Super Bowl Ads: The Good, the Bad...

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Touchdown or Fumble?

A Sierra Mist ad called 'Combover'that ran during Sunday night's Super Bowl.

A Sierra Mist ad called Combover that ran during Sunday night's Super Bowl. hide caption

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Paul La Monica, editor at large for CNNMoney.com, reviews Sunday night's Super Bowl ads. While a 30-second spot cost $2.6 million, La Monica says this year marketers played it safe, and the results were disappointing.

NEAL CONAN, host:

An estimated 90 million Americans watched last night's Super Bowl telecast. I was not among them. At kick-off time, I was wedged into an airline seat looking down at the Rocky Mountains instead of happily wedged into my couch watching the game.

I missed the Colts come from behind, the Bears offense disappear in the second half, but I also missed the best part of the evening, the brand new big-budget, celebrity-packed commercials.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (TV Talk Show Host): You want the Bears and I want the Colts, but we both win because we're in love.

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (TV Talk Show Host): Honey, don't talk with your mouthful.

LETTERMAN: I'm sorry.

CONAN: Besides CBS's Oprah Winfrey/David Letterman fantasy, what else did I miss? Call us with your reviews of last night's telecast, the commercials, the hoopla, the half time show, and oh yeah, the game.

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And joining us now is Paul La Monica, CNNMoney.com's editor-at-large. He joins us on the phone from his office in New York. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. PAUL LA MONICA (Editor-at-Large, CNNMoney.com): Thank you very much.

CONAN: And Paul, I know that your review was that a lot of the ads - like the game itself, you said - were disappointing.

Mr. LA MONICA: Yeah. I don't really think you missed all that much. Most of the people that I spoke to seem to think that a lot of the marketers played it safe this year. They kind of relied on the usual, formulaic type of advertising. And maybe everyone has seen, you know, one too many so-called humorous ads already, and there just wasn't that much in the way of anything creative or new.

CONAN: Nothing creative or new, all for the low, low price of what - $2.6 million per 30 seconds?

Mr. LA MONICA: Exactly, $2.6 million for 30 seconds - a bargain price.

CONAN: And at that level of spending, are you willing to be risky? Don't you want to go with the tried and true?

CONAN: I think that, you know, most companies probably do decide that if they are going to spend that much money - and many of the companies that are advertising are publicly-traded companies so they do have shareholders that obviously would not be very pleased to see wasteful spending.

So I think that does play into it as well. As the price goes higher, I think you are going to see companies probably less willing to take big risks.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And as - I read the score in the papers. It was in all the news. But there was also some reviews of the Super Bowl ads, and some of them said that some of them made an impact.

Here, for example, is an ad for Bud Light, called "Rock, Paper, Scissors."

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Man #1: OK. Now what?

Unidentified Man #2: Rock, paper, scissors for it?

Unidentified Man #1: OK. That's fair.

Unidentified Man #2: On three?

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: One, two, three.

(Soundbite of banging sound)

Unidentified Man #1: I threw paper.

Unidentified Man #2: I threw a rock.

CONAN: And Anheuser-Busch bought an awful lot of time last night, didn't they?

Mr. LA MONICA: Yes. And they have been for the past few years. They're the exclusive beer advertiser during the Super Bowl, and they actually have that locked up until 2012. And they had 10 spots that ran last night. So they definitely believe in the theory of making it up on volume.

But to their credit, Anheuser-Busch did score among the highest with most of their ads. So, you know, they definitely did wind up doing well with a majority of the spots that they ran.

CONAN: Let's listen to another one. This is an ad for Emerald nuts, a product that - not completely disassociated with beer - but Emerald nuts that shows Robert Goulet running around an office, making mischief.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Man: Around 3 PM, when your blood sugar and energy are low, some say Robert Goulet appears and messes with your stuff.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: What's Robert Goulet doing there?

Mr. LA MONICA: It was a very strange ad. And I think that Emerald made the calculation that Robert Goulet would appeal to many people of various age groups. There was a, you know, pretty popular Saturday Night Live skit not from - not that long ago, where Robert Goulet and Will Farrell were in, you know, some - a skit on Saturday Night Live.

However, I think that definitely a lot of younger viewers probably were very confused by that ad and were wondering who this guy was and why he was running around an office.

And I think, you know, on the same flip side, I think a lot of older viewers were probably confused by the Nationwide ad with Kevin Federline, who's obviously most well-known for marrying and now divorcing Britney Spears.

CONAN: Let's take a listen to the Kevin Federline daydreams ad. It's about his earlier days as a celebrity rapper, while he ends up working at a fast food joint.

(Soundbite of commercial)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KEVIN FEDERLINE (Performer): (Rapping) Be your sugar daddy, I'm the Mac. And if you need a dollar, holler because I've got a whole stack. What? Want a VIP. What? Want a VIP.

Unidentified Man: Federline!

Mr. FEDERLINE: What?

Unidentified Man #1: Fries.

Unidentified Man #2: Life comes at you fast.

Unidentified Man #1: Thank you.

CONAN: So that's the same series of ads, for example, where we see Fabio looking great as he crosses under one bridge in Venice, and then older on the other side - life comes at you fast, so get some insurance.

Mr. LA MONICA: Exactly. And they did another ad two years ago with the rapper MC Hammer, who I believe had to file for bankruptcy after some financial misfortune. So definitely, Nationwide seems to be cornering the marketing on celebrities whose best days are behind them.

CONAN: We're speaking with Paul La Monica, editor-at-large for CNNMoney.com, about last night's Super Bowl telecast. I missed the whole thing. I was on a plane.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get a caller on the line. This is Jeff. Jeff's with us from Cincinnati, Ohio.

JEFF (Caller): Hey. How you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

JEFF: I just wanted to - and maybe it's because I'm in that crucial 18 to 34-year-old demographic. I'm 24. Generally, I found them pretty boring, especially the car commercials. It was standard stuff that I feel like I could have seen any time during the week.

But I will say that the one that made me fall out of my chair laughing was the Anheuser-Busch commercial where the slap in the face replaced the hitting the rock.

CONAN: Paul La Monica, could you describe this and why it was funny?

Mr. LA MONICA: Yeah. The slap ad - I guess as people are referring to it - was also one that scored pretty high. And that's, I guess, another one in kind of the theme of Anheuser-Busch ads, you know, kind of really going at that, you know, somewhat low brow for what it is humor.

But it definitely does strike a cord, I think, with a lot of younger viewers. In that ad, you had one guy, you know, going to give a colleague a fist bump and was being told that's just not cool anymore.

So, apparently, the new greeting of choice is to slap someone in the face. So you had a bunch of people slapping each other, which, you know, definitely I think a lot of people found funny.

I admit, it definitely made me chuckle as well.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Jeff, anything else about the broadcast catch your interest at all?

JEFF: Except for the game, I will say that I found - other than Prince as an interesting choice for the halftime entertainment - I kind of felt like most of the commercials catered to women more than they have in the past.

CONAN: Huh. Was that your impression, Paul La Monica?

Mr. LA MONICA: That's interesting. I think that we have been seeing some more ads catering to women in the past few years. There is a reflection, a recognition of the fact that this is not just a bunch of guys on a couch drinking beer watching the game, that there are a lot of women.

And you did have the Revlon ad that featured Sheryl Crow that was, you know, universally panned by most critics as being kind of boring and out of place. But I don't necessarily think that there were more ads catering to women this year than in years past.

I think maybe they weren't done as well, so they kind of struck out in terms of not being very successful, because last year, I think Dove had an ad that catered to women that was actually quite well received as it was, you know, just a good ad that was really earnest, not trying to be funny. And I think that wound up being successful because it didn't pretend to be something it wasn't.

CONAN: Jeff, thanks very much.

JEFF: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Casey on the line. Casey's calling us from Fairbanks in Alaska.

CASEY (Caller): Hello?

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

CASEY: Yes. I actually was calling - the last caller alluded to Prince playing. And I thought it was a wonderful show. In fact, I'm not much of a football fan and would have enjoyed it just continuing through the third and fourth quarter and forgetting the rainy game.

And it was an amazing stage, and there was a lot of energy to it. But what dawned on me as I was watching it was, oh my goodness. I've just turned 40, Prince was my teenage kind of rock person, and they're catering to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CASEY: And it just made me realize that this was my moment in time where I'm the consumer that they're after. And it was just funny. I figure five years from now, it'll be somebody I never heard of playing the halftime, so…

CONAN: But the rock idol of your youth is now safe enough to be the Super Bowl halftime entertainment?

CASEY: Exactly. And I'll chime in also that absolutely the worst commercials of any Super Bowl I ever have watched, anyway. It was very boring, and, you know, and from an artistic standpoint, I've always appreciated the work. But, you know, as a person who used to be in advertising, I know full well that the whole industry is based on, you know, really just stats that don't exist. It doesn't really influence purchasing.

And so I appreciate it as a creative medium, but I don't think anyone switches to Pepsi at the end of the Super Bowl, so…

CONAN: Perhaps not. Yeah, I don't think anybody switched their loyalty from the Bears to the Colts, either.

CASEY: No. Exactly.

CONAN: But they did play the game, so.

CASEY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: OK.

CASEY: Well, thanks for the show.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much. The half time show, Paul La Monica - were you watching?

Mr. LA MONICA: Yeah, I did. And I think that is a very funny point that people who - a couple of years ago - would never have been considered safe, you know, mainstream entertainment are now sanitized enough to be the Super Bowl halftime performers.

I mean, we've seen that with, you know, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones as well.

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. LA MONICA: I know artists who, you know, have been controversial in their day, maybe not so much any more. The Prince Super Bowl halftime show definitely - I think CBS was probably pretty happy with it, though. I don't know whether or not the ratings held up, you know, where people were able to stick - or willing to stick around and watch it.

But, you know, there clearly were no wardrobe malfunctions like CBS was plagued with during the last time that they aired the Super Bowl.

CONAN: But did he sing "Purple Rain" amidst the down pour there in Miami?

Mr. LA MONICA: He did. It was a fitting song, give the deluge that we were seeing last night.

CONAN: Paul La Monica, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. LA MONICA: Thank you.

CONAN: Paul La Monica is an editor-at-large for CNNMoney.com. He joined us today from his office in New York City to describe the Super Bowl for those of us like me, who didn't get to see it.

You can see all the ads that we talked about and some else at npr.org/talk. That's our Web page.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATIONfrom NPR News.

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