Monkey business for Super Bowl ads

It was a big year for animals, with both CareerBuilder.com and Verizon Wireless going a little bananas. Which Super Bowl ads were memorable, forgettable?

In a spoof of the right formula for a Super Bowl ad, FedEx called this year's battle of television commercials long before results came in for the actual championship football game.

Top advertisers on U.S. television's most watched, and most expensive, event returned to tried and tested gimmicks during Sunday's broadcast after an indecency scandal during last year's game put marketers under greater scrutiny.

Watched by more than 144 million viewers in the United States last year, the is the nation's highest-rated TV program and the most-watched single-day sporting event.

The buzz
From Apple in 1984 to the dot-com boom, the big game has meant splashy tech spots. Tell us how this year's stacked up.
It is the biggest stage for advertisers and their agencies, where they vie for the title of most memorable or entertaining commercial. This year, TV network Fox sold 30-second spots for up to $2.4 million each.

"This Super Bowl is about a return to tradition," said Mark DiMassimo of DiMassimo Carr Brand Advocates. "They went a little crazy with ads last year and now everyone is going back to the formulas."

FedEx made a self-conscious ad play, listing the necessary elements of a winning commercial: animals that talk or dance, celebrities big or small, and a cute kicker at the end. To illustrate the point, Burt Reynolds chats up a dancing bear in a spot from Omnicom Group's BBDO agency.

Other ads employed "funny animals," but without the irony.

Online job site CareerBuilder.com debuted three commercials about a corporation run by monkeys to the frustration of its one very human employee; cellular provider Verizon Wireless parodied its "Can you hear me now?" slogan with a monkey talking into his "banana" phone; and Bud Light showed a cockatoo berating a young man's pickup lines at a bar.

"There were so many animals and so many monkeys, but it wasn't as grotesque as last year," said Barbara Lippert, advertising critic for Adweek. "There were at least a couple you could be surprised by and enjoy."

Advertising experts and viewers singled out a pair of unusual commercials for mortgage company Ameriquest under the tagline "Don't judge too quickly." In one ad, a man tells a friend "you're getting robbed" over a deal as he shops at a convenience store, only to be mistaken by the cashier as a genuine thief who meets a painful end.

But few ventured into the unexpected to stand out from nearly 60 commercials during the contest in which the New England Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Even top celebrities such as Brad Pitt, chased by paparazzi in a Heineken beer ad, failed to generate excitement.

"As an advertising person, I was really hoping for a lot more," said Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi Advertising. "I want to see smart, intrusive advertising that gets to you. It was disappointing."

The rivalry for surprise came to haunt advertisers last year, when an outcry over Janet Jackson's exposed breast during a half-time show performance spilled over to a critique of edgy ads throughout the game.

Brewer Anheuser-Busch, the biggest and most popular Super Bowl advertiser for years, toned down the humor after criticism for juvenile gags last year. But it won crowd-pleasing points for a patriotic spot showing ordinary Americans applauding soldiers returning from duty in Iraq.

"Budweiser did best with the patriotic sentimentality," said DiMassimo. "In theory, I don't like the idea but it was well done and somehow rang true."

In a bitter note, Anheuser-Busch's debut of its new Budweiser Select brew was upstaged by an ad knocking its taste from rival Miller Lite, apparently aired on local broadcasts.

Beverage maker PepsiCo may generate coveted morning-after buzz among consumers with a Diet Pepsi spot showing Carson Kressley from popular makeover show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" eyeing a well-built male model, and a celebrity wannabe ad with hip-hop mogul Sean "P.Diddy" Combs.

Viewers were relatively silent on a McDonald's spot telling the story of a couple who find fame after discovering a french fry resembling Abraham Lincoln.

"McDonald's is probably one of the biggest misses," said Pete Snyder, CEO of New Media Strategies which monitored Internet blogs and viewer traffic to Super Bowl ad sites. "Often the test is not only what people are saying, but when they're not talking about it at all."

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