion. Is it possible to be a fresh maker and a difference maker at the same time?) An effort involving Geico, CBS, The Martin Agency and Horizon Media, it was a long-form series of spots: a 90-second opener, two bumpers and a 30-second close. It featured the same cavemen, one of whom we find, in a hilarious commercial that broke late in 2006, putting his mother on speaker during his therapy session and, in a spot that broke two weeks ago, at a party in a high-rise telling his friends, “Tina called—we’re getting back together.”

So the big–boned fellow has issues, and what better place for them to come out than on the golf course, while playing with Phil Simms himself? At the country club, the Neanderthal shows up in a happenin’ ensemble: sand-colored pants, a peach/apricot-colored sweater, white gloves, white shoes and white sun visor. (Throughout the series, the wardrobe, which looks like yuppiewear, circa late-’80s, is always freshly pressed, the better to offset the arm and chest hair. The whole thing just kills me.)

While it’s a visual treat, the smartness is compounded by the copywriter’s dead-on ear for language, and his understanding of the necessary hypocrisy of PC culture, which is layered and subtle. The setup–of a hyper-sensitive and hyper self-involved caveman, which, of course, is an unexpected juxtaposition to begin with—is a fantastic jumping-off point. As an outsider, he’s always aware of how others tend to victimize him. At the same time, he does not seem to show that same sensitivity to the needs of anyone else—all he does is judge and kvetch and try to act superior. Everything is a problem from the beginning, when Mr. Cave wants to play for money, while Phil just wants to have “fun.” “What is this, youth soccer?” the cavegolfer snorts, quick to take umbrage once again.

By the final bit (on the 18th hole), he turns into an impossible character very much like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. As Simms attempts to make a shot, caveman starts to make an annoying gunning sound in his throat (he claims a gnat flew in there). Earlier, he had told Simms, “My woods are actually made of wood. You’re standing there with some crazy space-age neutron stick.” Simms responds, “It’s metal and wood.” Caveman says, “It’s suspect.” (Which explains the antique Bjorn Borg tennis racket and case that he carries in “Airport,” which reintroduced the series in 2006.)

The saga continues, and is beautifully extended, on the Web at, an artfully rendered apartment with all the latest gadgets including a giant, flat-screen TV that shows the caveman with his therapist (Talia “Yo, Adrian” Shire), who is forcing him to roleplay with a cavedoll. (One of the guys appears wearing a shortie robe to explain things are a bit frantic.) There’s also a stainless steel and marble kitchen, where a recipe for roast duck is on the counter.

You can’t do much better than this. In every form, it’s a sheer delight. And I’d wager that not one chest hair was harmed in the making of it.