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Maybe it's just the 50 something me, but the Super Bowl commercials are no longer super

February 04, 2013

When the king of watery, working class beer tries to go upscale, and the only pickup truck ad features a schmaltzy Paul Harvey voiceover about the tribulations of farming (tribulations that for the most part haven’t existed since 1948), it is safe to declare that the Golden Age of Super Bowl advertising is dead.

From here on out, anyone who “watches the Super Bowl for the commercials” might as well be watching it to see the guys who show up to paint yardlines on the field.

GoDaddy, its ads facilitated by a humorless Danica Patrick, has apparently shown us all the skin the FCC will allow, so it now feels compelled to descend into gross-out territory. What’s going to be their take next year, a supermodel eating fistfuls of stink bugs? Or maybe she’ll make out with the E-trade baby, who, after being in a hot tub with a panda, is clearly in need of new horizons.

But as bad an evening as it was for tech, it was worse for the automotive industry. For six weeks, Mercedes has been teasing us about the release of some amazing new automobile to be unveiled in the fourth quarter of the world’s biggest sporting event. And, come to find out, this brilliant new take on the automobile is a Mercedes that pretty much looks like all the other Mercedes, only smaller. I’m sure it’s a great car. But if you’re going to spend so much time building up anticipation, it would be helpful if it would fly.

Lincoln, on the other hand, went for the hackneyed road-trip route, with increasingly implausible stops along the way — and no one knows how this tiresome road trip turned out, because about the time the spaceships came along, all the viewers probably had decided to go to the kitchen for another sandwich.

I do, however, acknowledge the possibility, that this is a “me” problem, not a commercial problem. Maybe this is how 50-somethings viewed, say, the Budweiser frogs back in the day: “Talking frogs, that’s the most ridiculous commercial since the people who got black eyes in the ‘Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch’ cigarette campaign of ’63. Conswarn it.”

I know there’s a lot of context here that I just don’t get because I’m basically illiterate on the whole “Access Hollywood” front. I mean, who knows? Maybe a woman choosing an astronaut over a lifeguard is the most mind-blowingly hilarious thing in the world due to pop-culture reasons that I’m unaware of. But it makes sense to me. A hundred and fifty grand a year versus $5.75 an hour. If I were a babe, I know which pony I’d bet on.

And yes, maybe that Korean dance is better than it looks. And maybe there’s some fresh take on being stuck to the ceiling with duct tape that is different than it was 20 years ago.

But I still go back to the days when Super Bowl ads were funny. And today’s ad writers might be instructed that weird is no substitute for humor. Nor is length. I know there must have been a point to all those exploding soda bottles, but the piece went on for so long that my mind began to wander and to this hour I have no idea what the ad was for.

Looking back, Super Bowl ads jumped the shark with the kid in the Darth Vader suit using the force to start the Volkswagen. It’s been pretty much downhill since then.

No talking frogs. No chimps in suits. No Michael Jordan and Larry Bird shooting it out for a Big Mac. Even the Budweiser Clydesdales have gotten all preachy on us. What was wrong with a horse kicking an extra point? That was money.

Maybe it’s all emblematic of our increasingly monodimensional society, where coincidence passes for irony, surliness for satire and discomfort for cleverness.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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