Sunday's best Super Bowl commercial wasn't, in the strictest sense of the word, a commercial at all but a promo for CBS, which broadcast the game.
It was a brief spot for The Late Show With David Letterman in which Letterman, looking crankier than usual, takes a bite of a chip and mutters, "This is the worst Super Bowl party ever." The camera pulls back to reveal that Letterman is sitting next to Oprah Winfrey, a frequent target of his barbs. "Be nice, Dave." Winfrey says, and then the camera pulls back more to reveal Jay Leno, whom Letterman has enjoyed dumping on for years, but especially recently, in light of NBC's late-night chaos. "He's just saying that because I'm here," Leno says resignedly.
That NBC's Leno, or at least a very convincing version of him, would appear on a rival show's spot indicates that there's some evil and very persuasive genius working at CBS' promotions department. The network came up with the funniest spot on a night when the actual commercials -- the ones that cost advertisers a reported $2.5 million to $3 million for 30 seconds of air time -- were overall a disappointment.
Most of the ads don't seem likely to generate much water-cooler talk today. Exceptions could include the Kia Sorrento ad in which some retro toys in the back seat fantasize that they're out for a night in Vegas; Boost Mobile's "Shuffle" ad, a takeoff on the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl Shuffle that proves that former Bears QB Jim McMahon is still a lousy rapper; and an elaborate Coca-Cola ad featuring the entire cast of The Simpsons.
Focus on the Family's anti-abortion ad featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mom, Pam, generated water-cooler chat before it aired. And the group's ad that ran during the game wasn't strident, unless you count the part where Tebow tackled his mom.
There was almost as much tackling and hitting going on in the commercials as in the game. For example, apparently, the love of Doritos inspires psychopathic behavior. In one ad, a dog strips itself of its bark collar and straps it on a teasing Doritos eater, who goes into such seizures that PETA might want to investigate that collar. In another Doritos ad, a little boy slaps his mother's date when the poor guy dares to sneak a chip. The guy who fakes his death so he can live in a coffin filled with Doritos for a week seemed obsessive, but he didn't physically hurt anyone.
We also saw Betty White and Abe Vigoda get decked during a football game in a Snickers ad (message: Eating the right candy bar can help you play ball like you're not an octogenarian actor). VW's "Punch Dub" ad ("every time you see a VW drive by, you punch a friend," according to the Web site) was more playful and had the humorous kicker of Tracy Morgan getting punched by Stevie Wonder, who is better at spotting VWs than Morgan is.
Man up! Do a lot of emasculated men watch the Super Bowl? That's the idea you might get from ads such as the one for FloTV, in which CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz narrates the tale of a poor guy whose "girlfriend has removed his spine" (you know they wanted to mention another body part) and makes him skip the game so he can go shopping with her. Solution: Take a FloTV with you! It's portable! And its name sounds so masculine!
Nice guys also took hits in a Dodge Charger ad, where the reward for doing such things as listening and showing up on time is getting to drive a Charger very fast. Even the E-Trade baby took some guff because he forgot to call a female baby; he was managing his portfolio and hanging out with a "milkaholic." At least Bud Light's several ads, in which the top priority in young men's lives is drinking light beer, had a good-natured party atmosphere that invited women along.
What are you wearing under there? Was it a coincidence that back-to-back ads featured people in their underwear? CareerBuilder. com's amusing casual Friday ad, which was one of the night's better efforts, showed a guy accidentally landing at a company where casual Friday means no pants. It was followed by a Dockers ad featuring several men singing, "I wear no pants!" The tagline: "Calling all men -- it's time to wear the pants."