The Super Bowl is one of the great American tribal rituals, if not the greatest. You read and hear about the contenders for weeks beforehand: the favorites, the outsiders, the underdogs and the ones who could have made it but didn’t. Entire careers and reputations are resting on one cold afternoon. The frenzy is enough to drive any ordinary mortal at the center of it into early retirement.
The Super Bowl is one of the great American tribal rituals, if not
the greatest. You read and hear about the contenders for weeks
beforehand: the favorites, the outsiders, the underdogs and the ones who
could have made it but didn’t. Entire careers and reputations are
resting on one cold afternoon. The frenzy is enough to drive any
ordinary mortal at the center of it into early retirement.
And then comes the day itself, and for a long time you wonder what the
fuss was all about. Of course, the tension is there. How could there not
be, with grown people trying to brutalize each other into
Who is going to excel? Who will be humiliated? But there you are, in a
crowded bar with a noisy bunch of friends and colleagues, all competing
with the screen for attention. You can’t hear anything coming out of the
TV, and every now and again somebody wearing a funny hat steps in front
of you and blocks the view anyway. So the supposed moments of
brilliance, drama and passion tend to get lost on you. They don’t even
let you turn the sound up during the commercial breaks. And in case you
hadn’t noticed, it is the ads I’ve been talking about, not the game.
The much vaunted dot-com Super Bowl turned out to be a bit of an
anticlimax; the biggest amount of money ever spent on a bit of PR. It
had to have been for the subsequent PR, since the ads didn’t stand much
chance of working as advertising. The only way people like me were going
to know what most of the ads were about was by reading about them
If there was one lesson from the day, it’s that the ads that worked the
best were the ones without a script, where you didn’t need to hear the
words. Who is going to forget the E*Trade chimpanzee, especially when
followed by the on-screen text: ’Well, we just wasted two million
What are you doing with your money?’ It was cleverly self-referential
and could never have worked if there had not been the PR and media
frenzy about the overblown prices being paid for 30 seconds of fame.
The Pets.com ad oozed charm and made me realize what I’ve been missing
by not having pets. It was enough to make me want to go out and buy a
You’ve got to award points for cheekiness to the dot-com company that
simply had some scribbled placards with words along the lines of ’This
is probably the worst ad of the Super Bowl, but it may well be the most
important.’ The only thing is, I can’t remember the name of the
The point of all this is clearly to turn out ads that one hopes will
somehow recoup their cost by attracting some media attention and
Hopefully, people will talk about and not just watch them. But it’s
twice as hard to be heard above all the noise when the media attention
and the PR - and even some of the ads - are about the noise itself. For
all the buildup that this was going to be the year that the dot-coms won
the Super Bowl, it wasn’t. If you’re going to turn advertising (and the
attendant PR) into a spectator sport - a gladiatorial contest of wit and
muscle - then you need the wit and muscle to stay the course. Still,
there’s always next year ...
Stovin Hayter is editor in chief of Revolution, scheduled to launch this
March. He can be contacted at email@example.com.