Super Bowl Critique: In Love With Google

We’ll get to the coterie of angry men later. (They came in several forms this year: pantless, miniature, psychotic, emasculated, etc. They could form a new set of Disney dwarves, but instead of sleeping caps, pantaloons and pointy boots, they could just show tons of moobage and man thigh. Yikes!)

Anyway, for my money, the spot that stole the show during Sunday’s Super Bowl was Google’s. The simplest of the bunch, it also effortlessly (but so effectively) dug down to the brand’s core. It was smart, charming and pure.

How pure? It reminded me of the best line from among all of the Anheuser-Busch ads: “I’m getting a case of Bud Light out of a refrigerator made of Bud Light.” It was a whole cool love story made of nothing but Google. We just had to follow the demo, made for pennies (perhaps even cheaper than some of the Doritos ads’ low-three-figure budgets), that never strayed visually from the Google site itself.

As a company, Google is famously anti-mainstream advertising. Which explains why the spot was not created for the Super Bowl, or even for television, for that matter. Rather, it is of, by and for the Internet. Created in-house as an online video, it’s been on YouTube for more than three months.

Viewers there showed “Parisian Love” so much love that the powers that be decided to put it on the ultimate high-price, high-pressure, mass-media advertising showcase, and the rest is history. Not incidentally (and in such contrast to most of the other spots), it also manages to tell a male-based story that both men and women loved.

Well, not everybody loved it. It bombed on the USA Today Ad Meter, which also brings up an interesting aspect of contemporary ad chaos. The spots that do well on the Ad Meter are the ones that feature the kind of tricks viewers have been trained to expect, like man-on-man violence and/or cute animals. It’s like teaching to the test. That’s why, this year, the consumer-generated “Bark Collar” ad from Doritos came in at No. 2.

But No. 1 on the Ad Meter was Snickers, and it’s one of the few spots near the top of the list that I loved, too. Coming off a disastrous showing three years ago, when the “Kiss” spot from TBWA\Chiat\Day pissed off people left and right, it’s as if the BBDO team managed to find (in Google speak) the magic algorithm for success.

Like: “You think we’re old hacks who rely on celebrities in TV commercials? We’ll show you old and celebrities!”

Everything in the Snickers spot sang. Betty White, in her Golden Girls sweater, is a formidable performer, and Gen X (and younger) people who grew up on GG reruns love her. The idea of the tackle was funny (as opposed to the mom-tackle in the Focus on the Family spot, which painfully was not.) Added to the shock of seeing the trash-talking, pounced-on Betty was the seamless edit that switched her into a young male actor.

Then the appearance of the half-dead man (Abe Vigoda) killed. It was well-written, beautifully visual and drove home the message in that you’re not yourself when you’re hungry.

I also liked Volkswagen, another success that drilled down into the history of the brand and came up with something that effortlessly (and cleverly) brought the Bug, and the rest of the VW line, back into the American vernacular.

The fact that Punch Buggy (redubbed Punch Dub) involves a lot of hitting can’t hurt on the Super Bowl. (I’ll even forgive them the hit-in-the-groin joke, which I believe was the lone nut-sack destroyer of the night.) The idea was so good and so amusingly executed that it didn’t even need the celebrity surprise at the end (although anytime Stevie Wonder wants to joke about his blindness, I guess you have to go there).

I also liked Audi’s ad, although calling out liberal, do-gooder environmentalists as eco-fascists and then promoting itself as the Green Car of the Year seemed to confuse people. I thought all the details were hilarious (the too-hot hot tub, for example). I want to go back and look at it again, because it’s so layered. I also loved the joke after the button with the dorky Green Police busting the real police for their foam cups (“Please step out of the car and put them on the hood”).

Here’s the spot I hated the most: Focus on the Family.

First, I didn’t think it belonged on the Super Bowl. But given that it was accepted, it was a brilliant media move for FOTF. It basically won before it ran. When it did show up, it was fundamentally dishonest — as phony as Mrs. Tebow’s French manicure.

It seemed to borrow the lighting and look of the “Real Beauty” campaign from Dove, which attempted to be, well, real. But it was so coded and disingenuous (“We almost lost you!” she says to her son) that it came off as having the same slightly creepy, slightly disturbing sensibility as the Skechers spot.

Speaking of women, I wanted to like the Vizio spot with Beyoncé. But she was in it so little, and it was so dense and deep and hard to follow in parts, that it came off as a bit of a be-mess-é.

Overall, I thought CBS did a brilliant job of branding itself. The Letterman-Oprah-Leno triangle was a triumph (and Leno sat on the couch moaning, munching on no-name chips when he used to sell Doritos). And getting The Who to do a CSI: medley really spoke to the times. (Or was I dreaming? Bitten by one of the many squirrels?)
About the men mess — can’t we all just get along? It was bad enough that Bud Light had a spot years ago showing a husband who preferred beer to having sex with his wife. But showing, as Bridgestone did, a man who preferred his tires to his woman was really misogynist. As was the FLO TV spot in which the guy who shopped with his girlfriend is told to grow a spine.

But there’s a special place in battle-of-the-sexes hell for the Dodge spot. I liked the American Psycho look of it (it was brilliantly shot — as if these guys were taking a mug shot). And the dialogue was actually well written. It’s just that this dude is so angry at being overly controlled by his wife that he should definitely get into therapy, or just take his truck and move out, before she ends up dead and messing up his beloved vehicle with her blood and guts.

As for the use of hell in the Electronic Arts spot? Somewhere the Medicis are smiling.

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