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Super Bowl Ads: Betty White, Bud Light, Big Laughs

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SeattleTimes: Humor appeared to be the big winner in the other big competition on Super Bowl Sunday -- best advertising during the football-championship broadcast watched by more than 90 million people.

Even the long-awaited Super Bowl ad from conservative group Focus on the Family came with a punch line Sunday during the CBS broadcast.

The 30-second "Celebrate family, celebrate life" ad starring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow ended with a surprise -- the University of Florida quarterback tackling his mother after they talk about her difficult pregnancy with him. In the ad, intended to convey an anti-abortion message, the two joke that they have to be "tough" with all the family has been through.

Charles Taylor, a Villanova University marketing professor, said the lighthearted tone is working this year because the ads still tell people what the brands stand for. That marks a turn from last year, when some ads took a more somber tone amid the still-deepening recession.

Not every commercial was strictly humorous. Automaker Toyota aired several pregame ads to reassure owners after its recalls connected with accelerator problems.

Taylor said he had been disappointed in at least the past five Super Bowls in terms of the effectiveness of ads in connecting with products, but he's pleased this year. Advertisers pay dearly for airtime -- anywhere from $2.5 million to more than $3 million per 30 seconds -- and marketers say ads work best when people's perceptions of brands are reinforced or they learn about the products, rather than being merely entertained.

He cited a commercial by tire maker Bridgestone featuring men carrying a whale in the back of their truck in a reference to the bachelor-party caper movie "The Hangover," and another by Dove launching its new men's skin-care line. They were winners, he said, because they manage to entertain while telling people about the brands. The ad for Dove, owned by Unilever, tells the story of a boy growing into a man and telling of signal events in a man's life.

"So far from what I've seen I'm quite positively impressed, more than I thought I would be," Taylor said.

A first Super Bowl ad by Google -- which rarely does television advertising -- told an affecting story of a budding relationship through a series of Google searches, beginning with "study abroad" and "how to impress a French woman" and ending with "churches in Paris" and "how to assemble a crib."

Viewers probably were rubbing their eyes over a TV spot pairing CBS late-night host David Letterman with longtime NBC rival Jay Leno, plus Oprah Winfrey.

The promotion for CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" was memorable because its punch line was spoken by Leno, who returns next month to "The Tonight Show" as Letterman's rival.

Letterman, sitting on a couch with Winfrey, says, "This is the worst Super Bowl party ever."

Leno replies that Dave's "just saying that because I'm here."

The spot was taped secretly last week at New York's Ed Sullivan Theatre, home of Letterman's "Late Show."

In an ad for Snickers candy bars, 88-year-old actress Betty White stars as a touch-football player having a sluggish game. After arguing with her teammates and delivering an insult about one guy's girlfriends, White is revived by a Snickers bar, before the announcer says, "You're not you when you're hungry." The ad ends with another famous octogenarian, Abe Vigoda, having a rough go in the same game.

White and Vigoda were only two of the many celebrities who made memorable appearances in big-budget ads.

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo, who first appeared together in 1983 as the hapless travelers Clark and Ellen Griswold in the movie "National Lampoon's Vacation," re-created their roles for a spot for HomeAway, a service for renting vacation homes.

There were enough vintage athletes to fill a locker room -- or a trainer's room. They included Lance Armstrong, for Michelob Ultra; Charles Barkley, for Taco Bell; and Brett Favre referencing his postseason on-again, off-again retirement dramas for Hyundai.

Other sponsors revived several other overused Super Bowl ad tactics aimed at younger viewers.

Doritos, KGB and Motorola, among others, tried slapstick violence. And women were objectified by the likes of Bridgestone, Bud Light, GoDaddy, Motorola and Vizio.

Critters were plot devices in spots from Bridgestone,, Coca-Cola, Denny's, Doritos, American Honda Motor, and the TruTV cable channel, formerly Court TV. And the sight gags included men without pants, for Dockers; a depressed robot, for Intel; and people behaving like dolphins, for Diamond Foods.

Bud Light kept the night light with commercials featuring everything from a bridge made of people to a group of scientists partying before the world comes to an end. The brewer even managed to squeeze in a "Lost" parody and a very funny T-Pain Auto-Tune spot.

Executives at Anheuser-Busch InBev changed their minds about leaving the venerable Budweiser Clydesdales out of the game and scheduled a schmaltzy spot about a horse and its pasture-mate, a bull.

Screaming chickens were annoying, but the ad featuring them makes it difficult for viewers to ignore that Denny's is bringing back its popular Grand Slam breakfast giveaways.

An ad by Kia for its Sorento SUV will be remembered for its uniqueness -- it tells of a whimsical joy ride taken by children's toys -- but people likely won't remember the brand behind the ad, said Laura Ries, president of marketing consulting firm Ries & Ries outside Atlanta. She said she was underwhelmed by this year's slate.

Cartoons came through again for Coke. In 2008, a spot with Charlie Brown, Stewie of "Family Guy" and Underdog was a huge hit. Two years later, a commercial featured "The Simpsons."

The Tebow commercial sparked debate before it was even broadcast, and some groups called for CBS not to air it.

The ad is the first such advocacy ad to appear in television's most-watched broadcast, which draws about 100 million viewers. It aired early in the first quarter.

The commercial does not contain an overt anti-abortion message. Instead, it sends people to Focus on the Family's Web site, which tells more of the Tebows' story and offers a more straightforward message.

Tebow's parents were living in the Philippines as missionaries in 1987 when Pam Tebow contracted amoebic dysentery, then learned she was pregnant with Tim, her fifth child. Doctors told her that her placenta had detached from her uterine wall -- a condition known as placental abruption -- and recommended an abortion.

Complications from a placental abruption can include the death of the fetus, who is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, and the mother, who can bleed to death. But Tebow spent the last two months of her pregnancy on bed rest and gave birth to a healthy son.

The ad was "very gentle," which was surprising considering how much talk it generated before it even aired, said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He said the use of humor by the Colorado-based evangelical Christian organization helped make the ad more accessible -- and not off-putting to most people -- although the ad's message was hidden, which makes it less effective and confusing to people who weren't familiar with it.

Groups supporting legal abortion -- including NOW and NARAL Pro-Choice America -- condemned CBS for accepting the ad.

Some were still angry after the ad aired.

In a reference to Tebow's supposed tackle of his mother, NOW President Terry O'Neill said the ad glorified violence against women. "I am blown away at the celebration of the violence against women in it," she said.

Not all abortion-rights supporters agreed. "It's absurd to claim that this is an endorsement of violence against women," said Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice. "These people came across as affectionate, loving, funny and happy.

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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Rachel February 8, 2010, 7:07 AM

Yeah, I’d say NOW is grasping at straws with that one.

chris February 8, 2010, 7:41 AM

Oh, STFU NOW! no one cares about your stupid “blow away by the volience against women” stance. I thought the ad was sweet and funny certainly not worth the hype before the airing about the abortion right debate. Guess they have no problem with the sexualize of women (Go Daddy). I can’t stand the double standards that these good doers have. As far as Betty White, LOVE HER and my husband now wants me to buy him Dove for men so I guess that ad worked.

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