When it Comes to Super Bowl Advertising,
I Agree with E*Trade
by Chad Rueffert


"We just wasted $2 million."  That was the punch line to E*Trade's 2000 Super Bowl ad featuring the dancing monkey.  It's not a big surprise that E*Trade was missing from the lineup of Super Bowl sponsors in 2003.  There are faster ways to waste $2 million, but not many.

Don't get me wrong -- I like Super Bowl advertising.  I watch it as avidly as I do the game, unless the Broncos are playing.  In fact, a recent poll showed that nearly 15% of the viewers were watching more for the ads than for the game.  That's almost 13 million people tuning into ABC for four hours just to watch the commercials.  Normally I'd suggest you visit http://superbowl.ifilm.com/superbowl/ to check out the ads again.  But this year, don't bother.  Super Bowl advertising, like the stock market, seems to have hit a new low.

Super Bowl advertising is no longer about advertising.  It's about prestige and it's about public relations.  If you paid any attention at all, you already knew Willie Nelson was doing an ad for H&R Block, and you'd already heard about the fifth dentist's problem with squirrels.  Every twelve-year-old had already heard the Osbournes would morph into the Osmonds, even if they don't know who the Osmonds are.  You already knew this stuff because public relations firm were busy logging thousands of hours pre-hyping the ads to ensure they got as much attention as possible.  It worked.  But it also succeeded in turning some of the most anticipated television viewing of the year into a huge anti-climax. 

But even more than that, this year's ads just didn't match up to previous years in entertainment value or originality.  And worse yet, very few seemed to have a message beyond the ad itself.  As Jane Weaver of MSNBC said about the Bud Light commercials, "Judging from the commercials, guys who drink Bud Light are doofuses."  How that sells beer, I just don't know.  The message seems to be, "If you're an idiot, getting drunk will make you funny.  Or is it the other way around?

Same goes for most of the ads:  they just didn't seem to have a strategy beyond placing their ad on the biggest show of the year.

There were a few I particularly liked – ads that had creativity, originality and strategy.

Hanes Tagless T-Shirts:  This ad had star power (Jackie Chan and Michael Jordan).  And though two stars were probably overkill, they both have huge international appeal to match the huge international audience.  But what makes this spot so good is the product.  Men cut the tags out of their shirts all the time.  Hanes has an answer, and a new feature that sets them apart from their competition.  Since the target market is primarily male, and the product is new, launching the campaign on the Super Bowl made sense.  Hanes will sell T-shirts because of this ad, and that's the bottom line.

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy – Knocked Up:  This ad features a middle-age couple looking at the results of a pregnancy test.  The punch is "They'll be the youngest grandparents in town."  While I'm not a huge fan of my tax dollars being spent to purchase Super Bowl advertising, I have to admit this was an effective ad.  It was quiet and dramatic, which made it stand out among the pageantry and comedy.  It had an impactful and memorable message.  Of course, it probably won't stop teenagers from smoking marijuana, and the logical connection between smoking pot and getting pregnant is pretty thin.  However, I got more out of that one ad than all the Bud Light spots combined.

Honorable Mentions go to the Budweiser "Zebra" ad for being topical, well placed and humorous.  It was right at the beginning of the game, and occurred almost simultaneously with the first official review.  But I still don't understand how it makes me buy their beer.  I also thought the multiple movie trailers probably had the desired effect of generating interest, even if the advertising was no more creative than your average movie ad. 

The list of ads I didn't like is even longer, but two really stood out.

Levi's Type 1 Jeans Buffalo Stampede Ad:  This ad featured a herd of buffalo stampeding through empty city streets past two denim-clad twenty-somethings.  Now granted, the ad was the culmination of a large promotion called the "Gold Rush" where you can follow clues to find a pair of $150,000 jeans.  But even after watching this ad several times, it still goes right over my head.  You barely get a glimpse of the jeans, and the juxtaposition of Levi's rugged Western heritage and the bleak cityscape just didn't work.  The ad was created by the New York office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who somehow managed to sell the company a stinker.

Budweiser's Date Both of Us Ad:  This ad features a man at a bar who is amazed when his date tells him it's ok for him to date both her and her roommate.  The tag at the end says, "Think Fresh.  Drink Fresh.  Budweiser."  Stupid, offensive, and only realistic if your date has already downed about a twelve-pack.

Overall, the batch of ads for Super Bowl XXXVII showed us nothing spectacular.  There was no Mean Joe Green, no Bud Frogs, no Whassup guys, no Apple Computer 1984. 

This year the game was better than the advertising.  And the game sucked.