The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Despite dogs, Super Bowl commercials disappoint

Patrick McManus | Monday, February 6, 2012


The American television-viewing public is lucky that some exciting football was played Sunday evening. Otherwise, the night would have been a total bust. 

This year’s Super Bowl was the most watched event in television history, beating out last year’s NFL championship game, with 111.3 million viewers. And those viewers were engaged, breaking the English language record for tweets per second, with 12,223 toward the end of the game. 

The Super Bowl is the last vestige of an America in which television-watching was a communal activity. Devoid of myriad entertainment alternatives, the old America laughed and cried at the same television moments, which could later be discussed with coworkers and friends. 

Today, the Super Bowl is the last outlet by which advertisers can reach such a large percentage of the public. And for that reason, a grand tradition of innovative and often hilarious commercials has developed around the event, which in turn makes it all the more palatable to those segments of the population not normally inclined toward sporting events.  

Included amongst the great (or at least culturally resonant) ads of the past are Terry Tate: Office Linebacker, Coca-Cola’s Mean Joe Green, Macintosh’s 1984 and Budweiser’s Wassup commercials. 

But this year’s crop of commercials to entertain spectators in-between downs was not fantastic. As “Mad Men” character Donald Draper said, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” And a lot of Sunday’s ads failed to make me happy. 

The funniest commercial was undoubtedly the spot in which a dog, having killed a cat, bribes a man to keep quiet about it. Animals behaving unethically? That’s hilarious. 

The best use of a dog in a commercial, though, goes to Volkswagen for their commercial in which a dog exercises so it can fit through the doggy door and chase a Volkswagen. The only thing cuter (though not funnier, obviously) than a dog with questionable morals is a motivated dog bent on self-improvement. 

The worst use of a dog belongs to Bud Light, for their commercial featuring a dog trained to bring Bud Light to lazy partygoers. The poor canine seemed awfully overworked. There was also a Skechers commercial with a dog — advertisers must think we really like dogs. 

The most-awesome-commercial-of-the-night award belongs to the Chrysler commercial narrated by Clint Eastwood. The ad has since caught flack from various right-wing people who took umbrage with it on some vaguely political ground, but Clint Eastwood was talking “America.” What else do you need?

The most comforting series of commercials involved the Coca-Cola polar bears. It wasn’t abundantly clear what they were doing or why they should make me want Coke, but animated polar bears are cool and I sort of wanted Coke afterwards.

The most ill-advised commercial was certainly the Audi ad in which the headlights killed a bunch of vampires at a party, along with the vampire driver. Sure, it was killing vampires, but why even invite the association? 

The award for commercial with most cartoon characters goes to the MetLife commercial with all those cartoon characters. It was nice to see Jabberjaw again after all these years.

A rather interesting, almost surreal commercial involved Toyota rethinking the Camry, and along the way, other things like couches and the DMV. One of the best car commercials was the Chevy Sonic spot in which the car sky-dives and makes a music video with OK Go. I’d like to drive that sort of car.

There weren’t many standout moments during the ad breaks of this year’s Super Bowl. A lot of ads relied on sex appeal, like Go Daddy’s commercials, two separate commercials with Adriana Lima and a Fiat ad. Many more used celebrities, with appearances by Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Elton John, David Beckham, Ricky Gervais, Will Arnett, Donald Trump, Deion Sanders and Regis Philbin. However, none of them seemed terribly exciting, including the anticipated-until-it-was-leaked Ferris Bueller-inspired Honda commercial.

Maybe next year’s class of commercials will provide moments of hilarity or spawn catchphrases. Or maybe it won’t, but that’s alright, they’re only commercials. 


Contact Patrick McManus at

[email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.