With many of the commercials posted online and scrutinized even before the CBS broadcast, they were events unto themselves – visually and conceptually splashy, but often guilty of overreaching at the expense of the message.
This is true even of the ads I enjoyed:
Oreo: Whisper Fight
The fight breaks out in a library, where two nerds argue over whether the cream or the cookie is the best part. The argument escalates until the fire department and the police have been called. The real joke is that everyone observes library protocol and speaks in a hush, even while lamps are thrown and windows broken. The slapstick violence was flawlessly choreographed.
If I made Oreos, however, I might wonder if my beloved product should be depicted causing a peaceable society to dissolve into anarchy in a matter of seconds.
Old-fashioned hokum about a nice farm boy reunited with the Clydesdale he raised. The now grown horse, out on parade, breaks rank and chases after farm boy, who has been looking on from afar like a peasant whose son has been elevated to a dukedom. There is nothing as elemental or sweet as a fable about an animal's unbreakable love for master. And the choice of music – Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" – was the most inspired touch of the night.
And yet if farm boy had truly raised the animal right, it would have held true in its allegiance to Budweiser and not bolted. This was arguably a bad horsie with attachment issues.
A kid loses his football to a bunch of bullies. "Come back when you have a team," he's told. Driven around town by his mother, he hand-picks a bunch of powerful oddballs (one of them wrestles bears) and then returns to the field. The end suggests that the bullies will now be slaughtered – which doesn't seem quite the right note – but what makes the ad work is the cool, angry stares of that bullied kid and his mother in the front seat. They're like Ma Eastwood and little Clint.
A giant Coke bottle rises like a citadel in the desert, drawing bands of thirsty rivals who allude to classic movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Visually clever and outrageous. But then came a short follow-up spot revealing who got to quench their thirst first. The only indication that the Coke would be shared with the losers was an ambiguous wink by the winner. Do the losers collapse? Go mad? Die?
Doritos: Fashionista Daddy
A cute, simple spot: Dangling a bag of chips before her father, a little girl tempts him (and his friends) to dress up and play princess instead of tossing around a football. I began to wonder, though: Did the father not love the girl enough to play dress-up without a bribe? The fact that all it takes is a bag of Doritos doesn't clear my doubts. Maybe the spot isn't so simple or cute, after all.
As for the two ads I liked the least:
GoDaddy.com: Perfect Pitch
The message of the domain-registry company's pitch was, indeed, perfect: "When sexy meets smart your small business scores." The visual, though, was a visceral ugh: supermodel Bar Refaeli sensually kisses a young man who looks as if he'd been incubated on the set of The Big Bang Theory. You recoil at the weirdness – and then recoil again for having such a cruel reaction. I mean, it's not as if she were marrying Gollum. The ad plays on the vileness of the human spirit.
Taco Bell: Viva Young
Senior citizens escape from a nursing home and go wild in the night. This quickly descends from adorable into creepy: Old people may be slowed by age, they may stagger, they may let their jaws drop, but they do not look and move like walkers. To repeat: Old people are not walkers.
What were your favorites? Which ones turned you off?