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Super Bowl Ads: More Male Anxiety Than Usual?
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Super Bowl Ads: More Male Anxiety Than Usual?

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Super Bowl Ads: More Male Anxiety Than Usual?

Super Bowl Ads: More Male Anxiety Than Usual?
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Read Williams' Article:

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com reviews the best and the worst of Sunday night's Super Bowl ads. As per usual, there were car and beer spots aplenty. But Williams argues that the commercials weren't particularly memorable or clever ... and says 2010's ads were filled with a whole lot of male anxiety.

NEAL CONAN, host:

And now, the Opinion Page. For many in New Orleans, last night's Super Bowl proceeded from the third quarter to the fourth quarter to the French Quarter. But the big game also attracted its biggest television audience in 23 years, which thrilled those who made it all possible - the advertisers.

On Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams rates the winners and the losers and detects a whole lot of male anxiety in, for example, this commercial for FLO TV.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Mr. JIM NANTZ (Sportscaster): (as himself) Hello, friends. We have an injury report on Jason Glasby(ph). As you can see, his girlfriend has removed his spine, rendering him incapable of watching the game.

Unidentified Woman: Come on, silly.

Mr. NANTZ: Boy, that's hard to watch.

Unidentified Man #1: (as Jason Glasby) How about lavender?

Mr. NANTZ: How about not? Jason, get yourself a FLO TV personal television. It's live mobile TV, so now live sports goes where you go. Change out of that skirt, Jason.

CONAN: So what did you make of this year's Super Bowl ads? What did you like or hate or why? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS (Staff writer, Salon.com): Good afternoon.

CONAN: And you detected that certain trend, not just that ad but several others on the same theme.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes. I must be incredibly super sensitive and ultra perceptive to have picked up on any sexism in that ad whatsoever.

CONAN: Absolutely, yeah.

Ms. WILLIAMS: His girlfriend has removed his spine. He's got to get out of the skirt. And that was just the beginning of it. We also had the Dodge Charger ad, featuring the voice of Dexter himself, Michael C. Hall, going through a litany of the indignities man has to endure, demanding ultimately - but I still get to - I am going to get to do this. I'm going to get to drive in my car...

CONAN: Mm-hmm. The car I want.

Ms. WILLIAMS: ...and then there was the Dodge car. The car - I'm going to drive the car I want. Really, guys, if it's the car you want, it's not the bat mobile. It's the Dodge Charger. And then there's the Dockers ad, a bunch of, once again, poor guys just roaming over hill and dale with no pants on, heeding the cry of Dockers to wear the pants.

CONAN: Let's take...

Ms. WILLIAMS: I'm so sorry. I had no idea it was that bad out there for you.

CONAN: Let's take a listen to the Dockers ad.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I wear no pants. I wear no pants.

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) I wear, I wear.

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) Wear no pants.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Wear no pants. (Unintelligible) for I wear no pants. I wear no pants.

Unidentified Man #5: Calling all men. It's time to wear the pants. Try for a free pair of Dockers khakis now at dockers.com. It's free pants, people.

CONAN: It is free pants after all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Wear those pants. I want to - maybe I want to wear some pants, I don't know. So this was the theme. There was also the Doritos ad where the -it's so bad for guys. The guy had to fake his own death so he could hole up in an oversized coffin with a bunch of Doritos and a flat screen TV.

It's pretty bad out there. So those were - there was a definite bummer theme, and that's not even getting to the ads that are just, you know, hot babes in bubble baths and ripping off their shirts. There was a lot of - there were a lot of women in the ads, but they were mostly ripping off their shirt.

Oh, and there was the Bud Light ad where the guy infiltrates a women's book club just so he can have access to babies and light beer. I'd like to think that men are actually capable of wearing pants and reading books, that it's not quite as dire out there as Madison Avenue might have us believe on Super Bowl Sunday.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. It's interesting. The demographic of the Super Bowl, I'm told, it's about two-thirds men to women.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Right. So that means one-third women. There are - and this is the largest you said largest audience ever. You're looking at about 40 million women out there that were not actually spending the evening sniffing lavender candles or sitting around in their book clubs. Women actually enjoy watching sports as well. I can't stress that enough. We actually want to watch sports. We want to watch ads. And we don't really want to take away your pants.

CONAN: There is one other item of news that came out since your story moved on Salon.com - and you can go to Salon.com to read it if you like, by the way -but that is that if you thought there were more ads than ever, you were right. Commercials took up nearly 48 minutes of the game, the most for any Super Bowl, and that there were three minutes more of ads than last year's total, the previous record. And the other trend, more 15-second ads this year.

Ms. WILLIAMS: There were a lot of really short, and that most possibly most baffling of all the ads for Late Night with David Letterman. I think it was actually under 15 seconds. It seems to go at about nine - get in, tell the joke and get out. But of course, the more 15-second ads you have, the more advertisers you can get, the more bang everybody gets for their buck, right?

CONAN: Letterman was sitting on a couch next to Oprah Winfrey, and this is how it went.

(Soundbite of Super Bowl ad)

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Host, "Late Show with David Letterman"): (as himself) This is the worst Super Bowl party ever.

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (Host, "The Oprah Winfrey Show"): (as herself) Now, Dave, be nice.

Mr. JAY LENO (Host, "The Jay Leno Show"): (as himself) He's just saying that because I'm here.

Mr. LETTERMAN: (as himself) Oh, he's just saying that because I'm here.

CONAN: And that other voice, of course, Jay Leno, sitting rather awkwardly on the other end of the couch.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I do believe they all hate each other.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: It was that was the most convincing ad, Ill tell you that. If you wanted to sell me on the idea that David Letterman hates Jay Leno, sold. That was the one I believe the most, by far in a way.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on our conversation: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Mary Elizabeth Williams is with us from Salon.com.

Let's go to Matthew (ph). Matthew, calling from Kalamazoo.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hi. As a representative of a non-necessarily sports-watching kind of demographic of men, I loved the Google commercial that was on. It was just this guy was searching in Google to go to France, and he found France. And then he was looking for all sorts of French sorts of things, and then he found a woman, and then he got a married. And then he the last thing that he was searching for is looking for a crib. And I just thought it was so sweet...

CONAN: In...

MATTHEW: ...wonderful.

CONAN: In thirty seconds, he told the story of a romance in far-off Paris.

MATTHEW: Exactly.

Ms. WILLIAMS: And probably very little money. I actually I agree with you. I put that as one of my best spots of the night. And you I think you can get a message across, efficiently, inoffensively, humorously and inexpensively.

MATTHEW: That's right.

Ms. WILLIAMS: It can be done...

MATTHEW: I mean, I just have to repeat, it was representative of the non-macho kind of guy. It was great. I loved it.

CONAN: And you had to actually pay attention to follow it.

MATTHEW: Yeah. Yeah. Great.

CONAN: Yeah.

MATTHEW: Great.

CONAN: Matthew, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

MATTHEW: Thank you. Yup.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to this is Bruce(ph). Bruce, is with us from Cape Canaveral. Hello, Bruce?

ROBERT (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

ROBERT: Yes. Well, I would make a comment about a spineless ad.

CONAN: Go ahead, Bruce. I'm sorry.

ROBERT: Okay. Well, this is Robert, from Charlotte. I want to make a comment about the spineless ad.

CONAN: Oh, yes.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes.

ROBERT: You got to be kidding, the guy has a scarlet bra on his shoulder.

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I have never seen a man...

ROBERT: Shouldn't he be there helping it on and off. I mean, come on, the guy's a male.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: I...

ROBERT: (Unintelligible)

Ms. WILLIAMS: I just don't see that. I've been in a lot of lingerie sections. I tried on a lot of bras in my life and I've got to say I don't see that happening. And if it is, you know, I think you can probably try on your girlfriend's bra and still watch the game.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: There's a little quid pro quo...

ROBERT: Of course, thats what Im saying. Of course you (unintelligible). You got to be kidding, it was a ridiculous commercial.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right, Bruce excuse me, Robert, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. Bye-bye. Let's go next to this is Gail(ph). Gail, with us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

GAIL (Caller): Yes. Hi. Hello.

CONAN: Hello.

GAIL: Hi. Well, we had a great time watching the ads. We were just watching the ads, I think, with as much anticipation as the game, which was always fun.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

GAIL: So we were real quiet and paying less of attention when the ads came on, but we had a question, my friends and I had a question. It was as if the ad agencies sort of all got together and said: Okay, this year let's make sure that a lot of the ads have lots of slapping. And so you have lots of different things like the Doritos, you know, kid who slaps the boyfriend...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

GAIL: ...the I don't remember, CSI or whatever, slapping up side of the head, kind of thing, and a lots of underwear. And were like, well, what gives? Its such a great scene here and they all seem so similar, you know? I was just wondering if you could comment on that.

CONAN: It's NCIS with the slapping leitmotif all the way through the program. But, anyway...

GAIL: Oh. (Unintelligible)...

CONAN: Go ahead.

GAIL: He's slapping and running around in underwear. Were like, you know, did the same ad agency do all these ads?

CONAN: Mary Elizabeth Williams?

Ms. WILLIAMS: And the Motorola ads too, the Megan Fox ad. There's a lot of slapping going on in that one as well. There was a lot of slapping. There's also a lot of - I could think of, at four ads that used the dramatic hedgehog motif as well. I can't believe that a memo went out. I just think sometimes people get pretty desperate for ideas and...

GAIL: And Betty White, poor Betty White got tackled and the next ad was the mother getting tackled. We're like, what's up with that?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I know, right? Old lady tackling too was a theme. That is who would have seen that coming as a trend that's coming down the runway, this spring, tackling all the models.

GAIL: Last year it was things being blown up and...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes.

GAIL: ...people being, you know, the end of the world kind of humor. It was really, really dark. This year it's like the half-naked people and the slapping, and who knows whats going happen next year.

CONAN: Well, as...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Half naked people never go out of style, though.

CONAN: That's true. But is there some focus groups, zeitgeist that all these ad agencies look at?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, you know, this is the thing that always amazes me. You think they must just completely focus group and test market these things and then they get on the air. And you look at some of them and they just completely land with a terrible thud. And you just think, well, you can, either you can definitely test them up the wazoo and it still can just can just land with such a sour little sound - I don't know what happens.

GAIL: Theyve hadnt there's not a memo that went around that said, okay, now, let's...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Slapping.

GAIL: ...slap a lot of people and...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Slapping and hedgehogs and prairie dogs.

CONAN: And tackling. Gail, thanks very much for the phone call.

GAIL: Thank you. I love the show, bye.

CONAN: And she mentioned the Betty White ad. This was an ad for Snickers.

(Soundbite of Super Bowl ad)

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) Hep.

Unidentified Man #2: (as character) Mike, come on.

Unidentified Man #3: (as character) Mike, what is your deal, man?

Ms. BETTY WHITE (Actor): (as herself) Oh, come on, man, you've been riding me all day.

Unidentified Man #4: (as character) Mike, youre playing like Betty White out there.

Ms. WHITE: (as herself) Is that what your girlfriend says?

Unidentified Woman: (as character) Baby...

Unidentified group: (as character) Whoa.

Unidentified Woman: (as character) ...eat a Snickers. Better?

Unidentified Man #5: (as Mike) Better. Im open.

Mr. ABE VIGODA (Actor): (as himself) That hurts.

Unidentified Man #6: Youre not you when youre hungry. Snickers satisfies.

CONAN: And of course that was Abe Vigoda at the end and I have to say, that was pretty funny.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I loved it. It was favorite ad of the night. That and the Google ad, I thought, were delightful. You know, more Betty White, thats the answer to everything - more Betty White. She was funny. It was it made the point. And especially for Snickers, two years after their ridiculous offensive homophobic ad about the two guys whose lips accidentally touched when theyre eating a Snickers bar and then they have to rip off their chest hair. I just thought this was a great comeback and it really makes the point that you can do something that is kind of dud, one year, and come back with something thats really fresh and funny and entertaining and that people can enjoy.

CONAN: Were talking with Mary Elizabeth Williams, staff writer at Salon.com on the Opinion Page. Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And lets go next to Michael(ph). Michael, calling from San Francisco.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hello, how are you?

CONAN: Im well, thanks.

MICHAEL: Very good. Yeah, now a couple of things. I definitely agree with your guest about the men theme of the commercials was just kind of terrible. You know, the Doritos slapping ad, the Betty White ad's definitely good. But one thing that got really good focus group reviews - and I really didnt like, and none of the people I was watching the Super Bowl with liked was the Dennys commercial. It just we found it really annoying and overbearing.

CONAN: I think I must have missed this one, Michael, remind me.

MICHAEL: Oh, this was they needed to get a whole bunch of eggs for the free Grand Slam breakfasts. And there were the you know, the only redeeming quality was that there was the chicken in space screaming, but the rest of that was we just found really kind of annoying. Do you know which one Im talking about now?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I absolutely do. There were three different ads, and that you know what you liked about that chicken in space was that was the only chicken that didnt make a sound because the rest of them were...

MICHAEL: Youre absolutely right, absolutely.

Ms. WILLIAMS: ...shrieking.

MICHAEL: But the rest of them, we just I dont know. I read something this morning that that went really well with focus groups and the ad execs thought that it was one of the most successful ads. And I just completely disagree. So...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Im with you. I really didnt get it. I didnt think it was funny. And I think as part of, you know, in and of itself maybe it was sort of vaguely amusing, but three ads in a row with that level of shrieking. And also, as part of evening, it was just all about how terrible females are. I said in my Salon story today, wow, you know, the Super Bowl even hates female chickens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: I absolutely (unintelligible)...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Going to get their eggs...

(Soundbite of screaming)

MICHAEL: And one thing I wanted to follow up on, because I do agree with the first caller that you had about the Google commercial, I really liked it. There was we were all kind of in stunned silence when that commercial was over because it was actually really touching. And, you know, I made a joke to my wife after about 10 seconds of just stone-cold silence with everyone that, wow, Im really upset that I didnt meet you over Google.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: But we do so much now...

MICHAEL: The commercial worked. But, you know, thats all I had to say.

CONAN: All right, Michael...

MICHAEL: The game was great, so, you know, I know were focused on the commercials now, but...

CONAN: Theres that part too, yes. Thanks very much. And heres an email that we have. This Im not quite sure who its from, but it said I heard some mention of an anti-abortion ad being scheduled for this years Super Bowl. Did I miss it, or did CBS not approve the ad? Also, there was some controversy about a gay singles Web site commercial, what was the final ruling on that?

Ms. WILLIAM: Well, the ad did the focus on the family ad did run, and its possible you saw it and you didnt even realize what it was. I thought it looked like a cleverly disguised eHarmony ad. We were talking about - the female guest whos talking about it earlier, that theme of women being tackled was part of it. Tim Tebows mom, talking about her miracle baby.

It was a very short segment. I think it was three seconds long. It was very subtle. His mom just came on and said hes my Timmy, he was my miracle baby. And then he comes along and tackles her and she says, oh, Timmy, and that was it. And then they said for more information, go to focusonthefamily.com. And I, you know, Ive been saying I think for all of us who are kind of concerned is that, you know, is this ad going to be too weird, is it going to be too out there, is it going to be too religious extremist, and it really wasnt. And it was just, go here's our Web site, go to more information. And I thought it was fine. I wasnt at all as unnerved as I was by some of the car commercials.

But the Manhunter.com ad did not run. CBS rejected it. The ad, you can find it on YouTube, you can find it on a bunch of other places.

CONAN: What a shock, you could find it on YouTube.

Ms. WILLIAM: Yeah. Apparently, thats where stuff is these days, I dont know. You can Google it. You can see that Google will tell you. They you can find everything there. You can also find out how to pick up French chicks. So the ad was just two gentlemen and their hands are reaching in the bowl of chips, and it kind of gets romantic from there. And CBS said that it did not meet their standards on practices. Whether or not thats true, I would like to believe that the day is coming when we can have an if we can have ads like many of the ones that I saw last night, we can certainly leave room for an ad that says that maybe two guys can date each other.

CONAN: Mary Elizabeth Williams, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CONAN: Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer for Salon.com, where her article on the best and worst Super Bowl ads, appeared today. And she joined us from NPRs bureau in New York.

Just one item of news to tell you sad news today. Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania has died. Hes a retired Marine Corps officer who became a vocal critic of the war in Iraq. He was 77 years old. More on that throughout the day on NPR News.

Im Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION. Bye-bye.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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Super Bowl Ads: More Male Anxiety Than Usual?

Super Bowl Ads: More Male Anxiety Than Usual?
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Read Williams' Article:

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com reviews the best and the worst of Sunday night's Super Bowl ads. As per usual, there were car and beer spots aplenty. But Williams argues that the commercials weren't particularly memorable or clever ... and says 2010's ads were filled with a whole lot of male anxiety.

NEAL CONAN, host:

And now, the Opinion Page. For many in New Orleans, last night's Super Bowl proceeded from the third quarter to the fourth quarter to the French Quarter. But the big game also attracted its biggest television audience in 23 years, which thrilled those who made it all possible - the advertisers.

On Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams rates the winners and the losers and detects a whole lot of male anxiety in, for example, this commercial for FLO TV.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Mr. JIM NANTZ (Sportscaster): (as himself) Hello, friends. We have an injury report on Jason Glasby(ph). As you can see, his girlfriend has removed his spine, rendering him incapable of watching the game.

Unidentified Woman: Come on, silly.

Mr. NANTZ: Boy, that's hard to watch.

Unidentified Man #1: (as Jason Glasby) How about lavender?

Mr. NANTZ: How about not? Jason, get yourself a FLO TV personal television. It's live mobile TV, so now live sports goes where you go. Change out of that skirt, Jason.

CONAN: So what did you make of this year's Super Bowl ads? What did you like or hate or why? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS (Staff writer, Salon.com): Good afternoon.

CONAN: And you detected that certain trend, not just that ad but several others on the same theme.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes. I must be incredibly super sensitive and ultra perceptive to have picked up on any sexism in that ad whatsoever.

CONAN: Absolutely, yeah.

Ms. WILLIAMS: His girlfriend has removed his spine. He's got to get out of the skirt. And that was just the beginning of it. We also had the Dodge Charger ad, featuring the voice of Dexter himself, Michael C. Hall, going through a litany of the indignities man has to endure, demanding ultimately - but I still get to - I am going to get to do this. I'm going to get to drive in my car...

CONAN: Mm-hmm. The car I want.

Ms. WILLIAMS: ...and then there was the Dodge car. The car - I'm going to drive the car I want. Really, guys, if it's the car you want, it's not the bat mobile. It's the Dodge Charger. And then there's the Dockers ad, a bunch of, once again, poor guys just roaming over hill and dale with no pants on, heeding the cry of Dockers to wear the pants.

CONAN: Let's take...

Ms. WILLIAMS: I'm so sorry. I had no idea it was that bad out there for you.

CONAN: Let's take a listen to the Dockers ad.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I wear no pants. I wear no pants.

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) I wear, I wear.

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) Wear no pants.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Wear no pants. (Unintelligible) for I wear no pants. I wear no pants.

Unidentified Man #5: Calling all men. It's time to wear the pants. Try for a free pair of Dockers khakis now at dockers.com. It's free pants, people.

CONAN: It is free pants after all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Wear those pants. I want to - maybe I want to wear some pants, I don't know. So this was the theme. There was also the Doritos ad where the -it's so bad for guys. The guy had to fake his own death so he could hole up in an oversized coffin with a bunch of Doritos and a flat screen TV.

It's pretty bad out there. So those were - there was a definite bummer theme, and that's not even getting to the ads that are just, you know, hot babes in bubble baths and ripping off their shirts. There was a lot of - there were a lot of women in the ads, but they were mostly ripping off their shirt.

Oh, and there was the Bud Light ad where the guy infiltrates a women's book club just so he can have access to babies and light beer. I'd like to think that men are actually capable of wearing pants and reading books, that it's not quite as dire out there as Madison Avenue might have us believe on Super Bowl Sunday.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. It's interesting. The demographic of the Super Bowl, I'm told, it's about two-thirds men to women.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Right. So that means one-third women. There are - and this is the largest you said largest audience ever. You're looking at about 40 million women out there that were not actually spending the evening sniffing lavender candles or sitting around in their book clubs. Women actually enjoy watching sports as well. I can't stress that enough. We actually want to watch sports. We want to watch ads. And we don't really want to take away your pants.

CONAN: There is one other item of news that came out since your story moved on Salon.com - and you can go to Salon.com to read it if you like, by the way -but that is that if you thought there were more ads than ever, you were right. Commercials took up nearly 48 minutes of the game, the most for any Super Bowl, and that there were three minutes more of ads than last year's total, the previous record. And the other trend, more 15-second ads this year.

Ms. WILLIAMS: There were a lot of really short, and that most possibly most baffling of all the ads for Late Night with David Letterman. I think it was actually under 15 seconds. It seems to go at about nine - get in, tell the joke and get out. But of course, the more 15-second ads you have, the more advertisers you can get, the more bang everybody gets for their buck, right?

CONAN: Letterman was sitting on a couch next to Oprah Winfrey, and this is how it went.

(Soundbite of Super Bowl ad)

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Host, "Late Show with David Letterman"): (as himself) This is the worst Super Bowl party ever.

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (Host, "The Oprah Winfrey Show"): (as herself) Now, Dave, be nice.

Mr. JAY LENO (Host, "The Jay Leno Show"): (as himself) He's just saying that because I'm here.

Mr. LETTERMAN: (as himself) Oh, he's just saying that because I'm here.

CONAN: And that other voice, of course, Jay Leno, sitting rather awkwardly on the other end of the couch.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I do believe they all hate each other.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: It was that was the most convincing ad, Ill tell you that. If you wanted to sell me on the idea that David Letterman hates Jay Leno, sold. That was the one I believe the most, by far in a way.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on our conversation: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Mary Elizabeth Williams is with us from Salon.com.

Let's go to Matthew (ph). Matthew, calling from Kalamazoo.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hi. As a representative of a non-necessarily sports-watching kind of demographic of men, I loved the Google commercial that was on. It was just this guy was searching in Google to go to France, and he found France. And then he was looking for all sorts of French sorts of things, and then he found a woman, and then he got a married. And then he the last thing that he was searching for is looking for a crib. And I just thought it was so sweet...

CONAN: In...

MATTHEW: ...wonderful.

CONAN: In thirty seconds, he told the story of a romance in far-off Paris.

MATTHEW: Exactly.

Ms. WILLIAMS: And probably very little money. I actually I agree with you. I put that as one of my best spots of the night. And you I think you can get a message across, efficiently, inoffensively, humorously and inexpensively.

MATTHEW: That's right.

Ms. WILLIAMS: It can be done...

MATTHEW: I mean, I just have to repeat, it was representative of the non-macho kind of guy. It was great. I loved it.

CONAN: And you had to actually pay attention to follow it.

MATTHEW: Yeah. Yeah. Great.

CONAN: Yeah.

MATTHEW: Great.

CONAN: Matthew, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

MATTHEW: Thank you. Yup.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to this is Bruce(ph). Bruce, is with us from Cape Canaveral. Hello, Bruce?

ROBERT (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

ROBERT: Yes. Well, I would make a comment about a spineless ad.

CONAN: Go ahead, Bruce. I'm sorry.

ROBERT: Okay. Well, this is Robert, from Charlotte. I want to make a comment about the spineless ad.

CONAN: Oh, yes.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes.

ROBERT: You got to be kidding, the guy has a scarlet bra on his shoulder.

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I have never seen a man...

ROBERT: Shouldn't he be there helping it on and off. I mean, come on, the guy's a male.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: I...

ROBERT: (Unintelligible)

Ms. WILLIAMS: I just don't see that. I've been in a lot of lingerie sections. I tried on a lot of bras in my life and I've got to say I don't see that happening. And if it is, you know, I think you can probably try on your girlfriend's bra and still watch the game.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: There's a little quid pro quo...

ROBERT: Of course, thats what Im saying. Of course you (unintelligible). You got to be kidding, it was a ridiculous commercial.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right, Bruce excuse me, Robert, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. Bye-bye. Let's go next to this is Gail(ph). Gail, with us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

GAIL (Caller): Yes. Hi. Hello.

CONAN: Hello.

GAIL: Hi. Well, we had a great time watching the ads. We were just watching the ads, I think, with as much anticipation as the game, which was always fun.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

GAIL: So we were real quiet and paying less of attention when the ads came on, but we had a question, my friends and I had a question. It was as if the ad agencies sort of all got together and said: Okay, this year let's make sure that a lot of the ads have lots of slapping. And so you have lots of different things like the Doritos, you know, kid who slaps the boyfriend...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

GAIL: ...the I don't remember, CSI or whatever, slapping up side of the head, kind of thing, and a lots of underwear. And were like, well, what gives? Its such a great scene here and they all seem so similar, you know? I was just wondering if you could comment on that.

CONAN: It's NCIS with the slapping leitmotif all the way through the program. But, anyway...

GAIL: Oh. (Unintelligible)...

CONAN: Go ahead.

GAIL: He's slapping and running around in underwear. Were like, you know, did the same ad agency do all these ads?

CONAN: Mary Elizabeth Williams?

Ms. WILLIAMS: And the Motorola ads too, the Megan Fox ad. There's a lot of slapping going on in that one as well. There was a lot of slapping. There's also a lot of - I could think of, at four ads that used the dramatic hedgehog motif as well. I can't believe that a memo went out. I just think sometimes people get pretty desperate for ideas and...

GAIL: And Betty White, poor Betty White got tackled and the next ad was the mother getting tackled. We're like, what's up with that?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I know, right? Old lady tackling too was a theme. That is who would have seen that coming as a trend that's coming down the runway, this spring, tackling all the models.

GAIL: Last year it was things being blown up and...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes.

GAIL: ...people being, you know, the end of the world kind of humor. It was really, really dark. This year it's like the half-naked people and the slapping, and who knows whats going happen next year.

CONAN: Well, as...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Half naked people never go out of style, though.

CONAN: That's true. But is there some focus groups, zeitgeist that all these ad agencies look at?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, you know, this is the thing that always amazes me. You think they must just completely focus group and test market these things and then they get on the air. And you look at some of them and they just completely land with a terrible thud. And you just think, well, you can, either you can definitely test them up the wazoo and it still can just can just land with such a sour little sound - I don't know what happens.

GAIL: Theyve hadnt there's not a memo that went around that said, okay, now, let's...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Slapping.

GAIL: ...slap a lot of people and...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Slapping and hedgehogs and prairie dogs.

CONAN: And tackling. Gail, thanks very much for the phone call.

GAIL: Thank you. I love the show, bye.

CONAN: And she mentioned the Betty White ad. This was an ad for Snickers.

(Soundbite of Super Bowl ad)

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) Hep.

Unidentified Man #2: (as character) Mike, come on.

Unidentified Man #3: (as character) Mike, what is your deal, man?

Ms. BETTY WHITE (Actor): (as herself) Oh, come on, man, you've been riding me all day.

Unidentified Man #4: (as character) Mike, youre playing like Betty White out there.

Ms. WHITE: (as herself) Is that what your girlfriend says?

Unidentified Woman: (as character) Baby...

Unidentified group: (as character) Whoa.

Unidentified Woman: (as character) ...eat a Snickers. Better?

Unidentified Man #5: (as Mike) Better. Im open.

Mr. ABE VIGODA (Actor): (as himself) That hurts.

Unidentified Man #6: Youre not you when youre hungry. Snickers satisfies.

CONAN: And of course that was Abe Vigoda at the end and I have to say, that was pretty funny.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I loved it. It was favorite ad of the night. That and the Google ad, I thought, were delightful. You know, more Betty White, thats the answer to everything - more Betty White. She was funny. It was it made the point. And especially for Snickers, two years after their ridiculous offensive homophobic ad about the two guys whose lips accidentally touched when theyre eating a Snickers bar and then they have to rip off their chest hair. I just thought this was a great comeback and it really makes the point that you can do something that is kind of dud, one year, and come back with something thats really fresh and funny and entertaining and that people can enjoy.

CONAN: Were talking with Mary Elizabeth Williams, staff writer at Salon.com on the Opinion Page. Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And lets go next to Michael(ph). Michael, calling from San Francisco.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hello, how are you?

CONAN: Im well, thanks.

MICHAEL: Very good. Yeah, now a couple of things. I definitely agree with your guest about the men theme of the commercials was just kind of terrible. You know, the Doritos slapping ad, the Betty White ad's definitely good. But one thing that got really good focus group reviews - and I really didnt like, and none of the people I was watching the Super Bowl with liked was the Dennys commercial. It just we found it really annoying and overbearing.

CONAN: I think I must have missed this one, Michael, remind me.

MICHAEL: Oh, this was they needed to get a whole bunch of eggs for the free Grand Slam breakfasts. And there were the you know, the only redeeming quality was that there was the chicken in space screaming, but the rest of that was we just found really kind of annoying. Do you know which one Im talking about now?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I absolutely do. There were three different ads, and that you know what you liked about that chicken in space was that was the only chicken that didnt make a sound because the rest of them were...

MICHAEL: Youre absolutely right, absolutely.

Ms. WILLIAMS: ...shrieking.

MICHAEL: But the rest of them, we just I dont know. I read something this morning that that went really well with focus groups and the ad execs thought that it was one of the most successful ads. And I just completely disagree. So...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Im with you. I really didnt get it. I didnt think it was funny. And I think as part of, you know, in and of itself maybe it was sort of vaguely amusing, but three ads in a row with that level of shrieking. And also, as part of evening, it was just all about how terrible females are. I said in my Salon story today, wow, you know, the Super Bowl even hates female chickens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: I absolutely (unintelligible)...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Going to get their eggs...

(Soundbite of screaming)

MICHAEL: And one thing I wanted to follow up on, because I do agree with the first caller that you had about the Google commercial, I really liked it. There was we were all kind of in stunned silence when that commercial was over because it was actually really touching. And, you know, I made a joke to my wife after about 10 seconds of just stone-cold silence with everyone that, wow, Im really upset that I didnt meet you over Google.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: But we do so much now...

MICHAEL: The commercial worked. But, you know, thats all I had to say.

CONAN: All right, Michael...

MICHAEL: The game was great, so, you know, I know were focused on the commercials now, but...

CONAN: Theres that part too, yes. Thanks very much. And heres an email that we have. This Im not quite sure who its from, but it said I heard some mention of an anti-abortion ad being scheduled for this years Super Bowl. Did I miss it, or did CBS not approve the ad? Also, there was some controversy about a gay singles Web site commercial, what was the final ruling on that?

Ms. WILLIAM: Well, the ad did the focus on the family ad did run, and its possible you saw it and you didnt even realize what it was. I thought it looked like a cleverly disguised eHarmony ad. We were talking about - the female guest whos talking about it earlier, that theme of women being tackled was part of it. Tim Tebows mom, talking about her miracle baby.

It was a very short segment. I think it was three seconds long. It was very subtle. His mom just came on and said hes my Timmy, he was my miracle baby. And then he comes along and tackles her and she says, oh, Timmy, and that was it. And then they said for more information, go to focusonthefamily.com. And I, you know, Ive been saying I think for all of us who are kind of concerned is that, you know, is this ad going to be too weird, is it going to be too out there, is it going to be too religious extremist, and it really wasnt. And it was just, go here's our Web site, go to more information. And I thought it was fine. I wasnt at all as unnerved as I was by some of the car commercials.

But the Manhunter.com ad did not run. CBS rejected it. The ad, you can find it on YouTube, you can find it on a bunch of other places.

CONAN: What a shock, you could find it on YouTube.

Ms. WILLIAM: Yeah. Apparently, thats where stuff is these days, I dont know. You can Google it. You can see that Google will tell you. They you can find everything there. You can also find out how to pick up French chicks. So the ad was just two gentlemen and their hands are reaching in the bowl of chips, and it kind of gets romantic from there. And CBS said that it did not meet their standards on practices. Whether or not thats true, I would like to believe that the day is coming when we can have an if we can have ads like many of the ones that I saw last night, we can certainly leave room for an ad that says that maybe two guys can date each other.

CONAN: Mary Elizabeth Williams, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CONAN: Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer for Salon.com, where her article on the best and worst Super Bowl ads, appeared today. And she joined us from NPRs bureau in New York.

Just one item of news to tell you sad news today. Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania has died. Hes a retired Marine Corps officer who became a vocal critic of the war in Iraq. He was 77 years old. More on that throughout the day on NPR News.

Im Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION. Bye-bye.

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