According to the calendar, it is 2013, but anyone who watched the commercials during Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday night might be excused for believing it was a year when Modern Family meant the Cleavers, the Bradys, the Huxtables or the Conners.
The commercials that CBS broadcast nationally during the game were, by and large, disappointing. They represented a missed opportunity for marketers and agencies to demonstrate that they had at least some understanding of how contemporary consumers think and behave.
Alas, the so-called creative minds of Madison Avenue chose once again to fall back on familiar strategies and themes that would have appealed more to viewers during the Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan or Clinton administrations.
There was a mother-in-law joke in a commercial for Century 21; a commercial for Audi that was set at a prom; a gag based on a young mans nervous uttering of the word panties in a commercial for Mennen Speed Stick; a commercial for Pepsi Next that brought to mind the 1983 movie Risky Business; a commercial for Volkswagen whose humor quotient depended on whether viewers find ethnic dialects funny; a commercial for Coca-Cola that mashed up classic films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Wild Bunch, Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; and a commercial that featured a chorus of leggy dancing girls dressed as Wonderful pistachios, echoing the 1950s commercials in which dancers were dressed as Old Gold cigarette packs.
The vintage vibe was underlined by a preoccupation with space. At least four commercials for Axe Apollo, E*Trade, the Kia Sorento and Lincoln included images of astronauts. It seemed as if at any moment there would be a spot for Tang.
There was also the usual overreliance on tried and true read: tired Super Bowl ad tactics. Anthropomorphic animals abounded in spots for brands like Cars.com, Doritos and Skechers, and slapstick violence, with men always the victims, in spots for brands like the Kia Forte.
Fortunately, all was not dross. There were some enjoyable and effective commercials mixed among the clunkers, particularly those that sought to be timely by including in their plots New Orleans, the site of Super Bowl XLVII, or references to the contenders, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
Here is a look at some of those outstanding spots.
BUD LIGHT Two compelling commercials for Bud Light, brewed by the Anheuser-Busch division of Anheuser-Busch InBev, featured Stevie Wonder as a mysterious purveyor of mojo for football fans in New Orleans. He was spooky enough to warrant a shout-out at his next concert, Do do that voodoo that you do so well. Agency: Translation.
BUDWEISER A spot for Budweiser beer, also from Anheuser-Busch, about a Clydesdale and a trainer, wore its heart on its sleeve, or its hoof. But the corn was sweet and tasty. Agency: Anomaly.
M&MS In a hilarious commercial for the M&Ms candy brand, sold by Mars, the character Red warbled Id Do Anything for Love (But I Wont Do That) to express his desire for a human woman, played by Naya Rivera of Glee. She reciprocated his ardor with a disturbing hunger for more than hugs. Agency: BBDO New York.
MERCEDES-BENZ The plot of a commercial for the new Mercedes-Benz CLA echoed everything from Faust to Damn Yankees. And a dream sequence echoed a 2012 Super Bowl spot for Kia.
Still, the commercial was infinitely better than an overheated teaser spot that promoted it. It also had a nice New Orleans atmosphere, Willem Dafoe as Lucifer, clever cameo appearances by Condé Nast magazines like GQ, and a punch line centered on a selling point, the cars sticker price. Agency: Merkley & Partners.
OREO A spot for Oreo, sold by Mondelez International, also stood out for its focus on a selling point, in this instance the longtime debate among brand fans over the best part: is it the cookie or the cream filling?
The most delicious moment came when a police officer trying to break up an Oreo fight in a library whispered through his bullhorn. The commercial ended with a 21st-century twist by asking viewers to choose your side on Instagram. Agency: Wieden & Kennedy.
TACO BELL O.K., a spot for the Taco Bell division of Yum Brands about elderly friends who escape a retirement home for the kind of night out their grandchildren would enjoy plays like a product-placement version of Cocoon crossed with the Kick the Can segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Yet there were some sharp sight gags, especially the glimpse at the end of a characters tattoo. And the Spanish-language version of the Fun. tune We Are Young that played on the soundtrack might make the song a hit all over again. Agency: Deutsch L.A.
TIDE A delightful commercial for Tide, sold by Procter & Gamble, told a fanciful tale of a miracle stain on a 49ers fans jersey that resembled the teams former star quarterback, Joe Montana. The sendup of media hype was knowing, and the surprising punch line was perfect. Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi.
TOYOTA A commercial for the Toyota RAV4, sold by Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., evoked the 60s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, with Kaley Cuoco stepping in for Barbara Eden. But the spot had its own charms, particularly how the wishes granted by the genie careered from charming to chaotic. Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles.