Super Bowl XLVI: Dogs In Ads, Madonna At Halftime

With an ad costing about $3.5 million per 30 seconds, the stakes were high as advertisers pulled out all their tricks to wow viewers on Super Bowl Sunday. To review the most talked about ads, guest host Jacki Lyden hears from Tampa Bay Times TV and media critic Eric Deggans, and Detroit News TV critic and writer Mekeisha Madden Toby. They also discuss Madonna's halftime show performance.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

I'm Jacki Lyden, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away today.

We'll jump into the pages of the Washington Post magazine and talk to a former football coach about using sports to find redemption. That's coming up.

But first, to the Super Bowl or, actually, the Super Bowl ads. Advertisers spent about $3.5 million per 30 seconds to do their best to wow viewers, and they might have gotten their money's worth. More than 100 million people tuned in.

Joining me to talk about which ads scored and which ads fumbled is Eric Deggans. He's the TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. And also with us is Mekeisha Madden Toby. She's the TV critic and entertainment writer for the Detroit News. Welcome to both of you.

MEKEISHA MADDEN TOBY: Thank you.

ERIC DEGGANS: Thank you. I just want to point out that my newspaper changed its name in January. We're now the Tampa Bay Times.

LYDEN: Thank you so much for pointing that out. Well, last night seemed to be about babies, cars and dogs and some really great blasts from the past.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

MATTHEW BRODERICK: He bought it. How can I handle work on a day like today? One of the worst performances of my career and he never doubted it for a second.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Front desk.

BRODERICK: Hi. Can I get my CRV brought up, please? I've got a lot to do today.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Broderick. Broderick.

LYDEN: Of course, that was Matthew Broderick. He was the star of the 1986 movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," which this ad was playing off of, of course. But it wasn't a surprise to a lot of people because about half of the Super Bowl ads this year were released on YouTube a few days early. Mekeisha Madden Toby, why did advertisers do this?

TOBY: I think to create buzz. But in a way, it sort of made everything anti-climactic. It just felt - I don't know. Part of the fun of seeing Super Bowl ads is being surprised by what you see, and there was no element of surprise if you saw it online. And that takes away from the experience, I think.

LYDEN: Does it make the ads less effective, in your opinion?

TOBY: I think they're just as effective. It's just they're not as much fun, actually. And maybe, in that way, I guess they aren't as effective if you look at it like that. If part of the fun is watching Super Bowl ads and people anticipating what they're going to see and you take away some of the anticipation, I don't know if you remember the ad more. You do remember the product, but in that way they get their desired result.

But in terms of what people are talking about, people were already talking about Matthew Broderick all last week. They're not going to be talking about him tomorrow again, unless they talk about how much they didn't like it or how much it wasn't as good, maybe, the second time around.

DEGGANS: Yeah. I would point out that I think they did it because the Volkswagen ad from last year featuring the kid who was dressed like Darth Vader was so popular. That ad was released early and it became a viral hit even after the Super Bowl. But TiVo, the company that makes a digital video recorder that a lot of people use, released its figures on Super Bowl ads. And the most engaged ads, the ads that people watched the most, were the ones that were not released early. So, I think they did pay a price this time.

LYDEN: Interesting. Well, Doritos ads are usually real crowd pleasers, and this year wasn't any different. I'd play a clip, but it's a lot of silence. It's more about what wasn't said. And so, Eric, you said that this was one of your favorite ads at the Tampa Bay Times. Tell listeners about the Great Dane spot for those who didn't see it.

DEGGANS: Sure. This is a great - Doritos had a bunch of great ads in the Super Bowl, but this was the best one. This is a guy sort of messing around in his yard. He notices a dog that seems to be covering a collar that might have belonged to an animal. And then he looks up and he sees a poster that shows that it's the collar that belongs to a cat that's been missing. And the dog comes over and looks him in the face and gives him a bag of Doritos with a little note that says, you didn't see nothing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: And then the end of the ad, you know, this guy's - presumably, his wife is asking about the cat and the dog is outside his patio with another bag of Doritos waiting to bribe him again. And, you know, it's funny on one level. It was TiVo's most popular, most engaged ad, as well. And a lot of people have been talking about it today.

But it also sort of, I think, reveals - one trend that we saw in Super Bowl ads - a lot of them were dark. A lot of them had dark undertones. It's funny on one level. But on another level, it's funny because this dog killed a cat.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: So, you know - and there are some other ads. There's an ad that evoked the Apocalypse. There was an ad where a bunch of vampires got eliminated. There's an ad where a kid was in a pool and it's implied that he may have relieved himself in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: There were a lot of ads that pushed the boundaries of sort of dark humor this time around.

LYDEN: That's interesting. You know, I hadn't thought about it that way. But when you add them all up, you're absolutely right. I guess all the football action kind of got in the way. What do you think, Mekeisha? Do you agree that there was sort of a dark, edgy undertone?

TOBY: I didn't look at it as dark and edgy. Maybe I'm too dark and edgy or something. I don't know. But I really...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: It's just normal for you?

TOBY: I know. I'm sitting here listening to him and I'm like, oh, I like that one, too. Yeah, I like that one.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOBY: I loved the Audi ad with the vampires. I loved the Apocalyptic commercial because Chevy takes a dig at Ford. I think I was more focused on that. And I also was more focused on those ads because, interestingly enough, two things happened in terms of trends with those ads that Eric mentioned that happened to have dark undertones, with the exception, of course, of the Doritos ad.

But the Audi ad with the vampires, the ad with the Apocalypse with the Chevy - both are auto ads. And I felt like the auto makers had a better selection and better offering of ads this year than the other companies because, in part - because they didn't use celebrities or dogs and I like that.

DEGGANS: Well, I would say that one of the most effective ads was from an automaker and it did feature a celebrity. It was Clint Eastwood's ad for Chrysler and Dodge where he...

TOBY: Yeah, I like that one.

DEGGANS: We hear his rough-edged voice sort of delivering this speech that is sort of perking up America. It's basically sort of a classic motivational speech that you might hear at halftime. And he says, you know, it's halftime in America. And you got to pay attention because, you know, Dirty Harry's telling you this. Right?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOBY: Exactly.

LYDEN: Yeah.

DEGGANS: And very - again, a very dark landscape. You know, we see a Detroit that is obviously on the ropes, but coming back. And...

LYDEN: Eric, let's just go to that for a moment.

DEGGANS: Sure, sure.

LYDEN: We'll go to the clip.

DEGGANS: Let's hear a little of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

CLINT EASTWOOD: This country can't be knocked out in one punch. We get right back up again. And when we do, the world's going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah. It's halftime, America, and our second half's about to begin.

LYDEN: Now, I think the buzz is that that was one of the most effective ads of the whole game.

DEGGANS: Now, you just knew he was going to say, make my day, right after that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: But what I - and he did mix his metaphor, but who cares because it's Dirty Harry. Right? But what's great about that, too, is that it's also a callback to a very effective ad from last year in which Eminem was driving through Detroit and his hit, "Lose Yourself," was playing in the background.

So, a shout out to an earlier ad, a little bit of a dark metaphor, it also felt a little bit like a political speech, in a way.

LYDEN: I was going to ask you. I mean, I know you guys are, you know, entertainment TV, but a lot of people are saying that it seemed like an Obama campaign ad.

DEGGANS: If I was Obama, I would take the soundtrack from that ad and it would be my next campaign commercial.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOBY: And I loved how he said, and it's not about - I mean, we shouldn't get divided by these types of things and then they show the White House. And - I don't know. I just - I love it, and I don't know about the other - I mean, the - you know, Jerry Seinfeld and all that and Jay Leno and all those people. For some reason, those annoyed me. Even John Stamos, to some extent, even though that was kind of funny.

But it didn't bother me that Clint Eastwood was in this ad, even if he was one of the many celebrities because he's sort of an icon. And, as I said in my review, if Detroit had a voice and a face, it would be his. So, grizzled, but wonderful and loved and I love him and I loved the ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: All right. We have to go to the halftime show. Madonna coming in, you know, as Cleopatra, blaze of glory. Let's have a quick listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VOGUE")

MADONNA: (Singing) Let your body move to the music. Come on, vogue. Let your body go with the flow. You know you can do it. Greta Garbo and Monroe...

LYDEN: So, reviews have really been mixed for this one. Eric Deggans, was it a score or a fumble, do you think?

DEGGANS: I thought it was the world's best karaoke competition ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: You hear - the audio sounded like the record. She wasn't really singing. The staging was amazing. The visuals were amazing. What I thought was the most interesting thing was that the rapper, M.I.A., totally stole Madonna's thunder by flipping off the audience briefly during her performance and everybody has been talking about that and NBC's apology. And NBC is sort of blaming the NFL for producing the show and the NFL's saying, well, NBC was slow in blurring out the image. Everybody's talking about that.

And not so many people are talking about Madonna's wonderful performance - athletic performance as a 53 year old who can still do cartwheels.

LYDEN: Really? Not so many people?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: I seem to hear something about that. What do you think, Mekeisha? She really moved. I saw that on Facebook, too.

TOBY: She really moved and then it looked like, maybe right before the end, that she was tired. She looked like she needed a Gatorade.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOBY: She needed a big Gatorade.

DEGGANS: Vogue, vogue.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOBY: And then she's like, oh, girl. If I get my - somebody relieve me. I need to sit down.

LYDEN: If I get to say anything about that, the puff of smoke thing at the end where she just disappears, I have to say, I kind of laughed.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: Yeah, yeah, of course.

TOBY: Because she passed out. That's why the probably...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: You didn't see that little stretcher, you know, running out...

TOBY: Exactly.

DEGGANS: ...from behind. Visually, I give it a - visually, it was wonderful. But I am really getting tired of Super Bowl halftime performers who don't sing. Prince and Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and The Who all proved that you can go onto that arena. You can sing and perform live and you can be amazing. So, why not do it? If I wanted to see, you know, dancers gyrating to a prerecorded track, I would put in an old Solid Gold episode.

LYDEN: Maybe next year. We have to wrap it up ourselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: Eric Deggans is the TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, and he joined us from their newsroom. And Mekeisha Madden Toby, TV critic and entertainment writer for the Detroit News, and she joined us from NPR's bureau in Culver City, California. And thank you both for your time.

TOBY: Thank you, Jacki.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

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