Appropriately enough in this snowy winter, the Super Bowl brought with it a blizzard of ads – from cars to movies (Battle: Los Angeles – ooooh!), to Coke and the name-domain company GoDaddy (which went with a singularly odd Joan Rivers gag). Here are the ones I liked best:
Doritos: A houseguest who's neglected his duties sprinkles Doritos to revive a dead fish and a dead plant and even a dead grandfather, spilled from an urn of ashes. I'm not sure why Doritos would want me to think their snacks are revitalizing in this way, but I liked the magical absurdity. I certainly enjoyed this spot more than the product's ad about a guy with the fetish for the crumbs in the Doritos bag. I don't need to watch a borderline personality snacking.
Volkswagen: A child – a boy? – dressed as Darth Vader tries to exercise his willpower throughout the house, to no effect, until his father gives him the illusion of control. Daddy starts the VW Passat by remote while the child stands in front of it. Really charming, although I wonder why this kid wants to be Darth Vader. Didn't Mr. Vader use his powers to choke the life out of weaklings? The subconscious implications are interesting. Volkswagen also had a playful little spot for the Beetle with a computer-animated – Guess? – beetle.
Audi: An odd concept – old-style luxury defined literally as a prison for somewhat demented rich people – but the prison was a fine, detailed piece of design, and the breakout by two "inmates" was beautifully paced. The cheap joke about Kenny G was, well, a cheap joke, but what else could it be? This ad could be contrasted nicely with Chrystler's grittier but still glossy "Imported From Detroit."
Coca-Cola: Predictable, I guess, that the dragon in this animated fantasy will drink the soda rather than breathe fire across the landscape, killing hundreds and melting the bottle down into sand, but I'm a sucker for elaborate digital animation. Along those lines, I also liked the extravagant Kia spot that mixed mythology and space and time travel.
Living Social: The online discount service was illustrated with a startling but lighthearted vignette about transformation that somehow escalates into transsexualism. It felt like something Roman Polanski might have done in the 1980s. Possibly too ingenious for its own good.
Chevrolet: I don't think a car, in this case the Cruze, needs a voice delivery system for Facebook status updates, no matter how concerned a dude might be to find out whether the woman he just kissed is posting about it. But this spot won me over with its saturated neon colors. The man's little romantic moment was bathed in the most intense cinematic blues – gorgeous. I wish life looked like this when I ate a sandwich.
The X-Factor: Metallic-looking shards reassemble (to the thundering score of "Carmina Burana") into the scowling form of Simon Cowell. You'd think he was one of the horsemen of the apocalypse and not a shrewd TV personality. I suspect he appreciates the camp.
Least crazy about: Ads that used knockabout violence as a source of humor: Homeaway.com, with a "test baby" flung against a glass wall, its face smushed like a creamless doughnut – a repulsive image; Snickers, with Roseanne Barr knocked down by a log; Pepsi Max, with a jogger knocked to the ground and an obnoxious jerk conked in the groin and the forehead.
Pressing question: Why does Justin Bieber play a second role – a balding guy with a beard – in his Best Buy ad with Ozzy Osbourne?