In the mid-eighties, the marketing world pulled one of the great snow jobs on the American television audience. They somehow convinced people not to change the channel during Super Bowl commercial breaks. They told us that commercials aren't just 30-second sales pitches, but entertainment, something to look forward to, the "best" "part" "of" the "Super Bowl." It's kind of like how financial services companies somehow convinced us over the last 15 years that our 401(k)s were totally safe, and that the money was not at all entirely fictional and tied up in worthless housing debt. I guess Americans are just suckers for big, faceless corporate bullshit.
Super Bowl commercials, as you should know by now, are poor entertainment. If you watched the Super Bowl for the ads and not for the game, I'm sorry. You should have watched a movie, read a book, spent time with your loved ones - anything else, really. And not only were the commercials not entertaining, many of them didn't even succeed in their actual job of, y'know, selling something. Here, then, are our picks for the worst commercials, by category, of Super Bowl XLIII.
The Apple 1984 Memorial Award for Least Shitty Ad
Windier: All right, it's questionable how well this ad really "sells" Coke. But there are only a few companies that can actually get away with making ads almost wholly off-message, and Coke is one of them. It's a nicely-designed ad, the music works well, and the butterflies faking the Coke bottle is priceless. And if just one Coke drinker is educated about the serious risks of insect-related beverage theft, it was worth the millions the ad cost to create and broadcast.
Most Overproduced Ad
Winner: SoBe Life Water
Quivering: Oh, SoBe. So predictable. You won this coveted award last year, and you did not disappoint in 2009.
If you think you know what's going on in this commercial, you are probably either seven years old, really high, or the person who directed the ad. It starts out with the stale joke of football players doing ballet, then clumsily segues into poorly-animated lizards, then shoehorns in characters from the upcoming Dreamworks movie Monsters vs. Aliens, and then - okay, I have no idea what happens after that, because I was on the floor twitching by then. It's stimulation overload. And totally painful and creepy. Maybe the whole thing paid off if you wore 3-D glasses (for the version that aired last night). Somehow, I doubt that.
(Note from Windier: It did not. And my eyes were on fire by the time it was over.)
Cheapest Budget/Clumsiest Execution Award
Windier: Man, Vizio TVs must be inexpensive. How else can you explain an ad like this, which screams "We are absolutely blowing our entire budget on the cost of airing the ad, so we need to be able to make it for $7.50 and a box of cookies"? The whole thing looks like it was created in PowerPoint for a shareholders' meeting. Throw in a clunky joke involving the economy and the actual specs of the TV zooming past at light speed and you've got yourself an ad that manages to live up to both aspects of this award. And who chose that moving background? I think I'm going to be sick.
Worst Use of "Humor" Award
Quivering: This one really chaps my hide. They manipulate you with babies, and then use goofy humor to make light of the economic plight that they helped create.
Baby: "You know, it's times like these that eTrade can really help you replan your investments."
Oh, yeah, sure. Just go open an online trading account and jump right into the stock market! Hey, just because professionals with years of experience and Ivy League MBAs lost a third or more of their wealth in one year doesn't mean you won't come up a big winner! And you may lose a few bucks now and then, or possibly your retirement, savings and house. But so what?! At least those babies were funny, right? (As we all know, tired references to songs that stopped being popular 20 years ago = comedy gold.)
Dishonorable Mention: Doritos
We would be remiss if we did not call out Doritos for some really bad commercials this year. This one in particular was part of the consumer-generated "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign, where people sent in their own Doritos ads. I wish I could say that regular people were better at making ads than many of the hacks who do it for a living, but, well, maybe not. This commercial combines hamfisted acting with cheap crotch-hitting jokes. I'll bet you anything that better ads were submitted, but the Doritos people just wouldn't know a good TV spot if it were hurled at their junk from point-blank range. Hey, I just got an idea for a follow-up commercial!
The Carlos Mencia Book Prize for Most Egregious Use of B-List Celebrities
Windier: I'll admit that this nonsense is an improvement over the normal Cash4Gold ads, which mostly feature elderly women with facial expressions suggesting that a positive testimonial is the only thing that will get the gun pointed away from their heads. On the other hand, are we sure they aren't doing mostly the same thing here? Hammer and Ed McMahon have both had significant financial troubles in recent years, and while they might be satisfied customers as a result, I'm guessing Cash4Gold was able to use this fact to hire them. Why else would anyone recognizable be caught dead in a Cash4Gold ad? (Negative bonus points for forcing Ed McMahon to deliver a bastardized version of his most famous catchphrase.)
Flimsiest Pretense Award
Quivering: Danica Patrick wasn't hot last year. And a year of not winning the Indy 500 didn't make her suddenly hotter (or a better actress). The internet domain name purveyor won this award in 2008, and we predicted it again this year based on the spot-on Ad Age description. Let's just say there wasn't an easier bet to be had on Sunday.
Let me try to capture the strategy behind this commercial:
Step 1: Objectify women;
Step 2: Make men look like primates;
Step 3: Use a sports celebrity completely out of context;
Step 4: Sell internet domain names.
Rock solid, don't you think?
Dishonorable Mention: Castrol
Inter-species makeout session alert! Man, I can't believe how hilarious that commercial is, or how much it makes me want to buy motor oil. Right after I finish vomiting.
(Side note to Castrol: Chimpanzees are not monkeys. They are apes.)
SkyMall Championship Trophy
Quivering: Let me preface this by saying: I get it. I get what Pepsi is doing - the whole "we're appealing to the young, hip demographic before they get too addicted to Coke products" thing. The new billboard/print campaign is interesting, and the logo looks a lot like Obama's campaign logo - I respect what they're trying to do.
But this ad is just an odd way to sell your product, and that's what the SkyMall award is for. First of all, the implication that will.i.am is the heir to Bob Dylan is a little odd. I know he had the Obama song, but let's not rush into this. Let him record a few more seminal albums before we refer to him as the voice of this generation or whatever. Also, it takes a damn long time to get to the point of this ad, or before Pepsi is mentioned. Not sure how a minute-long hodgepodge of random pop culture symbols (VWs, Gumby, Shrek, etc.) sells me on a can of cola, either.
(Addendum from Windier: If the guy whose group was responsible for "My Humps" is the next Dylan, then watch this: "Dip dop a ringy dingy doo!" I'm the next Charles Dickens, motherfuckers.)
Worst Super Bowl Ad of 2008
Windier: What makes this ad the worst of its Super Bowl class? What gives it the enduring shittiness to ring through the ages as the most painful example of advertising from a night filled with painful examples of advertising? Why do I hate it so, so much?
First of all, it uses the by-now hackneyed "list" premise, which should have been permanently retired after the classic FedEx spot from a few years ago. More importantly, it combines the list idea with droning, tiresome, and eventually quite painful repetition. How much footage did they even have to shoot for that minute-long ad, 25 seconds' worth? You say economical, I say really fucking annoying. It doesn't help that none of those things are more than vaguely funny. Woman yelling? Not funny. Guy getting called a dummy? Certainly not laugh-out-loud funny, but perhaps slightly amusing. Woman riding a seal? Not funny. (By the way, if you can't make a woman riding a seal look convincing, don't fucking use it in your ad. Do you have any idea how many people are going to see this thing, most of them in high-definition?) Fat guy crying? Not funny. Cheap-looking koala puppet getting punched? Not funny. Gross bald guy in a Speedo? Guess. So if none of those things is funny once, why should any of them be funny by the third or fourth time I'm forced to sit through them? Answer: they're not.
Furthermore, the whole thing is just counterproductive. I don't see how ugly half-naked people sell things, whether used to imply the consequences of not using the item/service being promoted or not. (One of these years I'm going to save up a couple million bucks and buy an ad that's just 30 seconds of a hairy guy in a thong, and at the end he holds up a sign that says "TheAdWizards.com" for four seconds. How many hits do you think this site would get the next day? Negative a jillion?) But even beyond that, if I weren't watching the whole ad because I write for this blog and thus felt compelled to do so, I would have changed the channel before the 30-second mark (not even seeing the Speedo guy), as any sane person should have. And that's 30 whole seconds before we actually find out what company the ad was promoting. Sure, it might have been CareerBuilder, but it might also have been HotJobs, or SimplyHired, or Monster. (Monster actually ran an ad during the game, and it was half as long, to the point, and really not annoying in any way.)
Congratulations, CareerBuilder. When you make an ad this unwatchable and bury your company name in the last three seconds, it's probably time. To hire a new fucking agency.