So Superbowl has come down to this: Dungy versus Lovie. Tony Dungy, Indianapolis Colts' wiry old coach, attempting to become only the third man in history to win a Superbowl as both a coach and a player, against Lovie Smith, the oh-so-butch supremo of Chicago, trying to out-grimace and growl his way past his nancy name and be the head Bear.
A bit of a reflection on the ad contest, really. There was no shortage of dung. Any ad manager who can shell out a couple of million bucks to run a commercial of the whole Honda range driving in formation across a desert could certainly get through the qualifiers for the Dungmeister of the Year title. If this had been a parody of the most cliched use of car porn, it might have been quite droll. It wasn't a parody - it really was the most cliched use of car porn, about as appropriate to the Superbowl as a polaroid of Andy Warhol's Y-fronts.
The most inappropriate use of luvvie advertising, however, must surely go to Revlon, yes Revlon, for its ludicrous employment of Sheryl Crow in her new hair-colouring spot. The only sportsman I can imagine who ever had any interest, or indeed evidence, as to whether or not Sheryl dyed her hair would have been her ex-squeeze, the retired cyclist Lance Armstrong. What the hell is Revlon doing advertising on America's meat-fest? And what possible connection has hair colouring got with 400-pound bone-crunching gorillas, unless, of course, you are including Lovie Smith?
The people who know how to make every dollar count on the Superbowl are Budweiser, one of the prime sponsors that appears in every break. What Budweiser clearly has in its sights are bunches of young guys and whole families, who roam in and out of the living room, grazing like cows, peeing like fish and punching the air at any play or ad that grabs their 10-second attention on their 96-inch high-definition home entertainment systems. Bud ads represent the style of ads Americans do best: gags, one-liners, schticks. Not as subtle as a New Yorker cartoon, not as crass as a Carry On pratfall, but somewhat between the two.
Take the wedding spot set at a lavish black-tie do on the lawns of a five-star hotel. The young guys in attendance smell a long-winded ceremony coming between them and their ice-cold Buds. That is until the man carrying out the ceremony arrives, wearing a Stetson and Nudie's of Hollywood suit, and it turns out they've paid an auctioneer, who rattles through the "Do you take ...?" in five seconds flat, and the drinking begins.
My other favourite is a very dry take on the popular slasher movies. A rather gauche boy and his girlfriend stop to pick up a hitcher on a deserted road. "He's got Bud," the delighted driver says; "He's got an axe!" the girlfriend whispers in horror. Undeterred, the boy pulls up and asks the hitcher what the axe is for. "Err, bottle opener," he mutters, and climbs in. Further down the road, the film is given a nice finish when the Bud-loving driver stops to pick up another hitcher, again with a case of Bud. A timid voice in the back says: "But he's got a chainsaw." It's the axe-man speaking.
The plain fact is that these Superbowl ads aren't the gold Lion winners they used to be. A fact borne out at Cannes last year, when no American agency picked up gold in the film and TV section.
A jokey tone just doesn't charm the juries the way it used to, but it sure perks up the half-cut, half-assed and half-awake Superbowl fan, manfully ploughing through four-and-a-half hours of the big game. Middle America doesn't do irony. The nearest it gets to post-modern is painting the goalposts yellow. And the nearest the Superbowl ads get to any European sensibility are a couple of very good Coke ads. The ad with the old guy in the retirement home, whose first-ever Coke at the age of 70 kicks off a terrible thirst for the Coke-side of life, is one of the funniest ads this year. Suddenly, he's diving off the top board, running the Pamplona bulls and doing a ton on a Ducati. Very cool.
Emerald Nuts attempts a pass at surrealism, a ploy also much- favoured in the UK. In an office setting, a voiceover says: "Some say that Robert Goulet arrives to mess with your stuff mid-afternoon when your energy is low," and an ageing, hair-darkened old ham then appears and causes havoc among those with low-blood sugar, the antidote being a handful of nuts. Many of the 76,000 fans at the Superbowl may have wished a handful of nuts could perform similar miracles on another ageing old ham, in the shape of Prince. Prince and the Superbowl? Rest assured, he won't be coming to Twickers.
And finally, the Liberty Bell rings the death knell of advertising as we have known it. The first ad of the whole show, for which Doritos paid a premium price of $2.6 million for 30 seconds, was made, according to Metro, for $48. To be fair, the ad made by "a member of the public", using his girlfriend and best mate as talent, looks more expensive than that ... say $67.
Even the commentators were warbling on about a "first" for "a fan" to create his own ad. Thank you, Doritos - very interesting, very laudable, very modern, but, unfortunately, the ad was very ... dungy.