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Super Bowl Ad Tracker Roundup: What the Super Bowl commercials say about us

February 7, 2011 |  3:11 pm

Chrysler's ad celebrating Detroit was, by far, one of my favorites for the night.

A question popped into my mind sometime during the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday night. Around the time Usher descended from the heavens as a lip-syncing deus ex machina to save us from Fergie’s howling screech, I tried to imagine if anthropologists in the future got their hands on a tape of last night’s game.

What would they think of us?

What would they think of those spots that cost $3 million per 30 seconds? If anything, those market-researched masterpieces reflected quite a bit about our culture: We love a laugh; we love innuendo; we love it when we are in on the joke. We are addicted to technology. We love car commercials that make us proud of America. We love chimps in suits. We either cannot have fun or are testy and violent until we have alcohol. And a Pepsi Max crotch shot to a grown-up frat boy -- it doesn’t get any better than that.

 Some of us are postmodern and ironic, and are snobs about it. Others embrace the uncomplicated and unsophisticated, and are snobs about it too. The Super Bowl forces the two to come together. Some laugh at the joke, others are laughing at the ones laughing at the joke.

Last night’s commercials aimed both high and low. Many missed the mark or stirred the pot. Reading the Show Tracker comments on the ads, a bevy of them were racist, sexist, too violent, too stupid. But, hey, that’s what makes us buy things.

The ads mostly fell into a handful of categories:

1) The in-on-the-joke ad

Snickers, of course, is always in on the joke. Its ad last year spurred the ascension of Betty White from the legacy of a well-liked sitcom star to the heaven of ubiquitous viral fame. (Do you think Roseanne awaits the same fate?) Best Buy was in on the joke too: Ozzy Osborne inquiring what a Bieber is -- hilarious!


2) The crotch shot

Pepsi Max, certainly, took the crotch shot prize with its cooler rocket shooting out Pepsi cans, or the woman who flings a can at her husband’s head, only to miss and hit the woman he was ogling. HomeAway.com’s launching a (fake) baby into a glass wall qualifies in this category as well.

3) Simple yet funny

It was the carmakers who stepped up brilliantly with some of the best ads of the night: Volkswagen’s Darth Vader ad was simple as could be, yet practically anyone -- parents, kids, nerds, people wanting a car with keyless ignition -- could identify with it. Audi’s Kenny G cameo was brilliant, and falls as a top contender in the in-on-the-joke ad too.

4) Cinematic

Kia was able to capture an epic in only a minute for a cinematic ad telling the journey of the Optima, a midsize sedan.

5) The tear-jerker

Chrysler presented the tear-jerker. It’s a two-minute ad that forgot to advertise its product (the all-new Chrysler 200). Instead, it made the case for Detroit as it attempts to recover from all the woes of the economy -- and how it serves as a microcosm for our country.

6) Totally missed the mark

It was Groupon's ad featuring Tibet that claims this prize. I’m one of those horrible people who found the ad, directed by Christopher Guest, kinda, sorta funny. But Groupon must learn the lesson: Never, never, never joke about Tibet, or you shall face the wrath of every celebrity who wants to Save Tibet and cannot take a joke.

In short, what did we learn about our culture by watching the Super Bowl? We need our ads to be short and to incite a visceral reaction immediately. We love our dusty chips; we love to hear other people’s Facebook status so much we need to have them recited to us in the driver seats of our cars. But we are also an environmentally conscious people: We know how to recycle our celebrities.

-- Rick Rojas

The Groupon ad, starring Timothy Hutton, was likely the most controversial Super Bowl ad, despite the fact that Groupon actually donates to a fund for refugees from Tibet.

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