Every year, the battle for the Vince Lombardi trophy gives a general outline of American society. We could almost talk about it purely in terms of statistics. American sports commentators don't comment on the game, they merely quantify it. This year there were 62 spots aired and the average cost of a 30-second commercial was $2.3 million.
Is it worth spending so much money on an ad that will be seen only once?
Yes. It's a unique opportunity to reach 40 per cent of the US in one go.
That's a grand total of 138 million people.
American life is all about numbers. The question is always "how much?" It's an interesting paradox in a country where you can lose the election and still be president.
Who was the first brand this year? Anheuser-Busch, of course, with an exclusive deal to be the only beer marketer until 2006 to advertise during the Super Bowl. Budweiser came up with nine ads, five minutes in total, costing $22.5 million. Question: with the billions of beers that the Americans drink during the Super Bowl, what do you think they do during the commercial breaks? Let's hope they at least got to see the Farrellis' gag of Bud Light's "good dog".
The second old-timer was, of course, Pepsi. Three minutes total, cost: $13.5 million. The Pepsi ads were as predictable as usual; otherwise they wouldn't look like Pepsi commercials. "Being predictable" seems to become the communication territory of this brand. This year, we saw a young Jimi Hendrix choosing a Pepsi over a Coke. The US's 50-year-old teenagers love Hendrix.
Sierra Mist is no better, with its over-promising wish to be "shockingly refreshing". At least the ad managed to be "shockingly disappointing".
The first film shows bagpipers in a parade with another old gag about the kilts. The second, "fire escape", doesn't even deserve to be mentioned in Campaign.
However, this year Pepsi had the most original strategic idea of the Super Bowl: this week, 100 million winning codes were randomly seeded in bottles of Pepsi and Sierra Mist. If you find one, you go to the iTunes music store, where you can legally download the track of your choice.
To announce the promotion, Pepsi and iTunes have hired 20 teens sued for illegal music downloading. Clever. It's a pity that this film was so badly written and shot.
For a first timer such as Staples or a classic brand such as Chevrolet, being at the Super Bowl seems to be an achievement in itself, regardless of what the commercial looks like. Expedia keeps on developing its now famous uncool, unfunny humour. Monster.com came with two pretentious and confusing ads: "today's the day" and "I feel love". They tried so hard to seduce the viewers that they must have ended up feeling really embarrassed for it. Perhaps generating pity for a brand could become a new way to touch the consumer? Another example of this new trend was the Procter & Gamble ad for Charmin toilet paper. At least they managed to stay coherent with their product.
"If you can't seduce anyone, hire a call girl to go with you to the prom" could be the philosophy of all the brands that have nothing to say. A bunch of commercials illustrate this old trend perfectly: Mastercard with The Simpsons, H&R Block with Willie Nelson, or Pizza Hut with Jessica Simpson and the Muppets. The worst one was the new IBM spot for Linux, featuring the most famous Parkinsons' disease sufferer, Muhammad Ali, to invite the viewer to "shake up the world", as he keeps saying during the film. Embarrassing. Things didn't get much better for the Super Bowl debut of the erectile-dysfunction drugs Cialis and Levitra.
But, thankfully, every year a few commercials save the Super AdBowl: the new truth spot against tobacco, "shards o' glass", Honda "pilot", Toyota Tacoma "double cab", Bud Light "good dog", Budweiser "tune out" and Budweiser "donkey", a cute tribute to the old American Clydesdale's saga.
The Super Bowl is undoubtedly the most impressive sporting event in the American calender. That's why we love it so much. But it's all about the sport, the show and the money. It's not about good commercials.
If you want to watch good ads, wait for D&AD and the Cannes festival.
PRICE FOR 30-SECOND COMMERCIAL
2004: $2.25 million
Network: CBS (owned by Viacom)
Main advertisers: Anheuser-Busch, General Motors, Procter & Gamble,
US viewers: 138 million, 43 million households