Angry Vidiots vs. the Super Bowl II
When the ink dries on the history books, the Ravens -- fat, lovable defensive tackles and incompetently cuddly quarterbacks aside -- will rank somewhere between the 1994 Calgary Stampede of the CFL and your neighbor's kid's championship Pop Warner Team. Nice enough. Ready when it counted. But, in the great scheme of things, entirely forgettable.
Which is more than we can say for the ads this year.
It wasn't always thus. There was a time -- many years ago -- when we could go into Super Bowl Sunday knowing that if we didn't see great football, we would at least see great ads. Talking lizards, football-playing beer bottles, light beer-drinking bull terriers who were ready to par-tee. Even if the game quickly faded from memory -- and if the Buffalo Bills were playing, it was a sure bet that it would -- we would at least have the commercials to fall back on.
Those were magical times, when men sailed the sea in open ships, when heroes slayed dragons with living swords, when Super Bowl teams with mighty offenses battled one another in heart-rending duels that left one quarterback headed for Disneyland while the other slunk off to the New York Jets via free agency.
We live in a hollow shell of those times. These days, the likes of Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins are our Super Bowl quarterbacks. And while we may remember the halcyon days of Apple's "1984" commercial, the fact is that today's Super Bowl ads are no more special than today's quarterbacks.
A gaggle of Vidiots and a team of well-intentioned civilians gathered again this weekend at one of the Vidiots' residences, with the express purpose of enjoying not just Super Bowl XXXV, but the new crop of commercials that accompany the game. And to put it bluntly, we were screwed -- not unlike the good people of Cleveland, when Art Modell pulled up stakes five years ago for the greener pastures of Charm City.
This year's Super Bowl ads were lackluster at best, and atrocious at worst. No, there was no creepy animatronic Christopher Reeve walking zombie-like across a stage this year -- but there was also only one flat-out winner, an ad that brought the house down and was unanimously declared a top-notch effort.
The rest? They just made us want to bring the house down -- by setting fire to it.
But enough of our silly historical perspective. Let's get to the winners and losers!
Grand Champion: ETrade's "Monkey 2001." A follow-up to one of our honorable-mention spots from last year, this one made us all laugh. As the famed ETrade chimpanzee rides forlornly through a dot-com ghost down, he ultimately discovers the dead body of a certain familiar sock puppet (sadly, the winner of our top prize last year). "Invest Wisely," reads the final message of the commercial, as the chimpanzee sheds an Iron Eyes Cody-like tear for his departed dot-com brethren.
1st Runner-Up: Budweiser's Extraterrestrial "Whassup" commercial. The plot's not much: a cute family pooch runs outside, is beamed up by a spaceship, and returns to the home planet to reveal that Fido is actually an alien in disguise. At which point the entire thing turns into yet another "Whassup?!" retread. Except we just couldn't get past the amazing visual effects, ones we might even call on par with "Star Wars Episode 1." And the plot's about as good, too. Plus, the dog was really cute until he turned into a bulbous alien.
2nd Runner-Up: eTrade's "Guard." What can we say? We enjoyed this spot for eTrade Banking featuring a bald old bank guard who (in his dreams) outwits a crew of would-be bank robbers thanks to "Matrix"-style fighting moves. Despite the mysterious Jimmy Durante references, we thought the guard kicked ass.
3rd Runner-Up: Mastercard's "The Letter B." This ad featured a bizarre auction, where the letter B ("used by Shakespeare and Cookie Monster") goes on sale along with the color red ("stops cars and causes bulls to charge") and gravity ("paperweight of the cosmos"). Of course, the message is that "there are some things money can't buy," but who cares? This single bizarre scenario gave us a bigger kick than most entire Saturday Night Live episodes.
Honorable Mentions: We hate to reward Budweiser, a company which foisted ads as watered down as its beer upon us, but in addition to the E.T. "Whassup" ad, we also liked the ultra-unhip "What Are You Doing?" ad (young urban professionals enjoying an imported beer and bastardizing the "Wassup" schtick) and the Bud Light ad featuring a dog stuffing itself with the entire contents of a refrigerator. Pepsi is another serial offender, and yet -- for once -- we found a couple of that company's ads (Garry Kasparov vs. a HAL-like chess computer and Bob Dole in a parody of his Viagra commercials) fairly amusing. We also liked the Snickers spot featuring dolls spouting unpleasant catch phrases being crushed, and enjoyed EDS' "Running of the Squirrels" ad quite a lot, despite the fact that it's just a pathetic knock-off of its excellent "Cat Herders" spot from last year.
If you can't bring your A-game to the Super Bowl, EDS... well, that'd make you the New York Giants.
And now, the worst! This year, the worst come in all shapes and sizes. And the top three all come from companies with phony, lame-ass made-up names.
Black Lung Cup (5th worst): Various anti-smoking spots. Just like last year, Philip Morris this year tried to ingratiate itself into the hearts of Americans with another anti-smoking ad that was just plain creepy. But we also got a couple of real anti-smoking downers from the American Legacy Foundation. American Legacy's ads -- especially the one with the throat cancer victim speaking through a monotonic voice box from his hospital bed -- carry an impact, but it really wasn't the entertainment we were looking for. It was just icky and creepy, on a day where we didn't really want our buzz harshed.
"Battlefield Earth" Memorial Trophy (4th worst): Movie trailers. It began as an oddity -- ads for movies, including summer movies, appearing during the Super Bowl. But we must've counted a half-dozen movie ads in this year's broadcast, and it has prompted us to say this: stop it. We don't want to see your unimpressive, impenetrable, pointless movie trailers. We don't give a crap about John Travolta's incomphrensible "Swordfish," nor do we really feel like seeing "Hannibal" or "The Mummy Returns" now. If you're not prepared to blow up the White House or create some other radical, mind-blowing trailer to get inside our heads, go away and don't come back until the week your movie opens.
Wireless Wasteland Award (3rd worst): Verizon Wireless. In a series of atrocious spots featuring people at a concert, we learned about the excitement you can get from chatting via text on your cellular phone. Nothing's more fun than writing messages using a phone keypad! And the real fun starts when you get your Verizon bill. To top it off, the ad was so appallingly faux-hip that it made our ears bleed.
And You Thought Our Original Name Was Bad Award (2nd worst): Accenture. This company used to be called Arthur Andersen, but now it's called Accenture! With a funny accent over one of the letters! So it's much cooler now. At least, that's what marketing tells us. Arthur And... er, Accenture also now produces a series of awful spots under the "Now It Gets Interesting" banner: dancing bacteria, virtual surgery, an old lady blowing out candles on her 150th birthday, and our favorite -- a man disappearing while driving a car. First off, these ads were confusing. ("Can I get me one of them disappearing cars?" a Vidiot wanted to know.) Second, they were obvious. And third, and most importantly, Accenture is a really stupid name, accent marks or no.
Golden Crapulence Award (the very worst): Cingular. Another company with a stupid name they paid millions of dollars to come up with. Cingular's ads were singularly uninteresting: a guy dancing around, football players dancing around. Basically, the ads start out appearing just odd enough that we're waiting for the punch line, the thing that will have it all make sense... and be funny. But the punch line never comes with Cingular's ads -- instead, the punch line apparently is Cingular's name and logo.
Our ribs still hurt from laughing. But not the good kind of laughing. What pushes Cingular's ad campaign over the top is an ad that pushed the same buttons for us as the creepy Christopher Reeve ad last year: the inappropriate use of a disabled person for corporate gain. In this case, the inspirational story of Dan Keplinger, the "King Gimp," an artist who has overcome his cerebral palsy to create amazing artworks. As the ad ran, one of the Vidiots could be heard to mutter, "this had better damned well be an ad for a nonprofit organization or charity of some kind." Oh, no. No, it's an ad for a damned cellular phone company. We've got nothing against Keplinger, who really does have an inspirational story to tell. But, then, we've got nothing against Reeve... or at least we didn't until he re-made "Rear Window." No, our bile is saved for the companies that ride on their backs in order to make a big splash at Super Bowl time.
Congratulations, Cingular. You've made a big splash with us for sure.
Additional contributions to this article by: Jason Snell.
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