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Dancing bears, funky tunes: A Super sideshow

Super Bowl advertisers mostly kept it clean as they tried to make an impression in the most-watched— and costliest — show of the year.
Ameriquest, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, featured several spots about misinterpreted actions, including this horror movie spoof.
Ameriquest, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, featured several spots about misinterpreted actions, including this horror movie spoof.Ameriquest
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In every Super Bowl broadcast, there comes a moment when you remember why you tune in to the big game in the first place.

For me, it came in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX.

No, it was not the impressive touchdown drive engineered by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, nor the incredible pinpoint touchdown pass from the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb to running back Brian Westbrook.

How about the image of a man in his kitchen, holding a knife in one hand and a white cat in the other, a pool of tomato sauce at his feet as his girlfriend walks in the apartment door?

Yup, count me among the millions of Americans who watched Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast mainly for the ads.

The Ameriquest ad was one of several edgy and humorous spots that kept the fun going between plays, even in a year when most marketers went the extra yard to avoid offending viewers after the backlash that followed last year’s broadcast.

High stakes
Viewers may have no idea what Ameriquest does, but it's a fair bet they remember the company's name.

For companies like Ameriquest (a mortgage provider) the Super Bowl stakes can be even higher than for the players on the field. At a record $2.4 million for 30 seconds, a Super Bowl ad can make or break a product campaign — and a creative director’s career.

Ameriquest appeared to achieve its objective even without the usual ingredients of animals, celebrities and children, a predictable formula that was mocked in a perfect parody produced by FedEx Kinko’s. The ad, featuring actor Burt Reynolds and a dancing bear, lists the 10 items required in a classic Super Bowl ad. Product message is optional, the ad noted. How true.

Animals certainly were ubiquitous in the Super Bowl ad showdown, including dogs, a cocktail and a giant menagerie of beasts lining up for a shot to appear with Budweiser's famous Clydesdales.

But was I the only one who got tired of seeing the chimpanzees in the commercials for Monkeys not funny enough? Let’s try it with whoopee cushions!

Another ad that fell flat was MasterCard’s latest effort in its long-running “Priceless” campaign, featuring Mr. Clean, the Jolly Green Giant, and a roomful of cartoon commercial mascots dredged up from decades ago.

Strangely enough, MasterCard’s arch rival, Visa, also produced a weird spot featuring mostly obscure comic book heroes. Another card company, MBNA, made its Super Bowl debut with an equally bizarre spot combining rugby and singer Gladys Knight, boasting that MBNA is the world’s biggest issuer of “affinity” cards. Now there is something that really makes you feel good.

Mixing it up
Anheuser-Busch, by far the biggest advertiser in the game with five minutes of airtime, avoided last year's locker room humor and instead offered a mix of humorous and feel-good spots, including a 60-second tribute to Americans in uniform that dovetailed nicely with the NFL’s all-American theme.

The company also produced several funny ads for Bud Light, including one in which a skydiving instructor tries to tempt a reluctant student by tossing a six-pack of beer out the open door. Instead, the pilot jumps up from the cockpit and dives out, followed quickly by the instructor.

Pepsi-Cola, the No. 2 advertiser, also struck a chord with its upbeat musical ads for Diet Pepsi and its iTunes music promotion.

Not everyone got the memo about good taste. An ad for smacked of a vanity project with its sly reference to the name of the Internet company’s president and sole owner. The sophomoric ad, a reference to last year’s halftime “wardrobe malfunction,” seemed little more than an excuse to gawk at a well-endowed actress with a torn blouse.

Cialis also provided an uncomfortable moment with its ad for an erectile dysfunction drug, although by that point in the broadcast young children probably either had lost interest or fallen asleep.

Two appealing ads came from an unlikely source: Olympus Imaging America, which had not advertised in the Super Bowl since 1981. The high-octane Olympus ads featured poker-faced actors doing a weird robotic dance to a funky electronic soundtrack. The ads had the added bonus of actually demonstrating the product they were promoting.

Volvo also scored with an ad featuring a rocket that turns into its new sport-utility vehicle. And who was that masked astronaut? Why, billionaire and space flight entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Finally, in the battle of hot, toasted sandwiches, it was Subway's couple in a car over Quizno’s talking baby.

I don't know about you, but I was on the edge of my easy chair.