It has been another tough season. Injuries have taken their toll. Huge payouts have secured even huger stars and a war of words, on- and off-air, has kept the fans hungry for blood. But now it's game time. In just four hours of play, one side will triumph and garner those precious press headlines. Will it be Budweiser or Miller?
As with so many sporting events, this year's battle between the world's two biggest breweries failed to live up to its advertising.
In fact, the head-to-head never even materialised. Miller simply didn't show up.
Why not? Wasn't it up for a fight? Had its executives been swilling so much of their own low-calorie, low-carb, low-alcohol product that they no longer want to brawl like real men? Quite the reverse. Miller's ads turned out to be too attacking for the Super Bowl channel host, Fox Broadcasting, which refused to give them airtime.
Foul? Not in this game. Anheuser-Busch is the largest single supporter of Super Bowl programming and, accordingly, Fox took the pre-game decision to prevent Miller showing ads "that we consider to portray Anheuser-Busch products in a negative way".
Touch down! Budweiser gets to show its ads in all their amber glory, unsullied by the bitter aftertaste of Miller stealing its "King of Beers" crown and flattening its refreshing image. (Enough with the beer analogies already.) But that leaves Budweiser open, alone and in the in-zone, ready to receive the unusually magnified level of scrutiny that Super Bowl ads attract. (Likewise, with the sports stuff).
Okay, so let's talk about the ads. After all the pre-match fighting, all we're left with is a sky-diving instructor tempting a reluctant pupil to jump out of a plane by throwing out a six-pack. Instead, the pilot follows the Bud Light first, without a chute. Funny, but not groundbreaking. How about a mouthy, Latin cockatoo who chases would-be lotharios away from Light beer-drinking women with witty words? Neither, really. Or a host of animals making their way to the Clydesdale's stable to audition for a chance to pull the Budweiser cart? The Fox News analysts "awarded" Budweiser the top prize for its controversial "applause" ad - a simple spot which shows a departure lounge full of passengers who give a standing ovation to a group of US soldiers as they make their way to a tour of duty. Maybe being denied airtime was the cleverest tactic Miller has ever pulled.
But let's be fair. Let's widen the microscope and take in the also-rans.
There was definitely a car spot with a pastiche of Fargo, where a guy in a convertible with the top down stops at a red light just outside Brainerd and never starts again. Wait a minute, there was another Fargo rip-off from California Cheese Makers. Can't recall how the analogy stretched there. Then there were two different advertisers who chose to dress monkeys up in suits and use bananas for phones. Great minds and all that.
Celebrity endorsement was as big as ever and took the form of LeBron James blowing bubbles for Bubblicious, Brad Pitt chased for his six-pack in a spot for Heineken, a grizzled Burt Reynolds taking one down below from an equally grizzly bear for FedEx, a Muppet turnout for Pizza Hut and a miniature Kid Rock, Christina Aguilera and Shaquille O'Neal repping the telecoms giant Verizon.
Hang on though, there was something funny for a mortgage company about a guy on a phone in a store getting mistaken for a robber and pepper-sprayed, beaten with a baseball bat and cattle-prodded to the floor. But I already feel like that with my present lender. That's not going to make me move banks.
But why be so churlish? These are just the ads that Fox allowed us to see, right? Surely the banned ads will be the real winners? A quick surf on the net is equally disappointing. What Fox saved us all from was a brief sight of Mickey Rooney's rear end, advertising a drug that prevents airborne viruses (you had to be there), a man on the roof of his own hotel, a spoof of a senate hearing that is supposed to send up last year's "nipple" incident (wasn't that a send-up of itself anyway?) and a pastor being over-lustful towards a SUV.
No, churlish we should be. This is the most anticipated event in the US advertising calendar. Each spot costs an average of $2.4 million per 30 seconds. That's $80,000 a second. Some clients make up to ten spots, research all, intending to air only one. So what are we to make of the best in the league? The fittest, the leanest, the brightest of their generation? Hmmm, sporting analogies fail me.
- Dave Droga is the worldwide creative director of Publicis.