Column: Blackout Needed on Super Bowl Ads

Over-hyped commercials were bland, boring and just plain bad
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Congratulations! You not only survived that annual orgy of conspicuous consumption called the Super Bowl, you also survived the two weeks of endless stories without news that lead up to the big day.

And when the big game arrived, what was our reward? On the one day we actually look forward to watching TV ads, they were so bland and boring and just plain bad, we had no choice but to turn our attention to the actual football game.

Has it come to this?

But back to the point of the whole exercise: The Super Bowl ads.

To say a bunch of ads were disappointing is like complaining that your dentist’s routine cleaning is getting predictable. We usually don’t expect ads to do anything more than annoy us.

But with Super Bowl ads, all the hype raises our expectations, and all the money companies spend – a record four million dollars for a 30-second ad – only increases the pressure.

Trying to be funny is the one, surefire way to make sure you’re not. And, because the ads are so expensive, every executive at every company has got to throw in his two cents, which is trying to create comedy by committee. And that’s the second surefire way to be sure you ain’t funny.

MiO Fit sports drinks, for example, decided to pick the overweight, un-athletic comedian Tracy Morgan to pitch their product. Which is kind of like hiring Manti Te’o to shill for Good luck with that.

Race car driver Danica Patrick is forever telling us she wants to be taken seriously, while she is forever taking millions of dollars to appear in’s sexist, sophomoric ads.

As a friend of mine once said, if you wear the clown nose and the clown hat and you honk the clown horn, sooner or later, you’re a clown.

At the other end of the spectrum, Subway spared itself the trouble of trying at all. The entire ad consisted of people trying to say “February,” or “Feb-RU-ary,” or “Febuany,” or something, and screwing it up. I want to say, “You had to be there,” but even the people who were there weren’t laughing.

Mercedes made a mildly clever ad featuring a Rolling Stones song and Willem Dafoe as the devil, and that gets a little sympathy from me. Simply by virtue of not stinking, it made my top five.

The marketing on Super Bowl Sunday hits you like a fire hose. Even if you skipped every TV commercial, you’d still get splashed with ads.

Corporate logos flashed in front of the sportscasters’ desk, and more popped up behind it. The coin toss was sponsored by Papa John’s Pizza, the game ball was brought to you by… someone selling something – I can’t recall – and after that you could enjoy the Pepsi Half Time.

They could not stop themselves. They ran commercials right before an extra point, then ran more right after it – a 20-to-1 ratio of ads to action.

The flood of commercialism was so great, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome just couldn’t take it. She’s breakin’ up! The 34-minute blackout provided the most peaceful portion of the event. It was also the most spontaneous, which showed us that, without their cue cards, the analysts are incapable of stringing together two coherent thoughts. Maybe CBS should try hiring a couple journalists.

Good news: Next year, the blackout will be brought to you by the good folks at DTE.

Lost in all this was a football game. As I suspect you’ve heard, the teams were coached by John and Jim Harbaugh, brothers from Ann Arbor. John, the older brother, has lived in Jim’s shadow his entire life. Jim’s team came back from a 28-6 deficit to pull within one play of winning. But the pass fell incomplete, and John’s team won. Good for him.

In the old days, the game stunk, but the game day experience was – dare I say it – almost pure, by today’s standards. Now, it’s the opposite – but you can’t see the game from the trees, which are brought to you by the good folks at Weyerhaeuser lumber company.

About the writer: John U. Bacon is the author of “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” and “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” – both national bestsellers. His upcoming book, “Fourth and Long: The Future of College Football,” will be published by Simon & Schuster in September 2013. You can follow him on Twitter (@Johnubacon), and at

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