Coffee House

The Super Bowl ads weren’t that super

2 February 2009

7:20 PM

2 February 2009

7:20 PM

I rather like baseball, but I must admit I find American Football incomprehensible and slightly absurd:  much of it seems to be a bad game of rugby played by motorcylists. Although, in its defence (pronounced dee-fence), the very best moments are spectacular.

This year I forced myself to watch Superbowl XLIII, preferring to view online via and not on the BBC in order to see the advertising. The Superbowl has over the years become a showcase for American advertising at its extravagant best – and the commercials now form part of the overall razzamatazz . A few—most famously the 1984 60-second spot for the launch of the Apple Macintosh, written by my New York colleague Steve Hayden—have entered advertising mythology.

These commercials are spectacularly expensive to make and to air.  Rather countercyclically, the cost of a 30-second spot has increased since 2008 and now stands at $3m. Extraordinary, until you remember there is really no other time in the year where you can reach an audience of almost a hundred million people simultaneously. The Apple launch commercial only aired once, and yet entered popular folklore – so a brilliant and memorable Superbowl commercial can pay off quite well.


It must be said yesterday evening’s crop were a mild disappointment. Perhaps the most interesting idea of the evening was Denny’s offer of a free Grand Slam breakfast for everyone in America this Tuesday (although the ads which launched this idea were quite fun too). There was the usual mischief from Doritos and, plus rather a lot of commercials featuring animals and occasionally the kind of blue-collar sexist smut we simply don’t get in the UK any more.

But my dim view seemed to be shared by everyone else watching. And I could tell this because the event – and the commercials – were very widely Twittered.

Twitter, which I have written about before, is wonderful for providing a live popular commentary on events. The protocol which makes this possible is called the hashtag – any Twitter post (a tweet) relating to an event is simply accompanied by, say, #superbowl or #superads09. (You can see a discussion of this here)  Using a site such as you can simply add the hashtag as a search-term and watch the comments flow in real time. It’s a fabulously instantaneous form of feedback, and helps you see within seconds what is capturing the imagination. Watching the inauguration simultaneously on Twitterfall and television, it was obvious within seconds that the high point of the morning was not Obama’s speech but Aretha’s hat.

PS You can see all the ads here.

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Show comments
  • blaiq

    Contrary to popular myth, the Apple 1984 commercial did run more than once. See point 20 in post below:

  • Hysteria

    Verity – not completely original – based this on something I heard a while ago – a better phrasing would be “high speed violent chess” – or maybe “Chess with GBH” !!!

  • Wilhelm

    Its very interesting to see the cutural differences of other countries adverts. Americans like the hard sell but it sometimes it feels as if you are being hit over the head with a baseball bat while the English dont like being sold things, so the adverts are more subtle

  • Matt

    The land that gave us cricket complains that American football is too complicated?

  • Verity

    Hysteria – what a wonderful phrase and line of thought: “it is essentially high speed chess with violence.”

    What a great description! I hope it’s your own …

  • Hysteria

    American football is SOOooo much better than Baseball – it is essentially high speed chess with violence – it’s worth the effort to get into, and yes you have to get over the stoppages and time-outs.

    Super Bowl XLIII was a great game – the right team won in the end…..

    Oh – the ads? they were ok – but then many of the ads here are way better than in the UK (some are c**p too!)

  • David

    The movie teasers tend to be a lot better than the product trailers, though.