NEW YORK – Cartoonish violence ruled the day at the annual knockdown competition among advertisers Sunday, as Bud Light, Diet Pepsi, Michelob and Sprint all used physical gags to hawk their wares at the Super Bowl, the most-watched television broadcast of the year.
Borrowing inspiration from Buster Keaton, advertisers used mauling bears, flying dinosaurs and even action movie star Jackie Chan to wow viewers with sight gags.
Others went against the grain, such as soap brand Dove, which sent a tender message about self-esteem among teenage girls, and Toyota, which celebrated a bilingual father and son who switch easily between Spanish and English.
In a spot that was reminiscent of the classic short film "Bambi Meets Godzilla," a hapless caveman is squished under the foot of a giant dinosaur, a final insult after being fired for not using FedEx to deliver an important parcel. Never mind that FedEx hasn't been invented yet.
Amber Bock, a brand of Michelob, harkened back to a classic Super Bowl spot featuring Terry Tate as an "office linebacker." A game of touch football goes awry when a petite female player is floored by a vicious tackle, but she gets her due later in a bar with a decidedly late hit.
Bruce Vanden Bergh, professor of advertising at Michigan State University, spent Super Bowl Sunday with more than a dozen other faculty watching and rating the commercials while ignoring the football part of the broadcast entirely. One of the standouts for his group was the FedEx spot featuring the caveman, which they found "very creative, and very original."
Bud Light, one of the biggest heavyweights of the Super Bowl every year, had an interesting multi-part ad featuring a guy who cleverly disguises his fridge stocked with beer from his thirsty friends with a secret revolving door that places the fridge in his neighbors' apartment. Hilarity ensues when the neighboring kids start worshipping the "magic fridge."
Diet Pepsi got into the act as well with a stunt movie gag starring Jackie Chan and a can of Diet Pepsi. Everything seems to be going fine with the movie shoot until Diet Pepsi's stunt double, a hapless can of rival Diet Coke, is squashed.
Sprint, meanwhile, scored laughs with a goofy spot featuring a guy in a locker room who touts the "crime deterrent" ability of his mobile phone — by hurling straight at the head of another guy after tempting him to try to steal his wallet.
A spot for Dove soap also resonated with viewers, sending a serious message about improving self-esteem among teenage girls — not the usual Super Bowl fare.
That spot was a favorite among a group of 35 business students at the Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill. Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at the school who organized the panel to rate and discuss the ads, said his group found the Dove ad the "most distinctive" of the ones they saw.
"It was unusual, but one that really resonated," Calkins said. "This was a message that was very serious, but it really worked with the panel."