Of late, the Super Bowl has become a prime showcase for the best talent and originality that the advertising world has to offer. Indeed, many people watch the game purely for the ads, which are usually much more clever than standard fare.
And then came 2005.
The first oddity was that so many of the commercials were repeated, which is unheard of. And Fox spent a huge amount of time plugging its other shows. It seems that most firms have decided that two million dollars is too much to pay for thirty seconds of airtime. Someone at Fox is going to be hurting from this one; I nominate the market-research department.
But aside from that, most of the commericals were really, really, bad. There were several noteworthy ones, with Pepsi, Ameriquest and a few others scoring highly. But one commercial in particular set out to capture exactly what was wrong in the advertising world. FedEx began their spot by saying that they had compiled the ten most popular elements in a Super Bowl commercial, and proceded to feature each one in quick succession. Fortunately, their spot came early in the game, allowing the viewers to compare it to all the ads to come.
Lo and behold, nearly all ten elements appeared with monotonous regularity:
1. Celebrity: The viewer was deluged with celebrities, from the predictable sports stars to Cindy Crawford to P.Diddy; and then there was one travesty in which Pizza Hut shamelessly and artlessly exploits the Muppets.
2. Animal: You name it, they had it, from an entire menagerie showing up at the Anheiser Busch stables, to several seperate commericals with monkeys, and then the cat, and the dog, et cetera. And that's not even including...
3. Dancing Animal: I think they only had one of these. Thank goodness. But we'll be back for more! First, though...
4. Cute Kid: This is a little more forgivable; and come to think of it, the only spots that had kids were the NFL's, for tsunami relief and United Way. Too bad; a few cute kids would have done wonders for some of the worst offenders.
5. Groin Kick: We actually didn't see any of these, no doubt due to scrutiny from the FCC. We did see a great deal of scantily-clad femininity, which was surprising given the Janet Jackson episode that promped the scrutiny in the first place. The most uninspired reference to the event was in an ad by Go Daddy which featured a busty blonde nearly losing her top as she testifies before a censorship commitee. Trite and predictable.
6. Talking Animal: I warned you! Talking cockatoos, talking dogs… actually just one of each, but repeated several times so that it just got annoying.
7. Attractive Females: Mentioned parts of this already, but as with the Cute Kid, you are going to have ads with women, and they will usually be attractive. Often they even get to keep their clothes on!
8. Product Message (optional): There were a few cases of product branding that seemed truly bizarre. Having LeBron James advertise for bubble gum? The Marvel Superheroes in a Visa commerical? (Which, incidentally, was remeniscent of a series of commercials done by CapitalOne...)
9. Famous Pop Song: Also somewhat forgivable, with the exception of Pepsi using that truly miserable ripoff of "If I Were a Rich Man." Whatever numbskull came up with the idea for that abomination apparently cannot distinguish between ironic pathos and crass materialism.
10. Bonus Ending: Actually, this I tend to like, if it's done well.
The point of this overlong laundry list is to demonstrate that advertising has become formulaic and dry, in most cases. Ads now join pop music, Hollywood movies and most TV shows in that respect (how many sequels, prequels, spin-offs, remakes, biographies, and book adaptations are in theaters right now?). Most of the stuff out there now is simply boring.
Fortunately, these sorts of problems tend to be self-correcting. This is especially true given how much easier it is to produce professional-quality video and sound these days. All that one needs is to produce the product, and it will find a niche. I just hope it happens sooner than later; if I'm going to spend hours watching a sports game, I want to at least be entertained while I'm doing it!