Super Bowl commercials are a game-within-a-game, that rare chance for advertisers to compete in front of 110 million-plus viewers huddled around the TV. Opportunities like this don't come along often -- or cheaply, at a reported average of $3.8 million for 30 seconds of airtime. Here's who did -- and didn't -- make the most of it.
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.
Not sure how Betty White avoided a cameo in this Taco Bell gem chronicling a wild night on the town with a bunch of old folks who make Lindsay Lohan seem tame. What made it all the better was the music: the Spanish version of "We Are Young" by fun. This scored as the big game's funniest ad but not the most effective, since I still don't want to eat Taco Bell.
A boy goes to prom alone and, inspired by Dad's Audi, plants a big kiss on the prom queen in front of everyone, including her jealous prom king boyfriend. It ends with the boy driving home alone, sporting a big shiner and an even bigger smile. It's like a John Hughes film condensed down to one minute, and I loved every second of it.
Jared's still thin
What should have been 15 minutes of fame has stretched into 15 years for Jared, a regular guy who lost a lot of weight purportedly thanks to Subway. The shtick is stale, but that didn't stop Subway from celebrating Jared's tenure in its first Super Bowl ad since 2005. Yawn. Would have much preferred a Blimpie's ad starring Lutz.
Rookie Super Bowl advertiser Speed Stick made its big-game debut with an instantly forgettable ad about a guy getting caught holding a pair of underwear belonging to an attractive female laundromat customer. D'oh! If I were responsible for this lackluster ad, I'd be sweating as much as the guy in charge of the Superdome's lights.
Singing fish aren't funny or interesting. Neither is this commercial featuring a fish serenading a bottle of Beck's Sapphire to a smooth version of "No Diggity." It should have been set to the sound of flushing $3.8 million down the toilet.
I would have rather not seen a close up of model Bar Refaeli kissing that guy, and I certainly didn't need to hear it.
As if Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" isn't tear-jerker enough, Anheuser-Busch took it up a notch with this touching ad about a baby Clydesdale and its trainer. The two reunite on the streets of Chicago (actually Los Angeles doubling as Chicago). The stellar spot was directed by Jake Scott, whose dad, Ridley, oversaw one of the best Super Bowl ads of all time: Apple's "1984."
Yes, sex sells. But enough with the ads that show a beautiful woman reducing men to single-minded idiots dragging their knuckles through their own drool pools. A Motorola commercial had Megan Fox causing mayhem by using her device to send a photo of herself in the tub, covered in suds. More suds came from supermodel Kate Upton, whose Super Bowl preview ad had her blowing bubbles in slo-mo while guys washing a Mercedes went ga-ga. "That really targets their key demographic: 14-year-old boys making $500,000 a year," quipped Stephen Colbert.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
A couple of spots came under fire -- unjustly, in my opinion -- for having racist overtones. An Arab-American group took issue with the way Arabs were portrayed -- as "foolish camel jockeys," one told Reuters -- in Coke's frenetic "Chase" ad, which pit showgirls, cowboys and a "Mad Max" contingent in a race across the desert. Volkswagen's "Get Happy" got heat for showing an office worker from Minnesota speaking in a Jamaican accent. One critic called it "blackface with voices." Chill, mon.
Chicago-based Cars.com hired the Chicago office of McGarryBowen to come up with this year's ad about a car-shopping couple who doesn't want any drama. They get it anyway when the car dealer hands them what looks like a puppy but is really a baby wolf. It's not revolutionary but it gets the message across. And it sure is a step up from last year's creepy Cars.com ad where a shopper's confidence springs out of his shoulder in the form of a second head.
Other notable mentions:
Tide's miracle stain
Clever ad but must be painful for San Francisco fans to watch.
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).
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.
Oreo's whisper fight
One of the few surprises of the night (I've never seen so many ads released in advance of the game), and it worked.