2:18 PM EST, February 7, 2012
To the showrooms, America! Automobile advertising dominated Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI, with everything from apocalypse-defying Chevy trucks to a vampire-killing Audi. Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood, Chrysler and General Electric pushed economic recovery and patriotism during the marketing 'n' football extravaganza, while Budweiser and the NFL delivered history lessons. Pop culture references fizzled (Ferris Bueller) and sparkled (Twinkies), while the E-Trade baby and Careerbuilder.com chimps did their usual crowd-pleasing things. Oh, and GoDaddy, once again, delivered its particular version of class.
Hail: Volkswagen Beetle Premise: Couch-bound pooch sees the new Beetle passing by but is too fat to chase. On treadmill and in pool and elswehere, with James Brown backing him, the dog does Jane Fonda proud, and eventually he breaks through, tearing off after that vehicle.
Why it works: It's not last year's pint-sized Darth Vader masterpiece, but it is a winner, showcasing the car, a cute dog -- and, in the surprise coda, more "Star Wars": Creatures at the cantina judging Super Bowl ads just like we do in our living rooms.
Hail: Chevy Sonic Premise: The cute little micro-car undertakes a series of stunts, from a barrel-roll jump to appearing in an OK Go music video. The kicker is seeing it float gently toward earth in a skydive.
Why it works: Last year saw a stink bomb of an ad for another small Chevy, the Cruze Eco's mockery of old folks. This year, with bold imagination and tight visual storytelling, it hits the aspirations of its target demographic perfectly -- and infuses the car with feisty personality.
Fail: Budlight Platinum Premise In two early-game spots, Bud Light tries to sell us its new, premium product, with 6 percent alcohol, a purportedly smoother taste, and a blue bottle that apparently glows like a UFO.
Why it doesn't work: This is beer, right? Yet it's being sold, as the product name implies, more like a credit card. We're all for Bud Light moving away from the broad, carnival-sideshow slapstick of years past. But ads so sterile hardly suggest a flavorful beer.
Fail: Cadillac XTS, GE turbines Premise: Cadillac tries to prove it's got a performance vehicle by taking us to a test track. GE features workers on its big turbines and draws the heretofore ignored turbine-cold beer connection.
Why they don't work: If all you've got is a generic ad, fine. Use it. Get your message across. But why bother showing it during the Super Bowl? The standard here -- not always met, admittedly -- is for something extra, funnier, more outrageous, more creative.
Fail: Chevy Camaro, Doritos Premise: In two spots created in open competitions, Doritos gives us a family dog that killed a cat and uses Doritos to buy its owner's silence, while Chevy shows a graduate mistaking a neighbor's new Camaro for his present.
Why they don't work: In recent years, the crowd-sourced spots have been getting better -- and a second such Doritos ad, with a baby in a bouncer stealing the snack chip, works much better. But these two just feel amateur, the dog spot with an unworkable concept, the Camaro with an over-the-top lead performance (think unrestrained Will Ferrell).
Hail: Clint Eastwood for Chrysler Premise: Following up Eminem's memorable pro-Detroit message last year, the carmaker recruits the Hollywood legend to deliver a halftime speech to America. "We find a way through tough times, and if we can't find a way, we'll make one," he says the Hollywood icon.
Why it works: Maybe it's too derivative of last year. Maybe it's politically naïve to suggest that the nation just needs better coaching. Maybe there's too much calculation in linking Chrysler purchases with patriotism. It still worked, though -- a surprising, stirring moment that asked us to think about bigger things.
Hail: Toyota Camry reinvention Premise: Toyota has remade its best-selling family sedan -- and other things, too, from babies to rain. The new wee ones don't poop, for instance, and the improved rain actually makes folks thinner.
Why it works: This is a standard genre, the trying-to-be-funny list. But this one is much sharper -- and with better-executed visuals -- than Jerry Seinfeld's attempt just afterward, for the Acura NSX.
Fail: Coca-Cola polar bears Premise: Over several spots, the cartoon critters watch a game, run around and share some Cokes -- sodas that, somehow, we are left to assume, will not explode when opened up.
Why it doesn't work: Coke surely has market research that shows these characters are beloved. But nothing they do during this Super Bowl is of any particular interest. Like Adriana Lima in the Teleflora ad, they're just there to be cute and cuddly on camera.
Hail: Dogs! Premise: Skechers put a little dog in running shoes. Bud Light gave us a rescue dog ("Weego") trained to serve beers, even rolling out a keg. Budweiser showed a Dalmatian. And, of course, VW had the self-motivated pooch in training.
Why they work: It is easy to win affection for man's best friend. But these spots in particular made doggedness work, and Bud Light even squeezed in an appeal for rescue dogs.
Hail: 'The Voice' promo with Betty White Premise: The music stars who judge NBC's singing competition -- which premiered this year post-Super Bowl -- play action heroes, tossing each other around a hotel lobby. And then America's favorite randy oldster, Betty White, shows up to offer more sauciness.
Why it works: This one is just pure fun, so much so that you wish the series it is pushing were a lot livelier.
Hail: 'Swamp People' promo Premise: In an ad for the new season of Cajun-themed reality series "Swamp People," the History channel uses clips from the show as metaphors for corporate life: "This is your 401(k)," or "your wing tips."
Why it works: Most TV promos just build on a sensational joke or dramatic scene. This one thinks more creatively and edits very well to paint a broader, more enticing picture of the series.
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