The Super Bowl is the one television event where you don't use commercial breaks to go to the bathroom or grab a cold one from the fridge. Otherwise you might miss the action playing out on the world's biggest advertising stage.
Super Bowl spots are the game-within-a-game, the chance for creative ad agencies to dazzle 110 million-plus viewers huddled around the TV. Opportunities like this don't come along often -- or cheaply. CBS charged a reported $3.8 million on average for 30-second ads in tonight's sold-out show.
Consumers overwhelming prefer funny Super Bowl commercials (81 percent, according to a Nielsen survey). One out of four surveyed enjoy sentimental spots, which reminds me: Keep a tissue handy for tonight's Budweiser's Clydesdale ad about a trainer and his foal. "Dudes, I"m not crying! It's just the onions in the chili!"
As usual, a lot of the big game's ads were leaked ahead of time on the internet to gin up interest. You can check out many of those below, which I've labeled either "touchdown" or "fumble." I'll be updating this post with additional ads throughout the game. When it's over, I'll post my picks for best and worst. Tune into WLS AM-890 at 8 a.m. Monday morning when I'll be Monday morning-quarterbacking the ad action with Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft.
Ode to farmers
Powerful in its straightforwardness, stripped-down authenticity and subtle patriotism, Ram Truck delivered with its moving two-minute long love letter to those who till the land. It features original photography and the late broadcaster Paul Harvey's "So God Made a Farmer" monologue, read by the legendary broadcaster some three decades ago.
Taco Bell: Viva Young
This year, no Super Bowl ad so far has made me laugh as hard as this one chronicling a wild night on the town with a group of crafty retirement home residents, set to the Spanish version of "We Are Young" by fun.
The old guy getting the tattoo is priceless, but I'm still not going to eat at Taco Bell. Gracias anyway.
Mercedes-Benz: Kate Upton in Slo-Mo
Yes, sex sells. But I'm fed up with ads where men are led to drag their knuckles through their own drool pools because of some titillating woman. This one has supermodel Kate Upton in daisy dukes, jiggling and tousling her hair in slow motion while distracted guys try to wash a Mercedes. "That really targets their key demographic: 14-year-old boys making $500,000 a year," quipped Stephen Colbert.
As if Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" isn't a tear-jerker enough, Anheuser-Busch takes it up a notch with this touching commercial celebrating the bond between a Clydesdale foal and its trainer as they reunite on the streets of Chicago (actually Los Angeles, standing in as Chicago.) It also was shot at Budweiser's Clydesdale breeding facility at Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville, Missouri.
Don Jeanes plays the trainer (he portrayed Neil Armstrong in "Transformers") and the ad is directed by Jake Scott. Jake is the son of Ridley Scott, who famously directed one of, if not the best, Super Bowl ad of all time: Apple's "1984."
Volkswagen: Get in. Get Happy
This ad featuring an office worker from Minnesota with a Jamaican accent has taken some heat for having racing overtones. One critic likened it to "blackface with voices." I say chill out, mon.
My only gripe with the ad is that it's not as good as Volkswagen's previous big game spots, such as "The Force" with a pint-sized Darth Vader and "The Dog Strikes Back."
This frenetic ad showing a race in the desert for a giant bottle of Coke pits showgirls, cowboys and a Mad Max gang against one another. It also came under fire -- unjustly, in my opinion -- for being racist. An Arab-American group took issue with the portrayal of Arabs in the ad's opening, telling Reuters they were shown as "foolish camel jockeys" who have no chance to win the race.
In another example of advertisers embracing social engagement, Coke asked the public to vote on who should win the race, with the results being unveiled during the Super Bowl ad. (The Arabs weren't one of the choices, just the showgirls, cowboys and Mad Maxers.)
I don't care who wins the race, which means I don't care about the ad. But I will give props to Pepsi Next for being quick on the draw and responding with this clever spoof.
Skechers GOrun 2: Man vs. Cheetah
This one is even better than the company's last Super Bowl commercial featuring a cute French bulldog wearing Skechers. The year before that was Kim Kardashian in Skechers, so they keep improving.
The ad is a blend of bona fide nature footage (gazelles really do wink) combined with green-screen technology (the runner tackles and hog ties a life-sized stuffed cheetah toy).
Beck's Sapphire: Serenade
Singing fish aren't funny, interesting or moving, and neither is this commercial where a black fish serenades a bottle of Beck's Sapphire to a smooth version of "No Diggity." I certainly didn't dig it.
Audi: Prom Night
This one might just end up my winner. Boy goes to prom alone, marches up to prom queen and plants one on her in the middle of the dance floor -- and in front of her angry prom king boyfriend. The last shot is the boy, driving home alone in his car, with a big shiner and an even bigger smile. With few words and little time, this ad manages to tell a more compelling story than some full-length feature films. I love it.
Hyundai: Epic Playdate
The Flaming Lips help a suburban family jazz up a lazy day with the band's trademark over-the-top antics: riding in a space bubble zorb, shooting lasers and launching confetti canons. It's a fun, upbeat ad but not one that I'm dying to watch over and over again.
AXE Apollo: Lifeguard
AXE is launching its Super Bowl debut with a satisfying spot about a woman getting rescued from a shark by a handsome lifeguard. Said life saver is no match for a geeky guy in an astronaut outfit who's walking on the beach. Its young, sexy, irreverent tone is in line with the AXE brand of men's care products. It's a clever way to lure viewers to AXEApollo.com, where they can register for a chance to win a trip into space.
Speed Stick: Unattended Laundry
Speed Stick is one of the rookie advertisers making its Super Bowl debut with this instantly forgettable ad about a fed-up guy who empties a laundromat's drier and is caught in a "Three's Company-like" situation, holding a hot woman's panties in his hands. There must be a lot of better ways to spend $3.8 million.
Unlike Mercedes' slow-motion car washing ad, this one operates under the premise that less is more when it comes to Kate Upton. She, Usher and Willem Dafoe (playing the devil -- who else?) are all featured in this clever spot about a man ready to make Faustian bargain for a new Mercedes -- and all that comes with it -- until he sees the car's sticker price is less than $30,000. Excellent use of the Rolling Stone's "Sympathy for the Devil."
Subway: Jared keeps the weight off
What should have been 15 minutes of fame has stretched into 15 years. That's how long Jared, a regular guy who lost a lot of weight purportedly thanks to Subway, has been a spokesman for the sandwich chain. Subway's first Super Bowl ad since 2005 celebrates Jared's tenure with a bunch of celebrities -- Apolo Ohno, Laila Ali, Kevin from "The Office" (Brian Baumgartner) -- congratulating him for keeping the weight off. Duly noted, Subway, but the Jared shtick is getting stale.