I'm not a sports fan, but for a long time I was in the habit of putting the Super Bowl on in the background while doing something else so that I could catch the commercials, which pretty much always ended up being more of a distraction than it was worth. Now thanks to the Internet, I don't have to bother getting distracted by the game; Spike's Commercial Bowl site had each ad up right after it aired, so I was able to see all of them by the end of the game. The excitement of Super Bowl ads has kind of died down for me, and it's a little weird to focus on commercials in an age when we zip past them on DVRs the rest of the time. But these ads are sort of a snapshot of how marketers view America, and some of them do end up becoming iconic.
This year there was a higher-than-average streak of misogyny and masculine insecurity running through the ads, even as we hear more and more about how many women watch football. It wasn't just the beer commercials, either. There is this Bud Light ad, which condescendingly dismisses both the idea of women having their own opinions and the value of reading. But there's also this Bridgestone ad that turns women into commodities on par with (and less valuable than) tires. Both the Dodge Charger ad and the Flo TV ad basically say that women are life-sucking shrews who force men to lose all their independence, and that relationships are horrible traps that can only be momentarily escaped by driving fast cars or watching football on tiny TVs. Even the ad for Dove beauty products has to go out of its way to prove its manliness before asserting that, hey, maybe guys want to be clean and fresh also.
There were the requisite GoDaddy ads, which aren't even titillating anymore. At least this Megan Fox-ploitation ad for Motorola has a sense of humor, complete with the implication that even gay dudes are hot for Megan Fox.
Politically, all eyes were on the Focus on the Family ad, but honestly if I hadn't read about it beforehand I would have had no idea the commercial had anything to do with abortion. I wonder more about this Audi ad featuring the "Green Police," which seems primed to be cited as a nightmare future by some conspiracy-theory nuts (and, honestly, is full of such fascistic overtones that it kind of makes me hate Audi and environmentalists, and I drive a Prius). Also, animal activists are probably going to go crazy over these Denny's ads showing chickens horrified over the volume of eggs needed to be produced for Denny's breakfasts; it's just one more step to "Yes, chickens deal with horrors every day in factory farms supported by companies like Denny's."
But which ones did I actually like? There's the much-cited Betty White/Abe Vigoda Snickers ad, which is funny and makes good use of two comedy institutions. There's this amusing Boost Mobile pastiche of the classic "Super Bowl Shuffle," complete with meticulous re-creation. There's the violin-playing beaver ad for Monster.com, which does have a gratuitous hot chick at the end but also is sweet and relevant to what it's advertising. There's the exuberant puppets-gone wild ad for Kia, with a nice little Vegas moment in it. There's the simple, sweet Google ad that manages a love story without misogyny. There's the baffling but somehow compelling Census ad with a bunch of familiar faces making no sense whatsoever. I like the animation in this Honda ad featuring a squirrel, even if I don't really know what it has to do with cars.
Perhaps the most eye-catching piece of all, though, was the brief ad for The Late Show with David Letterman, featuring Letterman, Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno together on a couch. After the bitterness of the recent late-night wars, it provided a perfect release and a chance to just laugh with these guys again. And it put Leno in the service of advertising his competition, which I certainly appreciate.