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Like Broncos, Super Bowl commercials fall flat

February 2, 2014 Updated: February 3, 2014 at 7:39 am
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The game is over, and with a handful of exceptions, the commercials didn’t fare much better than the Broncos. A few of the $133,000-a-second spots stuck with me. Most, though, faded fast.

Some ads broke new ground (many more movie stars, no prominent scantily clad women) and others traced decidedly old ground (cute animals, nostalgia and the look of a multi-million dollar film).

As expected, humor was a frequent fallback — or winning tool in ads from Doritos, T-Mobile, Volkswagen, Audi, Chobani and Axe Peace.

Many were simply oblique. In one, a long poetic and deeply visual preamble turns out to be an self congratulatory commercial about Chevy’s partnership with the American Cancer Society.

Many leaned hard on nostalgia. At best, the imagery was sweetly familiar, like a turn through an old photo album. At worst, it was a naked bid to sell — Budweiser Beer, Chevy vehicles and other products — by capitalizing on our patriotism.

Some tried for funny and instead were just plain weird. “Is there anything more American than America?” asks Bob Dylan (yes, that Bob Dylan) in a two-minute ad. Misty imagery of a romanticized American past (carnival rides, old men, horses, cheerleaders) back him up as he sells the rhapsodizes about Detroit and the car culture it built. Hold on: It’s actually an ad for the Chrysler 200. On the good side: I could understand every word he said. On the bad side: The punch line undermined his whole pitch.

Finally, many ads turned on writing and visuals that seemed like a cross between a stump speech and an arty documentary. And too often, it was a let down when you realized it wasn’t either. For instance, this poetic commercial for Maserati: “The world is full of giants. They have always been here, lumbering in the schoolyards, limping through the alleys. We had to learn how to deal with them, how to overcome them.” Or “There’s nothing stronger or more powerful than a dream. Dreams fight” (American Family Insurance).

What follows are the some ads that worked and some that didn’t.



“100,000 miles,” Volkswagen. The premise could have been cloying: When a Volkswagen speedometer turns 100,000, a father tells his teenage daughter, the car company’s engineers get their wings. Wings pop through white lab coats. Wings goose a woman in the elevator. And in the funniest moment, the size of the wings directly relate to one’s ... er, manliness. Possibly not as on-the-money as last year’s memorable “The Force,” but still, quite charming.

“No Contract,” T-Mobile. Tim Tebow knows his image. Here, he gives it a wink and a nod in a funny ad recounting all the things he could do without a contract, including doing his own stunts and riding in the rodeo.

“Romance,” Chevy Silverado. An eligible bull searches for love in this beautifully crafted commercial. It borrows heavily from the noble tone of Ram Trucks’ “So God Made a Farmer” from the 2013 Super Bowl, but with a much more playful narrative and a “You Sexy Thing” soundtrack. “Helllloooo, ladies.”

“Rendezvous,” Jaguar. British director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) builds a dusky Bondian fantasy sequence with three English film stars known for their roles as villains, Mark Strong, Ben Kingsley and Tom Hiddleston. The English, the ad suggests, have a head for detail, are always one step ahead and are “obsessed by power.” I’m not sure what was giving me the chills: The stars or that sexy Jaguar. “Oh yes,” Kingsley says at the end, “it’s good to be bad.”

“Dad’s Sixth Sense,” Hyundai. Although many brands tried to play on our fondness for sentiment and nostalgia, only this Hyundai spot pulled it off. Using short clips to build a narrative in which Dad was always there to avert a child’s certain death, its truth and humor make it smart, not saccharine.

Other favorites: “Ransacked,” Chobani; “Time Machine,” Doritos; “A Better Web Awaits,” Squarespace; “Make Love, Not War,” Axe Peace



“The Truth,” Kia. As a fan of “The Matrix” film series, I am genetically engineered to love this ad, in which Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) offers a bewildered couple a choice of the red or the blue car keys. One, he says, will change your notion of luxury. Ultimately, its weirdness (Fishburne “sings” “Nessun Dorma,” his lips flapping with the high notes) overtakes any cool factor.

“Couples Therapy,” Butterfingers. Mr. Peanut Butter and Mrs. Chocolate walk into a therapist office: He likes things as they are, while his partner is looking for a little something different. A satin jacketed Mr. Butterfingers … er, enters the picture. Seriously strange and definitely not funny.

“Stephen Colbert’s Wonderful Pistachios Commercial.” Oh, Stephen. How far the mighty have fallen. This decides it: His character’s typical smarmy quotient just sky rockets when he’s selling something other than himself — and America, of course.

“Bud Puppy Love,” Anheuser-Busch. I’m all for puppies and horses. And yes, there were some “ah” moments in this ad. After two recent Clydesdale narratives, though, this one jumps the shark for its unabashed cuteness. And how is this about beer again?

“Nice,” Hyundai. It should have been named “Odd.”

Other not so great: any Go Daddy, any Bud Lite, any Subway.

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