Commercials mimic life, bizarre and wholesome - Word&Way

Commercials mimic life, bizarre and wholesome

I watched the Super Bowl last weekend — off and on — with 110,999,999 other fans. I had no loyalty to either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Green Bay Packers. Inwardly, I guess I hoped the upstart — the Packers — would prevail. By a six-point margin, they finally did.

With apologies to bona fide Packer and Steeler fans, to me the game was no big deal.

Admittedly, I perked up when the commercials — at $3 million per 30-second spot — appeared on the screen. The Super Bowl with its record television audiences — this year the most ever at 111 million — has tended to showcase some of the highest quality, most-watched, most-remembered and quite often the most-expensive-to-produce commercials.

A beer-maker has done quite well through the years, as have the top two soft drink manufacturers. Commercials with animals and youngsters regularly score the highest marks. And all three of those companies have utilized both.

With a few exceptions, this year's crop of super-commercial wannabees didn't measure up. Some were hardly worthy of family viewing, and rather blatant sexual innuendo characterized several. Some sent confusing messages. Some evoked criticisms like, "They paid $3 million to air that!"

One of the most spectacular and complicated, involving a car being high-jacked by the likes of wealthy criminals, then Neptune himself, then aliens and finally ancient Mayans, was certainly eye-popping. One problem: After watching the commercial, viewers could not remember which carmaker or vehicle was being advertised. The razzle-dazzle overshadowed the object of the commercial, which was the product itself.

If television and advertising mimic real life, perhaps a couple of lessons could be learned from this group of Super Bowl commercials.

• Razzle-dazzle with computer-generated graphics and audio has its limitations unless those things are balanced with substance. In fact, substance tends to have a significant shelf life all its own.

• Simple, well-managed story lines communicate powerfully and inspire action. No surprise here. Master storytellers communicate. One of the commercial hits during the football game was a Volkswagen pitch featuring a youngster dressed as Star Wars character Darth Vader. The little guy waves his hands in futile efforts to get "the force" to animate a doll or prompt a pet to do something out of the ordinary. The youngster finds success when he stands in the drive in front of a VW family sedan and it suddenly starts, thanks to his father who is watching him from inside the house with remote starter in hand. The unsuspecting young Darth is amazed at his seeming power to implement the force and evokes a charming reaction.

Parents and kids could relate. And they remembered the most significant prop in the commercial — a shiny Volkswagen.

• Scintillating and sexually suggestive commercials may connect with a segment, but adolescent adolescents tend to grow up as do most adolescent adults. Cheap laughs may briefly entertain but without significant messages, they disappear like vapor. And multi-million-dollar commercials are rarely produced merely to entertain.

In advertising and in real life, it is pretty much impossible to do better than to clearly and with class set forth a message that inspires confidence, action and even sales. The petty trimmings only detract.