Coming for the Ads, Staying for the Game
Experts Sizing Up Spots in Md. Favor FedEx Pitch

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 6, 2006

For a bunch of local advertising executives, it wasn't what was on the Super Bowl field that held them spellbound. When a hush fell over the living room in Montgomery County, it was commercials that quieted the crowd.

Football was incidental.

"That was great!" boomed Michael Broder, 34, president and chief executive of Brightline Media, a consulting company in Alexandria, after watching a dinosaur crush a cave man who had failed to send an animal hide via FedEx.

The spot sent the room into peals of laughter. And just like a sports commentator, Broder gave his instant analysis:

"The creative aspect connected to what they do as a company," he said.

"What was so brilliant about it was that we're all at a party and it's loud -- but it had subtitles, so we got it," said Marnie Metzman of Gaithersburg, who works in corporate marketing for Marriott.

About 25 assorted advertising experts, their spouses and friends huddled last night over pretzels and brie at Broder's North Bethesda townhouse to casually root for the Pittsburgh Steelers and savagely scrutinize the commercials.

"It's like watching the Oscars for the clothes," Metzman whispered before the game.

We'll call them "Superads" because, let's face it, that's what they are -- commercials on steroids, a costly 30 seconds of humor, awe or pathos designed to impress the year's biggest TV audience.

Viewers expect great things after decades of ritualized ad-watching. But, in most cases, the 60-some spots didn't live up to their hype, the group decided.

Take the Web domain name registrar, which submitted 13 "edgy" commercial drafts featuring a bosomy brunette, and then chronicled each rejection from ABC on its Web site. The approved spot was basically a diluted variation on its spoof last year on wardrobe malfunction.

"What is it?" asked Potomac resident Jamie Rogers, an account executive for Mix 107.3 and Smooth Jazz 105.9.

"The FedEx commercial is so much funnier," Metzman said.

"Sex sells," Broder said, "but for the buildup and all the hype, it fell flat."

It's enough to make everyone nostalgic for touchstones: the stirring 1984 Apple Computer spot in which a hammer-wielding woman pulverized "Big Brother" IBM and ignited both the Macintosh revolution and the culture's fascination with Superads.

Or the 1993 McDonald's ad with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird playing a hyperbolic game of horse: "Off the expressway, over the river, off the billboard . . . nothin' but net."

Or Budweiser's perennial hit parade of Bud Bowls, Clydesdales, bullfrogs and the lizards who loathe them.

Shocking and funny can be good, but "frequency works," said marketing professor Lynda Maddox, whose advertising students at George Washington University will dissect their reactions to the spots today.

Since Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 halftime show, Superads have kept on the comfy side, with silly animals and feckless celebrities -- CareerBuilder's chimp workforce or Burt Reynolds's soft-shoe last year with a FedEx bear.

"The era of the flatulating horse and the crotch-biting dog is gone, and I think that's a shame," GoDaddy president and founder Bob Parsons said in a telephone interview last week.

But in 2006, in front of Broder's 43-inch plasma screen, which commercial besides FedEx's transcended the superhype?

Dove's Self-Esteem Fund spot.

"I think it completely appeals to women," said Metzman's twin sister, Honey Konicoff of Falls Church, who is vice president of marketing for Phillips Foods Inc. and Seafood Restaurants. "It seems misplaced in the Super Bowl, but it was heartwarming, and I'll walk away from this remembering that."

The ads can be clever, but if the company's message doesn't hook and hold, it's a waste of more than $2 million, Broder said. He pointed to a spot that aired during the second quarter, in which an overeager blonde was tackled during a touch football game.

"That was a very funny ad for light beer," he said, "but I couldn't tell you if it was for Miller or Bud."

It was for Michelob.

"Well, there you go."

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