Super Bowl spots too cool to sell

Don't look now, but the advertising content of the annual American Super Bowl telecast has become a weird kind of one-off, totally-divorced-from-selling-stuff comedy competition. I think it started in 1984, when Apple ran the 1984 spot, produced specifically for one airing...

Don’t look now, but the advertising content of the annual American Super Bowl telecast has become a weird kind of one-off, totally-divorced-from-selling-stuff comedy competition. I think it started in 1984, when Apple ran the 1984 spot, produced specifically for one airing on the Super Bowl, and shown virtually nowhere else except at advertising awards festivals forever and ever afterwards.

Now, almost every commercial that appears on the Super Bowl looks like it was made exclusively for the Super Bowl, in that you’d have to be out of your tree to make such an off-the-wall, oblique, blind alley, whacko and obscenely expensive commercial if it wasn’t designed to run exclusively on the Super Bowl.

Yes, friends, it’s a jokefest! And at 2.3 million Yankee dollars per 30-second pop this year, America has got to be really hard up for a laugh. Sell stuff? Nooooo! We’re way too cool to SELL! We’re here at Super Bowl to PARTY! To get out onto the floor and work the room! To hobnob with the hunks and drunks and bimbos, telling jokes and gettin’ laffs! So put this lampshade on your head, grab a brewski and let’s go to the party!

As of this writing, you can still see all the American Super Bowl spots on streaming video at If you watched the Canadian feed of the game, you saw a different mix of spots, but there’s a lot of stuff you’ve seen, or will see soon, on Canadian TV that ran on the game down south.

Take a look. What do you see? Gags, that’s what. Now I love funny. I’ve been accused of thinking sexy is just another way of saying funny. But telling jokes which are largely unrelated to your product at 4.6 million bucks per minute? Did you know there was that much money in the world?

There are celebrity gags. Bob Dole walking on a beach talking about how his little blue friend helps him feel youthful and vigorous again, but instead of a pitch for Viagra, this time he’s talking about a can of Pepsi! Although, in a sports bar full of hollering good ol’ boys, do you suppose maybe half of ‘em lost track and figured it was a Viagra spot after all?

A cute little girl gets a bedtime story about how someday she will be swept off her feet by a handsome prince who will give her everything for ever and ever, but just in case it doesn’t work out she should know about PE Ratios and Dividend Yields. The storyteller is Sarah Ferguson, and the sponsor is Charles Schwab. Sarah’s closing line is a cheery Tomorrow night, mid-caps!

There are gags about the Florida ballot recount. We see the vote counters of Broward County examining Ruffles Potato Chips and gravely pronouncing each one as being completely covered with flavour. One recounter is eating the chips he’s just recounted. Hey! How many chips have you eaten? somebody asks. I’ve lost count says the recounter.

There’s a spot with a street vendor hawking little plastic dolls for a buck that say things like Don’t go there and Get a life and I love you but I’m not in love with you and Not if you were the last man on earth and Don’t worry, it happens to a lot of guys. People come up and choose a doll, and then jump furiously up and down on it and smash it to bits. A voice-over says Hungry? Crunch this! And a Snickers bar goes by at a hundred miles an hour.

Yes, there’s the Volkswagen spot with the two guys looking up into a tree and throwing sticks and shoes up to knock something loose and, after a very long time, a GTI falls out of the tree and doesn’t kill them.

There are gags that involve that ol’ sure-fire laugh-getter violence against women in which (a) a woman is knocked senseless by a Dorito fired from a tennis ball machine, (b) a woman is sprayed in the face with beer from a can of Bud Light her boyfriend has shaken up, and (c) several people are shot through the roofs of their homes from spring-loaded chairs courtesy of FedEx. For balance, a woman buys a new vacuum cleaner and hoovers up her slob of a boyfriend (Visa). Another knock-’em-dead gut-buster occurs when a mortician can’t get the smile off a corpse’s face ’cause the job the deceased got through made him happy. Cute or what?

Yes, The Running of the Squirrels spot was there, with all the Hemingway-esque lines like As long as I have legs, I will run with the squirrels, and if you can tell me the name of the sponsor and what the product has to do with squirrels in the next 15 seconds, I’ll send you some money in the mail.

But the real killer, and I am being serious, has got to be the College Boy parody of the original Whassup? spot for those clever devils at Budweiser. You knew it was coming, you just didn’t know when. A Pat Boone look-alike calls a friend and utters an exquisitely enunciated WHAT ARE YOU DOING? The friend, whose name is Brad, says Just watching the market recap, drinking an import. Their friend Chad picks up the cordless and they all yell WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Aw c’mon, that’s funny!

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to blow off steam, and as a thinly disguised lure to attract clients who may imagine working with him could be a productive and amusing experience. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.