Super Bowl XLIV is in the books, and while New Orleans’ come-from-behind triumph over Indianapolis was a thriller, Kim Kardashian’s team of choice was not the only winner on the evening. Indeed, the Super Bowl telecast featured more than 50 national advertisements — and at CBS’ premium prices for a 30-second spot, the need to get positive attention was more pronounced than you’d see in a week-long marathon of SuperNanny episodes. Some ads succeeded, some floundered, and some made us feel the burn of bile in our throats (combined with the distinctive flavor or cream-cheese-n-chili dip)…so without further ado, my picks for the five best and worst ads of the night.
1) Betty White for Snickers: I had to rewind my DVR four times before I could finally stop howling over the sight of the erstwhile Golden Girls star getting sacked hard — and landing with a thud in a puddle of mud — while facing off against twentysomething dudes in a brutal game of football. A second wave of laughter soon followed, though, when a taunt from White’s teammate (“You’re playing like Betty White out there!”) resulted in her saucy retort: “That’s not what your girlfriend says!” Sure, the underlying premise — sans Snickers, even a young buck will wind up resembling an elderly lady out on the field — was ridiculous, but it was also unforgettable. Bonus Abe Vigoda makes this one my favorite of the night! (p.s. SNL is totally gonna get Betty White to host before the season is out, yes?)
2) Google’s Paris Romance: Not sure how much — or rather, how little — the ubiquitous search engine spent on this spot, but like a wildflower popping through a sidewalk crack, its simple charms stood out against its colder, bigger-budget competitors. As we followed one Google user’s search history through the course of a cross-Atlantic courtship (with a simple piano + “life sounds” soundtrack), I have to admit I felt a tiny, single tear try to force its way from my eye. Google squeezed more romance out of a handful of simple terms –“study abroad Paris France”; “cafes near the louve [sic]”; “how to impress a French girl”; “long distance relationship advice”; “jobs in Paris”; “churches in Paris”; etc — than most modern rom-coms do in an entire screenplay.
3) Denny’s Frantic Chickens: I’m a sucker for anthropomorphic ads, and while Monster.com’s “Beaver Violinist” slayed me, I give the slight edge to Denny’s one-two-three punch of spastic chickens reacting to warnings about Denny’s “free Grand Slam Breakfast” promotion this coming Tuesday. Biggest laughs courtesy of the pool-playing hen in the first spot, and the silent scream of the chicken in outer space in ad No. 2. Somebody make me a gif of the latter, pronto!
4) Kia Sorento’s Toy “Hangover”: Yo Gabba Gabba’s Muno, a Sock Monkey, and their toy buddies taking out the Sorento for a wild night on the town. I know I should’ve seen that “twist” ending coming, but I was so caught up in the nightclubbing, the hot-tubbing, and the funniest tattooing of all time, I didn’t have time to think that they’d be returned to hand-held size and laying on the back seat in the a.m. Genius!
5) Dodge Charger’s “Man’s Last Stand”: Yeah, yeah, I know this one wasn’t p.c., and as a gay man whose XLIV experienced peaked with Carrie Underwood’s National Anthem, I’m not even the ad’s target audience. But on a night where “fight against emasculation!” seemed to be a very popular theme, this litany of straight-dude anthems — “I will clean the sink after I shave.”; “I will watch your vampire TV shows with you.”; “I will take off my socks before getting into bed.” — was all at once sweet, grouchy, and empowering. And that final shot of the Charger zooming down the highway made the Dodge brand seem kinda hip, no?
1) Charles Barkley for Taco Bell: What possessed the fast-food chain to hire a former basketball star, pour him into a mess of a suit (sloppy fit, un-pressed shoulders), and have him exhaustedly recite grim rhymes about a “five-buck box”? Way to give me the mean heartburns without a single bite of Gordita.
2) GoDaddy.com: Okay, I saw two ads for this site — one featuring a masseuse ripping open her shirt, the other featuring a female reporter ripping open her shirt while interviewing Danica Patrick — and I have absolutely no idea what in heaven’s name GoDaddy.com is. Worse news for the company? I have no desire to find out.
3) The Simpsons for Coca-Cola: Sixty seconds of Mr. Burns losing everything, but finding happiness in a bottle of Coke, and not a single genuine laugh? Tell me again why this spot wouldn’t have been any more/less effective using anonymous actors? I’ll tell you this, it certainly would’ve been less hyped, and less disappointing.
4) Kiss for Cherry Dr. Pepper: You can almost imagine the pitch for this spot: “So what we’ll do for this one is an extended gag on Gene Simmons saying this soft drink has a ‘little kiss’ of cherry flavor.” Only problem was that the creative team focused on the word “gag,” and thought the best way to get there would be to have little people dressed like Kiss, rocking out alongside the band. “‘Little kiss’? Get it? Huh? You get it? Right?” Yes, and still not funny!
5) U.S. Census (I think?): How weird to hire all those funny character actors, then accidentally air an unfinished version of a commercial that left us all wondering what the frak we just watched!
There you have it! My five best and five worst ads of Super Bowl XLIV? Did I miss any of your most/least loved? Did I (blasphemy!) put something on the wrong list? Sound off in the comments below, PopWatchers! And don’t miss EW’s related Super Bowl coverage: