Posted February 8, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Super Bowl ads disappointing, Post panel says

By Greg Paeth
Post staff reporter

On the day after Super Bowl XXXIX, there may be some Monday morning quarterbacking in walnut-paneled boardrooms from coast to coast.

Bottom-line question: We paid $2.4 million for that?

Most members of The Post’s Advertising Roundtable — representing four of Cincinnati’s leading ad agencies and the primary advertising and marketing strategist for the Cincinnati Museum Center — kind of yawned through much of the $80,000-a-second advertising that was plugged into last night’s workmanlike Patriots’ win.

Ever since the game began to establish itself as TV’s highest-rated night of the year, leading ad agencies have made the Super Bowl a forum for what they hope will stand out as some of the best and the brightest spots the industry can create.

A smattering of the ads approached their creators’ high hopes last night, the ad panel said.

But taken as a whole, Super Bowl XXXIX advertising was as memorable as a medium diet Coke — no ice — at McDonald’s.

“Overall, I got the feeling of buying a ticket to the hottest show in town, waiting with anticipation to be entertained, overwhelmed and impressed, and I was not. It was terribly disappointing — all bland,” said Charlaine “Charlie” Martin, vice president of marketing and operations for Sound Images in downtown Cincinnati.

“This was the year of the kinder and gentler Super Bowl commercials. No flatulent Clydesdales. No crotch-biting animals,” said Tim Gibson, executive vice president and creative director of Freedman, Gibson & White in downtown Cincinnati. “Last year’s ads may have been crass, but people are still talking about them a year later,” said Gibson, referring to controversy stirred by commercials and the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” that fueled the firestorm of criticism over the CBS production.

“Overall, I think the pundits were right in saying things were going to be more conservative this year,” said Bruce Carlson, a copywriter for JA&G Advertising in downtown Cincinnati. “There was sort of a ‘going through the motions’ feel to a lot of the stuff.”

“It was a very toned down year with everyone making sure they didn’t step over the line,” said Joe Stryker, creative director of downtown’s Northlich. “While nothing blew me away, there were a lot of spots that made me laugh or put a smile on my face.”

Anheuser-Busch with its Budweiser and Bud Light brands proved to be last night’s big spender, plunking down an estimated $24 million for 10 30-second commercials, some of which will be dissected at water coolers today.

Gibson liked the first commercial of the game in which the pilot of a plane packed with novice skydivers jumps out after the instructor tosses out a six-pack of Bud Light. “I like that. It reinforces the lengths people will go to for Bud Light,” Gibson said.

Martin, the only woman on the panel, gave high marks to the commercial in which a cockatoo helps a woman fend off unwanted advances in a bar. “What a change from last year. Standing up for women! Go Bud!” Martin said.

Although there was some general agreement about the paucity of truly memorable messages last night, there was little unanimity about what worked and what didn’t.

Spots for Career.Builder.com — featuring an office staffed by one man and a score of well-dressed monkeys — came closest to getting a unanimous endorsement from the panel.

Gibson thought the three ads would strike a chord with “thousands of potential job seekers who feel like they are the only sane individual in an office. — A lot of viewers are watching this spot and thinking, ‘That is exactly my situation.'”

“The chimps actually served a purpose: When you work with a bunch of monkeys and hate your job, it’s time to look for a new job,” observed Charles Howard, senior director of marketing communications for the Cincinnati Museum Center and past president of the Ad Club of Cincinnati. “This was a fun spot even though I don’t know anyone who refers to their incompetent co-workers as monkeys. — I got their point.”

“I was entertained; I’ll remember it,” Carlson said.

The Tabasco sauce ad featuring a well-proportioned brunette in a Tabasco-logoed bikini seemed to make more of an impression on the men than on “Charlie” Martin.

She predicted “no one will remember it tomorrow” while “Charlie” Howard saw things differently: “A hot spot! Hot day. Hot girl. Tan lines under her bathing suit from spicing up her shrimp cocktail with Tabasco … hot ad idea. This was good advertising that delivered on the brand’s distinctive attribute. When you want it hot, use Tabasco.”

“It ended up giving me a nice little surprise as she slides the shoulder strap to the side,” Stryker said. “With Tabasco we see the burn is internal. It comes from within.

“No one stepped over the line here. Just having some good clean fun demonstrating the end benefit of the hot taste of Tabasco. It’s a spot that I’m sure appealed to the female audience, and she’s the one with the purchasing power.”

The Frito-Lay commercial in which one-time superstar M.C. Hammer gets tossed over a fence along with other long-forgotten items was a hit with Carlson and a monumental flop for Howard.

“It didn’t work for me,” said Howard, “including the (use of a) has-been celebrity, MC Hammer, did nothing to tell me that Lay’s are great potato chips. It’s the use a celebrity for celebrity’s sake with no relevant, believable tie to the product. Does Frito-Lay was now want to be perceived as the ‘has-been’ potato chip?”

At the other end of the panel’s spectrum was Carlson, who said: “I loved this. It was a hoot seeing all that ‘vanished’ stuff come flying over the fence. I mean, c’mon, who amongst us hasn’t lost a ’72 Impala?”

Another commercial that panel members split over was the Emerald of California nuts ad in which a father warns his daughter that bad things will happen to unicorns, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny if he must share the snack with her.

“What a mean Dad! Won’t share his snack with his own kid? Then threatens her with ‘all the unicorns will die’ if I give you some? — Not funny. Not good,” said Martin.

Howard summed it up as “lies your father told you … and not sharing with your kids…. Are these traits that Emerald wants associated with its product? An attempt to be cute rather than give the viewer a memorable reason to purchase the Emerald brand.”

Stryker had a strikingly different reaction, though: “A very charming spot (with) — all the mythical figures that the dad used to not share the product with his daughter showing up to question his technique and greed. I fell in love with it.

“The delivery of each mythical character was great. It was a little piece of Disney-like charm at its best.”

Howard pointed out that Hammer “is making a comeback spoofing his has-been status. He’s this year’s Super Bowl advertising MVP, with two appearances.”

Both the Frito-Lay spot and a pre-game commercial for Nationwide Insurance — the company driving home the point that “Life comes at you fast” — focused on the fact that Hammer hasn’t had much of a career since “Can’t Touch That” disappeared from the charts.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog