Spartan Super Bowl Ads Reflect Barebones Times

A Big Apple Super Bowl didn’t make for a big-budget Super Bowl for Madison Avenue.

Gone were the Pets.com sock puppet, Paul Harvey’s “So God made a farmer,” and other memorable spots. In their place were a bare-bones collection of commercials reflecting the cash-strapped times. Who has time for production costs when a 30-second commercial costs $4 million?

The most glaring example of this cheapskate approach was T-Mobile’s advertisement. No, not the one in the first half in which Tim Tebow, like so many Americans out of a job in his field, sacks Big Foot and hikes a baby into the world. That spot fit into the broader context of super-expensive Super Bowl adverts throughout the years. In the second half, the cellular phone company unleashed a no-frills commercial of simple white text set on a pink background. The company promised to buy out the phone contracts of consumers unhappy with their deals. “Maybe next year we’ll do an ad with overpaid movie stars,” the spartan spot concluded. “Enjoy the game.”

Esurance boasted that they saved $1.5 million by taking out the first ad after the game. They promised to pass on that discount to a lucky fan. Just as many viewers can relate to their thrift, many more could use the dough. As in the T Mobile pitch, Esurance captured eyes by offering a financial reward.

Bob Dylan is the last person anyone thought would appear in a Super Bowl commercial. But times are tough, and he’s got bills, too. “Let Germany brew make your beer. Let Switzerland build your watch,” the singer-songwriter advised in a jarring Chrysler commercial. “We will build your car.” The ad recalled the powerful Clint Eastwood Chrysler commercial two Super Bowls back. Dylan’s iconic image and seldom-heard speaking voice appeared in the car ad. His song “I Want You” could be heard in a Chobani ad.

Whatever will the folks on 4th Street think?

U2’s first quarter commercial provided charity to viewers and a chance for viewers to provide charity to the needy. The commercial, featuring a boss new song, promised that Bank of America would donate $1 to the AIDS in Africa charity Red for every free download of the new song “Invisible.” Like the 2013 Taco Bell ad featuring fun.’s “We Are Young,” U2 hope that their sales benefit from product placement in an ad for…Red? Bank of America? U2? Who knows?

Thirty years ago, Apple made Super Bowl viewers think with its dystopic 1984-style ad and Wendy’s made them laugh with its classic “Where’s the Beef?” commercial. So, it’s appropriate that on the pearl anniversary of advertising’s favorite Super Bowl, the night’s best commercial paid homage to the 1980s. The over-the-top approach of Radio Shack’s spot featuring Hulk Hogan, Mary Lou Retton, Dee Snyder, and other familiar faces from the Reagan decade contrasted sharply with the game’s other commercials, which reflected a frugality rarely seen on the biggest day of the year for television marketers.

 


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