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Junk food fumbles for laughs in Super Bowl commercials [UPDATED]

February 2, 2009 |  5:08 pm

Doritos_4 People who aren't into sports (or pretend they aren't) often get away with watching the game by claiming it's the commercials they're interested in. I'm one such person, taking my bathroom and snack breaks during the game, and hoping for a commercial that will really make me laugh while everyone else is raiding the fridge. This year, I paid special attention to the food- and drink-related commercials, which were grouped into four unhealthful categories: chips, soda, beer and fast food.

The award for most creepy goes to Cheetos. The spot is shot at a scruffy coffee shop where a superficial girl who clearly doesn't belong in the Valley of the Unkempt and Artsy rambles on her cellphone to some other elitist snob about how "ugly" everyone around her is. The camera pans to the cartoon character Chester the Cheetah, who sports an oh-so-boho goatee and glasses. With a sinister smirk, he inexplicably helps set loose a flock of pigeons on the cafe's unwelcome guest.

The Bud commercials featuring the famous Clydesdales were completely inane, filled with failed horse jokes and a strange homage to early-American immigrant horse families. After seeing the Clydesdales bow down to the altered Manhattan skyline (in an almost unbelievable act of commercial crassness) during the Super Bowl that followed Sept. 11, you'd think I'd stop being surprised at how irritated the company's commercials make me.

Pepsi laid claim to the most commercials, none of which were particularly witty. One matched hackneyed pop culture imagery with a duet of "Forever Young" featuring (gasp) Bob Dylan and Will.i.am. Coke's most vivid offering showed humans turning into digital characters every time they picked up their cellphones, an image that hits a bit too close to home in today's hyper-connected world, and one that doesn't at all make me want to drink a caramel-colored, carbonated beverage.

Doritos bought a few spots as well, and their first commercial was the only one that made me chuckle (despite myself). It starts with a guy with some kind of depressing office job standing in front of a Doritos vending machine and staring into a snow globe. He tells a co-worker that the globe can predict the future, adding that it had just predicted there would be free Doritos that afternoon. Then he throws the globe into the vending machine, smashing it. OK, that's not funny. The punchline comes when his co-worker stares into the globe and asks it if he's going to get that promotion he's been gunning for. Without looking, he winds up and unwittingly tosses the globe directly at his boss. OK, that's not really funny either, but the commercial apparently won USA Today's Super Bowl ad meter poll, setting the bar for success very low, indeed.

There were also ads from Taco Bell, Chili's and Heineken, none of which were particularly memorable. The only effect this onslaught of junk-food ads had on me was making me want to eat a giant bowl of fresh kale. Which I did, posthaste.

Updated, 6:08 p.m. An earlier version of this post said that an ad featuring humans turning into digital characters was for Pepsi, but it was actually a Coke ad. We regret the error.

-- Jessica Gelt

Photo: Alicia Hansen / Bloomberg News