- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

The Super Bowl commercial breaks are sometimes more memorable than the game, not to forget the entertaining impression of a quarterback rendered by Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian.

Super Bowl Sunday is a celebration of America’s conspicuous material consumption and need to whoop it up. It is a secular holiday teeming with booze, chips, peanuts and the occasional wardrobe malfunction. It also is the one day of the year that advertisers can be reasonably assured that their message will not be lost to a viewer’s remote control.

Advertisers put their money behind the message. The average cost of a 30-second spot in Super Bowl XLIII is $3 million, up from $2.7 million last year, according to the Pavone consulting firm at www.spotbowl.com.

The Steelers vs. the Cardinals? Try Audi vs. Hyundai. And no wonder. Advertising Age claims that 50 percent of the viewers turn to the Super Bowl to watch the commercials, a finding that possibly would be challenged by the NFL brass.

H&R; Block could generate favorable buzz with its ad featuring 87-year-old Abe Vigoda, the glum-faced actor who has been declared dead a number of times in the media and apparently has a sense of humor about it.

H&R; Block’s theme: “Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes.”

H&R; Block could have added: “… except death and taxes and the Super Bowl’s increasing ad rates.”

Advertisers have shown they are impervious to Super Bowl sticker shock. A 30-second Super Bowl ad cost a mere $600,000 in 1987 and $1.2 million 10 years later. The high cost encourages advertisers to be creative with their pitches. Or fall on their face trying to connect with the 100 million or so viewers worldwide.

That possibly was the case with Nuveen, an investment company whose off-putting ad in 2000 showed a digitally altered Christopher Reeve walking to present an award on advances in medical research.

Advertisers often feel compelled to take risks because of all the attention devoted to Super Bowl commercials. Those risks sometimes end up trivializing a product or, worse, result in controversy.

The painful Bud Bowl series eventually was axed but not before the talking cans became fingernails on a chalkboard, grating on the ear. Sometimes an ad is so good, almost artsy, that the product becomes lost in the pitch. Yet advertisers will be trying anew to find a place in America’s head this Sunday, the potential pitfalls be darned.

Coca-Cola has enlisted the support of Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu in an attempt to channel its famous Mean Joe Greene ad. Greene tossed his jersey to a kid in exchange for a Coke, and a nation choked up, while Polamalu will demonstrate his tackling prowess.

Anheuser-Busch can be counted on to employ its ubiquitous Clydesdale horses, with one ad showing a Clydesdale falling in love with a circus horse.

Most of the ads, however well-done, won’t endure as American classics. That appellation is reserved for a precious few.

“Off the floor, off the scoreboard, off the backboard, no rim,” Larry Bird says in his nothing-but-net duel with Michael Jordan in a clever McDonald’s ad that aired during Super Bowl XXVII.

That ad still resonates 16 years later and not merely because Bird and Jordan represented the best of the NBA. It worked because of Jordan’s winning smile and Bird’s small-town persona.

Americans embraced the Budweiser frogs in 1995, when the creatures are shown croaking in a swamp until the croaks start to sound vaguely familiar.

Who knows what set the ad-induced drama into motion? Perhaps the seeds were planted with the Joe Namath-Farrah Fawcett Noxzema ad in 1973. Whatever the mechanism, as the Super Bowl has come to symbolize American excess, advertisers see the beauty of it, the synergy and perfection.

Let the commercial-spot showdown begin.

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