Madison Avenue, take a bow.
There was widespread anxiety before Super Bowl XXXVI that advertisers buying commercial time during the game would seek to capitalize on Sept. 11 by unleashing several mawkish, hyperpatriotic ads that would have reasonable viewers cringing by halftime.
Instead, most of the spots that appeared were entertaining or enjoyable, even in some instances moving. They generally struck the right tone, a difficult task given the uncertain national mood.
That is certainly not to say that all 29 advertisers, ranging from AOL Time Warner to Yahoo, deserve pats, New England or otherwise, on the back. Many of the nine commercials for coming movies were jarringly violent or jingoistic, particularly for the films "Blade 2," "Collateral Damage" and "Hart's War." Also, two spots for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy by the New York office of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, part of the WPP Group, seemed to exploit the tragedy by asserting that buying illegal drugs helps support terrorism.
What follows is an assessment of some of the 56 paid commercials shown nationally during the game, for which advertisers paid Fox Broadcasting, part of the News Corporation, an estimated average of $1.9 million for each 30 seconds.
All the questions generated by an elaborate "teaser" campaign for AT&T Wireless, including four commercials in the first two quarters of the game, were answered in the third quarter when a 60-second spot revealed that "mlife" is the mobile way to live.
Sure, it was cute to liken the snipping of the umbilical cord to leading "a wireless life," as the announcer intoned, but as Peggy Lee, God rest her soul, would have asked, is that all there is? This campaign will be salvaged or savaged by the subsequent installments. Agency: Ogilvy New York.
Nine commercials, the most for any advertiser, were bought by Anheuser-Busch, which may want to ask for a partial refund.
Three Bud Light beer commercials bordered on smutty. Two, by the Chicago office of DDB Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group, centered on boudoir and barroom misadventures; a third, by Fusion Idea Lab in Chicago, featured a sexually predatory falcon.
A Budweiser spot, also by DDB Chicago, was much better, showing how a woman may spend hours picking the right greeting card while a man will grab one off the rack at the convenience-store checkout as he buys beer. Expect more such "True" spots for Bud showing guys behaving like guys.
Then there was a spot featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales traveling to Lower Manhattan to bow before the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. It was crass to depict brand characters in a Sept. 11 commercial; what next, a statue of Mr. Peanut, Aunt Jemima and the Jolly Green Giant as firefighters raise the flag at ground zero? Still, it was stirring in an understated, sentimental way. Just don't do it again. Agency: Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, part of the McCann-Erickson World Group division of the Interpublic Group of Companies.
The chimp that appears in spots for E*Trade Financial returned for its third annual spoof of Super Bowl advertising. This year, the monkey was "fired" for the poor performance of an imaginary Super Sunday musical extravaganza to promote the company's changing its name from the E*Trade Group.
The commercial was busier than an online brokerage during a dot- com meltdown, but the plot about an employee dismissed by an impatient boss is certainly timely in this worrisome economy. That same concern surfaced in another commercial, for the Lipton Brisk tea sold by PepsiCo and Unilever, in which the brand's puppet characters "lost" their jobs. E*Trade agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, part of Omnicom. Lipton Brisk agency: J. Walter Thompson, New York, part of WPP.
The Cadillac division of General Motors, abandoning a series of spots centered on the symbol "&," replaced that gimmick with "and," as in "Rock and Roll," as in that song by Led Zeppelin, the first time the band's music has been heard in commercials.
One ad, linking the Cadillac brand's heritage and its new models, was stirring. A second, showing a tiny car called a Kleinschnittger fitting into the back of an Escalade EXT, was a treat. Agency: D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich., part of the Bcom3 Group.
This division of Mars offered a hilarious twist on the tradition of pillow chocolates at ritzy hotels when a talking red M&M shares a bed with an unnerved lodger. Agency: the New York office of BBDO Worldwide, a division of Omnicom.
The job-search Web site operated by TMP Worldwide departed from the relentless Super Sunday ballyhoo to present a spot featuring Rudolph W. Giuliani saying "Thank you, America," for "all the help" New York City received after Sept. 11. The plug for Monster.com was mercifully brief. Agency: Arnold Worldwide, Boston, part of the Arnold Worldwide Partners division of Havas Advertising.
The Pepsi-Cola division of PepsiCo rarely uses nostalgia in its ads, ceding that tactic to its rival, Coca-Cola. But a 90-second commercial in which Britney Spears recreated six decades' worth of Pepsi pitches was delicious, effectively demonstrating why, in a jingle reprised in a separate 30-second spot, Pepsi is still "for those who think young." Agency: BBDO New York.
Two antismoking commercials from Philip Morris missed the mark by nagging adults to talk to children about cigarettes but offering no reasons to shun smoking, unlike two hard-hitting winners from the American Legacy Foundation about the harmful ingredients in cigarette smoke. Philip Morris agency: Young & Rubicam Advertising, New York, part of the Young & Rubicam division of WPP. Foundation agencies: Arnold Worldwide and Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami.
This commercial was a dreadful waste because it hid Jared, the charmingly nerdy star of previous spots for Subway Restaurants, who was seen only fleetingly. Two spots for a Subway competitor, Quizno's, were far better, standing out with audacious parodies of fast-food marketing methods. But what do I know? The Subway spot came in second among all Super Bowl commercials in a survey of advertising effectiveness released yesterday by Merwyn Technology in Cincinnati. Subway agency: Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro RSCG, New York, part of the Euro RSCG Worldwide division of Havas. Quizno's agency: Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York.
STUART ELLIOTT, The New York Times February 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.