My All-Time Fave Super Bowl Commercials

I’ve just spent a good bit of time on a site that has pretty much every Super Bowl spot that’s ever aired. I concentrated on just the last ten years of spots; looked at ‘em all, one after another kinda like they do in award shows. After awhile all this watching created a new kind of clutter, “Super Bowl Clutter” if you will. But a few spots still stood out. I’ve listed 11 of them below, countin’ backwards from 2010. Not every year had one of my faves and a couple of years, like 2000, had a buncha great spots. For what it’s worth, here’s my list and a word or two about why.

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2010 Google’s “Parisian Love” – First of all, I like how inexpensive it is. Just being inexpensive is one way to stand out out in the Super Bowl clutter. Being simple helps too. I love how they didn’t try to be funny. Everybody tries to be funny. This spot has real emotion to it. This a great brand spot but it’s also a great product demonstration. Lastly, I loved hearing the spot was created by a few interns at Google.

2009 Miller High Life’s One-Second spot – What a cool way to leverage the huge audience without paying for a full :30. I guess you call it an :01. Most of the marketing was done before this spot ran on the Super Bowl – in PR and online. What’s more, the spot itself (as well as all the other marketing they did around this unique media buy) it all stayed true to the Miller High Life message of “Don’t spend money on any high-falutin’ expensive bullshit.”

2008 Tide To Go – OMG, for sheer laugh-out-loud power, this spot just killed me and killed pretty much all other spots in the 2008 Super Bowl (except the next one on this list). And imagine, it was done for TIDE! Whoodathunk? Again, I like how low-key and inexpensive it is. That, and how damn funny it is.

2008 CocaCola – While the Tide-To-Go spot was the funniest spot that year, this Coke spot also killed. And it did it with emotion, not humor. And I’m not even sure which emotion. Was it … nostalgia? I’m not exactly sure, but damn this spot from Weiden + Kennedy kicked ass. I hope they keep running it during the holidays forEVer.

2005 Budweiser – In this spot, some soldiers arrive at an airport (presumably going to or coming back from the Middle East) and all the travelers in the airport honor them with a long round of appreciative applause. The whole scene has diddly-squat to do with beer but nobody cared because it was so cool. (NOTE: “Best Commercial Ever” title above video not mine.)

2004 Fed Ex – Over the years, Fed Ex has been a regular contributor of some great Super Bowl spots, but in 2004 they did my favorite. I can only imagine what the pitch sounded like …  “Okay, so in this spot an alien (‘disguised’ as a human by a stupid paper face-mask) anyway, the alien, he’s landed a job at some corporate mail room, and these two guys are trying to expose him, but because the alien knows to say, ‘Why don’t we use Fed Ex?’, he both impresses and fools the boss and the kicker is it’s the guys who get in trouble.” Damn, wish I coulda been in that room. (And that last “I’ll be watching you” gesture? Kills me.)

2003 Bud’s Clydesdales – Yes, these spots are good, they’re iconic, but overall I’m still not crazy for most of the Clydesdale commercials. But this one, running as it did on the Super Bowl, man I thought it rocked. I love how the story starts off with the image of the Clydesdales’ feet on tape; being played, rewound, played, rewound. Camera pulls back and it all makes sense. So nice.

BBDO may have the most Super Bowl buys and lots of great work, but pound for pound, Goodby Silverstein & Partners is the best agency on the Big Game. They’ve had great stuff for Doritos, for Emerald Nuts, the Bud lizards, but this spot for eTrade…”He’s got money coming out of the wazoo”…Man oh man, Goodby, I bow to thee, I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy … (VO FADES)

2000’s EDS’s Cat Herders – My buddy Dean Hanson did this one when he was at Fallon. (I think Greg Hahn was the writer.) Not only is the spot funny, its big production values actually add to the humor. (Usually people overspend trying to buy their way to a funny spot, and it doesn’t work.) Also noteworthy is how they succeeded in describing a complicated service like EDS.

2000 eTrade – Two doofuses and a monkey in a garage do stupid things for 25 seconds and then the super comes up: “We just wasted 2 million bucks. What are you doing with your money?” Yet another monstrously great spot from Goodby, and one that could make sense only on the Super Bowl.

Apple 2001 – Remember how everyone was worried about “Y2K” and how the world would grind to stop because of a computer glitch? Apple wasn’t worried. This is probably my favorite spot on this list. It was timely; the year is 2001 and they’re  leveraging a popular and relevant image from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its extremely low production values, its simplicity, its newsy and relevant message all made for a spot that just blew away the Super Bowl Clutter around it.

Creative Makes Fun of Boss, Gets Better Parking Space.

This is Colin Gray. He’s a very good copywriter and we’re glad to have him at GSD&M. But he is also the dickweed who made fun of me on Halloween by dressing up as me. Perhaps you remember this story from my Halloween posting.

Aaaanyway, not only did he do mean things and hurt my feelings by “dressing up as me” (see below) he actually won the agency costume party. (Much to the distress of the H.R. department, whom I told to quit worrying so much and they did.)

THE POINT OF IT ALL IS THIS: Being mean and making fun of your boss is apparently a good thing because the first prize in the contest was the best parking spot in the whole garage, which Colin won.

It’s wrong, is all I’m sayin’. Just sayin’.

Okay, So These Two Creatives Walk Into A Client’s Meeting Room…

Last week I posted an old video of myself doing stand-up comedy back in 1981. As I said then, my brief foray into the world of stand-up was one of the best things I did to accelerate my career in advertising. (This, in spite of that final horrible night, one drenched in such incredible flopsweat it came to be known as “The Incident at Dudley Riggs.”)

To this day, it amazes me how many similarities there are between doing stand-up and pitching an advertising idea. The most essential similarity is that you’re both selling something, usually something strange and new and intangible. The comedian sells it when she makes her audience laugh. You’ve sold it when your audience says, “Yes.” I’ve been thinking more about it and here are a few other similarities between the two skills and how studying one can help you learn the other.

1.) First off, you gotta be likeable. Doesn’t mean you can’t be nervous. Nervous and likable are fine. (And more about nervousness in a sec.) You simply need to part those curtains, come out and say just enough to make your audience think, “Well, he seems nice.”

2.) Start strong. Like a good movie, rock song, book, or radio spot, there’s nothing like a strong opening to get your audience to lean forward a little. You don’t need to open like the Beijing Olympics. You simply need to say something bold and simple; something cool that makes it clear you have something interesting to say and that your gig is worth stickin’ around for. It can be a joke, an insight, a challenge, something you draw on the board – doesn’t matter. Just start with something clear, bold, and strong.

3.) Okay, you’ve opened with something interesting. Now you have to stay interesting. In fact, you need to say something interesting about every 20 seconds or so. Even if you’re building to a great concept, even if it takes a minute to build your story, you still need to be interesting all along the way. Audiences simply don’t allow speakers or comedians to take forever to get to a punch line. Around my agency, when a concept wasn’t worth the build, we say, “Well, that was a long walk for a ham sandwich.” What this requires of you is to write it out. Write a script that is interesting every 20 seconds or so, then rehearse it, and get it down pat. There is no winging-it in comedy. (The good comics who do riff, usually riff off of a proven bit – kinda like jazz, variations on a theme – and then they swing back around to the set they planned.)

4.) Oh, and about that nervousness? One of the things I learned from time onstage and in the ad business is this simple, calming truth:  your audience wants you to succeed. Regardless of what your nerves are telling you, remember that your audience wants to laugh; they want to have fun. They actually are on your side. (Well, with the exception the dickweeds who’ve had too much to drink and want to impress their friends by being stupid out loud.) Remember this as you begin your career of presenting concepts. Your clients have set aside time for your presentation. They’ve shown the hell up. Also, they need good work to show to their bosses; they really do want to like your show. Knowing this may help settle the butterflies and improve your confidence.

These are just four similarities between stand-up and presenting concepts. There are many. I’ve found that advice for one skill seems to work as advice for the other. In fact, this article I found online seems to bear this out: Why We Stop Laughing: Advice For Stand-up Comedians.

Let’s close today with a look at Patton Oswalt; my favorite comedian, hands down.

He has three albums available on iTunes and I recommend them all. I love Patton. And when he performs in Austin this Saturday, I’ll be in the audience lip-synching along with every bit. In fact, I’ve listened to him so many times I have his routines memorized. I encourage you to study the stand-ups you admire; not just listen and laugh along, but study them critically.

Check out this marvelous bit Patton does about commercials for Black Angus steak houses. As you do, listen how Patton develops the story. Notice how naturally he recreates a conversation between waiter and customer, switching back and forth and bringing you along with him. (Something you’ll need to do when you present dialog.) Watch how the bit builds. And notice too that, like good advertising, the whole thing is based on truth.

On truth.

What I Learned About Presenting from Doing Stand-Up.

Back in 1981 and ‘82, I had a short career in doing stand-up. My days on stage started off pretty well but ended in disaster, in a blizzard that happened on Christmas Day.

Doing stand-up was actually one of the best things I ever did for my advertising career. In fact, I understand Miami Ad School now makes stand-up part of the training; a very cool idea, but we’ll discuss the ad stuff in the next posting. For today, let’s just get to the disaster. Or as it came to be known, “The Incident At Dudley Riggs.”

I was a junior copywriter at the time, recently hired by Tom McElligott and Ron Anderson at Bozell & Jacobs’ Minneapolis office. Stand-up exploded in the ‘80s and every exposed brick wall in America suddenly had a comic in front of it.

I was amazed by the insanity of people like Sam Kenison, Andy Kaufman, and Steven Wright. And so fools (like me) rushed in. Over 6 months on various stages around Minneapolis, I honed my act, and while I was never a headliner, my 5 minutes of open mike grew to about 20 as an opener.

Of my 20 minutes of material, most of it of was prop-based and more like the horrible Carrot Top than the cerebral comics I admired. But what it lacked in highbrow it made up for in shock – particularly the last part of my act where I showed audiences how to make a rat sandwich using a real rat.*

With some trepidation, I include here the video of my third time on stage and as you watch, please be kind. Remember I was young, stupid, clueless and brave.

Now to the disaster.

Christmas Day, 1982. There’s a blizzard in Minneapolis and nobody’s going anywhere. I get a call from the guy at the city’s premiere club, Dudley Riggs. He says the headliner blew them off and can I fill in?

I said sure, I’ll headline. But here’s where I screwed up.

My vast 6 months of experience on stage had in fact grown my confidence considerably. But unchecked, confidence can become arrogance. I began to think I was naturally funny and that pretty much anything I said or did would make people laugh. So I threw out all my tested material (such as the Rat Sandwich) and on my knee in the cab, wrote a bunch of “shocking” Jesus and Christmas bits and walked into Dudley Riggs. (“Eww look at ‘im, he’s so edgy.”)

The fact that all 400 seats were filled on Christmas day, that wasn’t what was weird. It was that they were all FARMERS. Pretty much every single person in the audience seemed to be wearing Osh Gosh overalls, was over 60, and I may have even seen a few Amish hats. To this day, no one can explain why 400 farmers came out through a Minnesota blizzard to see comedy …  on Christmas-fucking-Day. But there they were.

Here is where we cut to me on stage. Here is where we cringe as we listen to every single one of my “shocking” Jesus jokes and anti-religious zingers die a death so horrible I should’ve made the cover of Flop Sweat magazine.

From my last time on stage, the only laughter I remember was from the two other comics behind the curtain, laughing their asses off as I augered in.

In our next posting, we’ll try to learn from my mistakes and talk about some presentation do’s and don’ts.

Today’s lesson: KNOW your material. And KNOW your audience.

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*PETA enthusiasts please note that the rat was a beloved pet of mine. He seemed temperamentally suited for the stage and lived like a king. He got a wash and dry after every set. Another time, remind me to tell you what it feels like to be caught blow-drying a rat in a public restroom.