Everyone’s an Ad Critic

Every time there was a coach's challenge in this year's game, ad watchers could relate. We needed our own little red flags to throw at some of the questionable commercials. (Bud Light's wide-butt spot comes to mind.)

But that didn't dampen the mood at MacKenzie Cutler. A hundred-plus people—friends and agency folks—had trudged through a dogs-in-coats deep freeze to the editing house's nifty duplex on Broadway and 20th. An annual tradition since a year or two after MC's founding in 1997, the party gets bigger every time around. This year's festivities, hosted by Ian MacKenzie, Gavin Cutler and producer Julie Gagliardi, were spirited but family friendly. MacKenzie and others brought their kids. Several kegs of beer and an unending supply of pizza and chicken wings helped the shop celebrate the two spots it edited for the game—FedEx's "Desert Island" and ESPN SportsCenter's "Ring."

Only about half the crowd paid much attention to the huge projection TV, but everyone looked up from their pretzels when those two ads aired. FedEx's Cast Away spoof, edited by MacKenzie himself, got a laugh and a round of applause—a relief to BBDO's Gerry Graf, who wrote it with Harold Einstein. Graf had been milling around nervously since the kickoff, and after the ad aired he rushed into an office to call his writing partner, who was at a small party in San Francisco with friends from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, where both used to work.

"You don't know when it's going to come on, so you're nervous as hell, really tense. My wife knows not to be around me," Graf said a short time later (while looking for his wife and two kids). "You know you have a good spot—you just hope people appreciate it. Of course, it was cut here, so the people are going to be nicer."

Graf worked on Super Bowl advertising for Goodby's E*Trade campaign, and so the call to the San Francisco party was that much more hairy. "I don't want to know what they said!" he joked about his former colleagues.

MC's other Bowl spot was the Joe Montana/ESPN SportsCenter ad, edited by Jun Diaz. With a résumé that includes American Movie, the disturbing 1999 film about a Midwesterner's dream to direct a horror film, Diaz isn't easily fazed. "Nah, I wasn't nervous," he said. "It would probably be different if I were out in a bar somewhere. This is where the ad was made. It feels like this could be a presentation."

The only other commercials to make much of a dent were Cadillac's elegant subway spot, which managed to quiet the crowd a bit, and Reebok's Terry Tate ad, which earned the evening's second and final round of brief applause, but the party had thinned out a bit by then. Budweiser's conch-shell spot got a few chuckles, too, but generally the laughs were outnumbered by groans and raised eyebrows, particularly following Dodge's choker and Bud Light's upside-down bar patron. The Osbournes, Willie Nelson and Michael Jordan barely registered, and Levi's buffalo ad earned the distinction of inspiring an audible profanity.

The most passionate outbursts, it turned out, followed interceptions, sacks and blocked punts. Which goes to show that even at ad parties, sometimes we do watch the game for the game.

– By Tim Nudd In New York

In a nice house in a suburban ad-business enclave gathered a small group of agency veterans, a marketing consultant host, a nosy journalist, a very large screen and no shortage of opinions about Up With Ads, version XXXVII. Three hours north of client entertainment tents, Céline Dion and, oh yes, a very briefly contested football game, we sat down to vent about the offerings on advertising's annual beauty pageant.

We had high hopes as the game began. It quickly became apparent that humor, not spectacle, would rule the Super Bowl pods. The two spots unanimously loved by this discerning crowd—Budweiser's zebra ad and Pepsi Twist's Osbournes/Osmonds spot—were among the first we saw. The rest of the initial batch, it was agreed, were generally good, but not really great.

Early collective wisdom, in fact, was that parity had come to Super Bowl advertising as it had to pro football itself. "Every single ad has been a stupid-humor joke, but they kind of work," said host Cliff Scott, a second-generation Southern California adman and now a marketing consultant.

By the game's second quarter, with Tampa Bay leading 6-3, Scott noted that "for once, the game is better than the advertising."

That opinion held up only as long as Oakland's chances. It soon became apparent that a rout was on, and the commercials began to move further apart on the great-to-lousy scale. By the time the second half began, it was back to the usual "What game?" kind of Super Day. At one point, the smokers gathered out by the pool—L.A. was basking in the sun as much of the rest of the nation shivered—until Scott opened the patio doors and said, "Hey, come on in, the ads are on!"

On the plus side, Dennis Horlick, head of small independent shop DJLA Advertising, went against the critics (and the rest of the room) by declaring the Quizno's spot the best he'd seen all day. Dennis knows food advertising—he handled Bob's Big Boy, a Southern California QSR legend, for years.

"They made it look like a gourmet feast," he declared of the spot, "instead of crap. It communicated like crazy."

Horlick also praised Cadillac's time-traveling train: "The ads are beginning to work."

Most of the thumbs-up came with qualifiers. Of the Anheuser-Busch spots, Scott declared, "They're good, but not as good as last year's spots—they set the bar too high."

But the negatives were also qualified. "Good concept, bad execution," Scott said of Willie Nelson's H&R Block spot. Kristin Bloomquist of Deutsch, meanwhile, felt the FedEx ad was a little "tired," considering that its reference point, the movie Cast Away, came out a couple of years ago.

The only commercial to be unanimously, roundly and thoroughly trashed was the Dodge Ram truck entry in which a passenger spits up into the windshield.

"Gross!" echoed across the room of fortysomethings when it came on. Bloomquist spoke for all of us when she said, "Talk about cheap laughs. The opposite of babies and puppies is vomit and four-wheeling, I guess."

– Jack Feuer In Los Angeles

One CD's 'unoriginal' is another's 'fabulous idea'

Mark Tutssel

Deputy chief creative officer Leo Burnett, Chicago

If a Super Bowl commercial is brilliant, it's worth every penny. If not, you've missed one massive consumer hit. The biggest advertiser of the game, Anheuser-Busch, wound up with just a bunch of gratuitous gags. The one exception was the Clydesdales spot. And with placement after the kickoff, it benefited from perfect timing—just seconds later, the game's first instant replay occurred.

Gatorade's "23 vs. 39" was technically well done, but the idea of having the Jordan of today engage the Chicago Bulls Jordan of 1987 in a game of one-on-one isn't the most original. The technique has been used twice before by Reebok alone, in Manchester United's "Dream Team" and "Shaq vs. Shaq," as well as the award-winning Alan and Jerome spots for Fox Sports Net.

As far as Jordan playing for another team with Jackie Chan in the Hanes spot, I can think of better ways to spend millions of dollars. Tagless T-shirts, yes. Nike "Tag," far from it.

Levi's went back to the heritage of the brand with "Stampede." Unfortunately, it was a poor "Odyssey 2." The casting, performance and music all lacked the [director Jonathan] Glazer factor.

The spot for Trident proved you don't have to spend millions of dollars to be a hit during the Super Bowl. With no repeat fees for squirrels, it was a lot cheaper than the eye-watering amounts spent on celebrities.

This year's H&R Block spot was a nice departure from last year's arty Coen brothers spot, "Tax Man." It was one of the few commercials that had an idea.

In my opinion, the commercial of the match was FedEx. The spot demonstrated FedEx's dedication in a self-deprecating way, while evoking a laugh. They didn't forget that we're in the entertainment business and our job is to reward the consumer.

At Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21, the Super Bowl was more surprising than much of the advertising. Competitively, the game was a bit of a laugh as well—again, more so than many of the ads. At $2.1 million each in airtime alone, that just isn't funny.

Tracy Wong

Creative director, chairman WongDoody, Seattle

There were a lot of good commercials, but no blockbusters worthy of the universal stage known as the Super Bowl. It's easy to criticize, but I know it's hard to be grand and great at the same time.

Most memorable? Hard to say, but Reebok's "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker" wins by a hair. I'm not sure how hard it sold Reebok, but what made Adam Sandler's The Waterboy somewhat amusing made this absolutely hilarious. People getting creamed is just plain funny.

Second place goes to "Michael vs. Michael" for Gatorade. I'm sorry it didn't premiere on the Super Bowl. It's the best spot I've seen in years. It's a fabulous idea—when you watch it, it's not like you're watching an ad. It completely takes you out of the fact they're trying to advertise a product. I'm a big basketball fan, and I found it so poignant. It's an interesting comment on one of the greatest icons of our time. If you collapsed all of the great Michael Jordan advertising we've seen over the years and squeezed out one spot, that would be it.

Celebritywise, I thought the Pepsi Twist spot with Ozzy and the Osmonds was very cute and again demonstrates that Pepsi is about the best at taking the hottest celebs and having the most fun with them. The "Yo, Yao" spot for Visa was pretty amusing, perhaps because of national pride (I sound like a figure-skating judge) and because the gag was funny.

Least Favorite Use of Celebs goes to Hanes with Jackie Chan (so much for national pride). Jackie was about as effective as Raider Tim Brown.

The winner among the Anheuser-Busch siblings has to go to Bud's zebra spot. It was one of the few spots that built upon its own Super Bowl equity of the past. There were a lot of good Bud Light spots, but they seemed like spots that could air on anything.

Last but not least, I'd like to tip my hat to the NFL spot "Crazy." That entire campaign with Don Cheadle is terrific. What's great is the concept of having us think how football really changed the way we think about words and the way we look at things, period. It's very smart.

Overall, it was a conservative year, especially now that all the dot-coms have completely washed away and sober, sane marketing executives are in complete control again. As a businessman, it's reassuring. As a pure observer, it's certainly not as fun. I'm still waiting for the next "1984." Maybe next year.

David Lubars

Executive creative director, president Fallon, Minneapolis

The Super Bowl was kind of like a regular-season game. Most of the spots had already run, so it felt less eventy. I guess that's a sign of the economic times—to clients, buying the media must've seemed expensive enough without spending more millions on new productions. But it seems only fair I rate the debut spots, as that's the whole spirit of what Bowl advertising is about.

The Bud Light spots were extraordinarily funny and fresh. Specifically the guy in the clown suit, the "dreadlocks" dog and the one with mom's enormous butt. Hilarious and my favorites of the game—perfect in the environment. It's funny, dumb-guy humor with a nice party atmosphere. And the spots are very visual, good for when people are being noisy at a Super Bowl party and you can't hear the audio.

FedEx's spot deserves praise. It's great—didn't see the ending coming, and it was brilliantly executed. The Reebok spot and the Ozzy Pepsi Twist commercials were fun, too.