Games on a Plane

I watched Superbowl 42 on a flight back to Denver from a writing conference in New York City. Many people on the plane were coming from that same convention, so there were two main sets of passengers that night: rabid Giants fans (since we were coming from NYC), and poets, novelists, and writers of all forms who didn't much care about the game (mainly because we were from Colorado, not because we hate football—though I'm sure that applied to a decent number of people on the plane, too.)


It made for an interesting mix of reactions. When the Giants scored, one section would cheer. When the promo for the new Iron Man movie came on, I cheered alone. And when the satellite cable cut out for good with two minutes left in a close game, I'm sure there were a lot of people cheering—silently, to themselves—that the audible cheering would now stop.

All this is to say two things: one, that I watched the whole game (except for the last two minutes) in order to—as usual—see the commercials. And two, that if you have a choice, never watch the Superbowl on a plane. There are no buffalo wings. Beer is overpriced. And honestly, as happy as you might be that Tom Brady just got sacked two downs running, you're making the rest of the plane miserable.

But misery was going around this last Sunday, and not just for Pats fans. This had to have been the worst crop of Superbowl ads in a long time. There weren't really any standouts at all, except the amateur-created Doritos ad with the giant mouse that attacks the guy who leaves a small bit of chip on the mousetrap. (But seriously, who isn't a sucker for Rodents of Unusual Size?) Even the best ones were only moderately amusing, and Bud Light came out the best, in this: they had Will Ferrell, a couple of decent super-power jokes, and a Wine and Cheese bit that completely ripped off every husbands-versus-wives spot that's ever been broadcast. And that wasn't the end of the rip-offs: the Thriller lizards are no Budweiser frogs; the Clydesdale-thing is, at this point, parodying itself; and seriously, E-Trade, there's been a moratorium on the sardonic talking baby thing ever since Quiznos' Baby Bob got a short-lived sitcom.

What was more interesting about the 2008 crop of Superbowl ads was how many of them really and truly sucked. To (and I use this term loosely) wit:

-- GoDaddy's ad might have been successful (and it was—they had four times the online response to the single ad they ran this year versus the three they ran in 2007), but it was nothing more than prurient interest that caught people. FOX—always the bastion of good taste and family values—told them that they couldn’t say "beaver" on TV, which was pretty much the basis of their tired girls-exiting-cars-flashing-beavers joke. So they made another ad that told people where they could go see the "banned" commercial, and people did—but attention doesn't equal quality.

-- But Salesgenie's ad takes the prize for Biggest Waste of Cash this year, with their astoundingly bad spots. Crappy animation, something well short of actual humor, and cultural stereotypes don't add up to memorable. Not in a good way. Ling Ling's Bamboo Furniture, with pidgin-English panda bears? A middle-eastern Apu-ripoff with a huge family that he can't afford to feed? What about the Frito Bandito? How about hiring Ted Danson to do a bit in blackface? Wow.

Maybe there's some sort of cosmic inverse-relationship between how good the game is (because it was) and how bad the ads are (because they were). If you have one, you can't have the other. This makes sense. For every Eli Manning last-minute drive, there's a Salesgenie.com. I think Nostradomus said that.
-- Teague Bohlen


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