The day after the Ad Bowl

Last night’s game – especially the fourth quarter – was fantastic.

It had everything. It had upsets. It had heroics. It had drama and excitement. It was everything a game should be – great until the last, bone jarring sack of Tom Brady.

As for the ads, well, let’s just say they weren’t the best.

The Super Bowl is the ad land’s greatest showcase, serving millions of captive viewers with over-thought, hyper-produced television commercials. For those of us who enjoy advertising – who work intimately with the industry or who still remember the first time they saw a great television commercial that changed their way of thinking – this is like a Super Bowl within the Super Bowl.

And like many Super Bowls, the hype outweighs the production.

None of the spots I saw were what I would call Super Bowl commercials. They were just commercials. Nothing that special, thanks. Some left me scratching my head. Others, I just rolled my eyes.

The GMC Yukon spot of a line drawing pushing a rock up a hill? Faux-sentiment; it’s a vehicle, thanks, and no amount of new age drawing will change that when your company is also known for putting out the GMC Sierra Denali. Pepsi gave us the same lame “trying to be cool” bullshit, and Budweiser ads continued the same path they’ve always gone: men are beer-hungry animals who eschew reality.

I should give Budweiser a little leeway, though. Of the three ads I actually liked, the Will Ferrell (as Jackie Moon) spot was pretty funny. I also enjoyed the E-Trade spots, featuring a talking baby, and I thought the Coca-Cola spot with the Macy’s parade balloons was brilliantly done. The NFL’s ad was superb – probably the best of the night.

That’s it. Four spots, three of which could have appeared anywhere and still been lost in the clutter. The only one that was really memorable was the NFL’s spot. And they were advertising the very product you were already watching.

In an industry that prides itself on creative thinking – on industry changing techniques and sudden twists of fate and beyond the normal humor – I find myself stunned each year to see the same batch of predictable television commercials, as if Ad Land’s biggest stage was just another way to pander to the same lowest common denominator they’ve always pandered to.

Great ads are made all the time. But because there’s no need to justify a multi-million dollar media budget, the ads can be made to perfection, without the nosy pokiness of a thousand different suits, joined together in one room to counter every last detail until the original idea has been drowned in corporate speak.

Really, you’d think we’d learn. The Super Bowl is no longer where great ads are finally revealed. You’ll never see an ad like Honda’s “Cog,” Sony Bravia’s “Balls,” or the beautiful Halo 3 spots. Those wouldn’t work. Maybe they’re too good. Maybe they’re too subtle – not enough breasts and not enough potty humor.

Maybe the difference between a great ad and a Super Bowl ad is similar to the difference between John Steinbeck and John Grisham – one is written to stand the test of time, designed as a heavy statement on the world around us, while the other is simply a form of entertainment, never considered as ultra-literary but perfect for the right demographic.

I’m not in the right demographic when it comes to Super Bowl ads. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – I’m not in the right demographic for John Grisham either.

Of course, it could all change next year. Or, at least, that’s what I’ll be telling myself.

This was lovingly handwritten on February 4th, 2008