Creative: Critique by Barbara Lippert

Bowling Viewers
Millions revel, ’50s-style, in a manufactured event
Budweiser Lizards
AGENCY: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
The Yellow Pages
AGENCY: The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.
M&M Crispy
AGENCY: BBDO Worldwide, New York
On this big, big day, Super Bowl Sunday, stupider- than-life pet and human tricks seem to go over well.
Will he be able to finish the job or is he going to be fired–terminated in a public forum for his limited impulse control, his pathologically bad private behavior, his repeated, transparent denials?
I refer, of course, to Louie the Lizard, the more tortured of the Budweiser reptiles. Unlike the beloved and good-natured trio of frogs and even his more easy-going lizard friend, Frank, Louie brings new meaning to reptile passive-aggression.
When last we left wise-guy Louie, he was testing fate, mocking the Busch family-history advertising (referring to his grandfather, the worm master, and his father, the fly master). When he was done, his swively-eyed partner could clearly see the writing on the swamp wall: “Louie,” said Frank, “you’re beggin’ for a pink slip.”
Talk about leaving me in suspense. As a veteran and devoted chronicler of Bud’s image heroes–the adventurers, mountain climbers, desert wanderers, cross-dressers–I couldn’t wait to get a Super Bowl preview to see how things shook out, Louie-wise. Not only is Budweiser participating in this year’s game, but it’s doing so in a super-duper way: The company will pay more than $1.6 million per spot for exclusivity in the beer category, and it will run 10 spots, representing several brands and agencies.
Last week, Bob, the big Anheuser-Busch brand management guy, flew to New York to preview the reel of Bud’s Super Bowl spots for a handpicked group of journalists, including a colleague at Brandweek. But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, not to mention the awesome weight of an Adweek critic, didn’t keep Bob from excluding me. Bob was on a plane, and couldn’t be reached. Apparently, he wasn’t “comfortable” including anyone else in the conference. And the A-B staffers said not to bother showing up because I’d be barred at the door.
That’s okay, Bob. You work at your own comfort level. Sadly, I don’t know anyone besides myself who relates so deeply to the psychology of the lizards and how they reflect larger developments in postmodern culture.
There are so many analogies, starting with the President’s State of the Union address. It was as if the country were two different high-school basketball teams, with the Democrats applauding wildly and the Republicans sitting mum–lizards and frogs, if you will.
I can see Frank and the frogs getting mad at Louie, possibly losing all their jobs, just because he couldn’t control something he was repeatedly warned about. Obviously, Louie is in denial and tries to compartmentalize. He acts like nothing happened, as if he just has to get on with the business of being a Bud lizard.
And I can even understand why a big-time American company like Anheuser- Busch has to make fun of its own hallowed iconography on the most important ad day of the year. It’s because those young people are so damn cynical and can’t believe in anything except sheer entertainment.
But without the opportunity to see the spots, I’m not comfortable saying anything more, and I’m sorry I’m not in a position to give them a positive review.
I’ve been roped into this game of pre-reviewing the Super Bowl spots for years, even before the gazillions started watching for ad greatness. And it always amazes me how differently the spots go over during the actual broadcast, when the noisy old gang is gathered around, Snappled (or liquored) up and guacamoled out, as opposed to seeing ads in the office.
Some spots come off worse, some better, some are hostages to fate, in that they run at a time when everyone is talking or leaves the room or while the game is boring or disappointing. But given the messy and surreal year we’ve had, when so many constants have lost their meaning and mass culture is becoming a televised swamp, this is the one event that an estimated 130 million people still watch ’50s-style, gathering friends around the set, marvelling at the spots.
Unlike natural or political disasters, the Super Bowl is a manufactured event that goes off on schedule, tailor-made for consumption, requiring nothing more than a good dipping hand and a comfy chair. Though millions may watch in earnest, that doesn’t mean they necessarily like earnest commercials. On this big, big day, stupider-than-life pet and human tricks seem to go over well.
That’s not the case, however, with the Yellow Pages spot featuring Jon Lovitz. It’s quite subtle and smart in the Larry Sanders-ish way it lampoons the idea of reality, celebrity and hype. Lovitz, as the man who wrote the Yellow Pages, is back- stage, waiting to go on. He shares the space with actor James Coburn, who seems to be doing his version of God or John Huston.
Coburn has a white beard and an intimidating demeanor, as our man Jon crunches celery in the corner. “A book is about something,” Coburn says, imperiously. “What’s this about?” Lovitz answers him, saying, “Ideas. Can’t you see the lightbulb?” which he delivers in a brilliantly crestfallen way. Lovitz is bumped from the show, left to wander the hall dejectedly.
And speaking of fingers doing the walking, we’ll always have those anthropomorphized M&Ms to shovel down. Two 15-second, second-quarter Super Bowl spots push M&M Crispy candies which, given the help of legs, arms and boots, interact attitudinally with celebrities like ex-Seinfeld player Patrick Warburton and model/actress Halle Berry.
The spots are attention-getting and funny enough, but it’s weird to talk to the thing you’re about to eat. Right, Louie?