Caveman and stick
A caveman ponders his delivery options in this Super Bowl spot from FedEx.
By Martin Wolk Executive business editor
updated 2/6/2006 12:26:44 PM ET 2006-02-06T17:26:44

The Pittsburgh Steelers were not the only winners in Super Bowl XL. While linemen sucked oxygen between plays, marketing teams from Ameriquest, Anheuser-Busch and Pepsico were among those scoring off the field.

There were a few fumbles as well, including Ford’s decision to use Kermit the Frog to underscore the “green” credentials of its hybrid Escape SUV. Who is supposed to buy the car, pre-schoolers?

Here is a rundown of some of the game’s most memorable ads.

— The mortgage company that scored a breakout hit in last year’s game returned with its darkly humorous approach, including a show-stopping ad featuring a doctor with bad timing. The ad worked well because of its dual punch lines — first the doctor finds an innovative use for heart paddles, and then he makes an unfortunate remark when the patient’s family enters the room.

The follow-up ad, featuring an inadvertent attempt to join the mile-high club, also worked well. What all this has to do with mortgage lending is less clear.

Budweiser — Not only the king of beers but king of the bowl, the beermaker and its parent company bought some $25 million worth of airtime this year. That enormous investment paid off, but the best of this year’s bunch was not the typical 30-second slapstick. Instead Bud scored with an ad featuring a blimp’s-eye view of a stadium as fans filled and then emptied a giant glass of beer by flipping colored cards.

The wow factor made that ad work, but Bud Light also had several humorous, if formulaic, winners, including one featuring beer drinkers worshiping a “magic fridge.”

FedEx — The Jurassic-era drama was only marginally funny until the final second, when a hapless caveman is flattened by what appears to be a giant elephant.

Sierra Mist — The beverage maker also used offbeat humor to good advantage, playing on the now-common fear of being hassled by airport security.

Toyota —It’s tough to stand out from the crowd with a completely “straight” ad, but the Japanese carmaker managed the feat with its bilingual ad for the hybrid Toyota Camry. The moment of bonding between a Spanish-speaking father and his son surely resonated well with the target market for the family sedan.

Toyota also managed to grab viewers’ attention with a second-half ad featuring a fantasy sequence of its Tacoma truck being tossed around mercilessly in the ocean surf and then emerging to drive away.

Diet Pepsi — The can is the star? You’ve got to be kidding. That was my first thought when I saw Diet Pepsi’s ad featuring Sean “Diddy” Combs, but the corny humor works, largely on the strength of a strong hip-hop soundtrack and its “brown and bubbly” message. The follow-up was less successful, featuring Jackie Chan and a Diet Coke can that ends up pretty much like the FedEx caveman.

Mobile ESPN —Another musical extravaganza that worked, featuring dozens of sports and star athletes in a rapid-fire musical montage. I’m still not convinced that sports is larger than life on a two-inch screen, however.

Sprint — The phone company found some innovative uses for its cell phones in two slickly produced ads. I’m not quite sure why they didn’t just use the cell phone to put out the couch fire.

Degree — Action and humor mix well in the Super Bowl context, and the deodorant marketers were able to get their brand image across in a single 30-second spot. Remember, no helmets allowed in Stunt City.

Nationwide — Hunky male supermodel Fabio was back and looking better than ever, at least until the final frame, when he was revealed as a wrinkled, gray lecher. You knew it wasn’t a shampoo commercial, right?

MasterCard — Even if you don’t remember the “MacGyver” series of the 1980s, this miniature action film was better than most of the many parodies inspired by the card company’s long-running “Priceless” theme. My favorite moment: “Dramatization. Do not attempt.” You mean you can’t do that with a tube sock?

Burger King
— The fast food firm put on a Broadway-style extravaganza, unveiling its Whopperettes in a production destined to appeal everyone who wants to see chorus girls dressed up as hamburgers and onions.

Cadillac — Another production number that was less than thrilling was the “fashion show” featuring the 2007 Escalade rising from a pool of water.

So, to summarize: Toyota was a winner, with inventive, novel advertising. Ford and GM were losers with tired misfires. Sounds a lot like Detroit’s recent history.

Miller — Apparently $25 million is not enough to buy exclusive rights as the sole beer sponsor of the game, so Budweiser’s archrival made a token appearance with a nostalgic spot featuring the “girl in the moon.” The ad, seemingly aimed at a rocking-chair crowd, looked like a last-minute production.

Aleve — The commercial featuring Leonard Nimoy got its point across, but was clearly aimed at the older half of the viewing demographic. Does anyone under 30 even know the Vulcan’s trademark hand gesture? Then again, younger viewers generally don’t have to worry about arthritis pain.

Dove — OK, I really respect Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” and its message about unrealistic standards of beauty. But I’m afraid this ad was a bit of a downer, like Mom and Dad walking in on your kegger.

Michelob Ultra Amber — You could see where this ad was going right from the start. Why is it funny for a guy to deck a woman (even if he gets decked in return later)? It is ads like these that make the Dove ads necessary.

Gillette — The razor maker apparently had to spend every dime of the millions it invested producing and airing a 60-second commercial and a shorter follow-up in an effort to convince men why they need to buy a blade with not three, not four, but five blades. Plus one on the back. — It would be nice to think we’ve seen the last of the GoDaddy Girl. But like taking the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, that would be a bad bet.

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