Tales from the Vault: Ad Nauseam, Revisited

Ramblings and Rants, Steve Seidman

Another Super Sunday is upon us. The Most Important Sporting Event in The Entire World will be a chess match and a dogfight…an aerial battle and trench warfare…modern gladiators will set upon each other in a contemporary Coliseum called Lucas Oil Stadium. There will be more drama and suspense than Shakespeare could have shaken a walking stick at, presuming he even used a walking stick

More crucially, Super Sunday means that chips are going to be consumed, chicken wings are going to be chomped, and beverages are going to be swilled. It’s time to par-tay, baby, and during the 2 or 3 commercial breaks that will occur during the course of the game, most Americans will eagerly turn their attention away from the product that the NFL has put on the field and focus on products we can consume off the field.

M&M Super Bowl Ad (AP)

Ah, yes, Super Bowl commercials. The surveys say that folks still love ‘em. That woman in the cubicle next to yours says she’ll only be watching the game because she likes the commercials. Newspapers will print their annual day after list of the Top 10 commercials that ran during the game. Clearly, Super Bowl Ads are not the humdrum commercials one sees during the breaks in your average episode of NCIS. No, these are creative commercials, and they only come out once a year – at Super Bowl time. Super Bowl commercials bring America together, and if you don’t believe that, then I guess you won’t be taking part in that drinking game built around how many times the talking baby will utter a slang expression like “mad props.”

Of course, our favorite lovable characters will return to amuse and delight us – the aforementioned talking baby, but also the caveman, and assorted fun-loving, beer drinking twenty-somethings. These enduring icons of sell have become contemporary culture’s Ralph Kramdens, Cliff Huxtables, and Archie Bunkers. They make us laugh, they make us cry, and they teach us valuable life lessons.

As always, there will be enchanting new surprises; stunt celebrity casting (look, there’s Matthew Broderick recreating his FERRIS BUELLER character), talking animals. Cute little chimps, Bassett hounds, ferrets, and geckos, all with something clever to say. You can also count on a steady procession of summer movie trailers, crunchy snacks, cheesy pizzas, and shiny new automobiles of every shape, color and nationality. Naturally, there will be containers of beer, which if stretched end-to-end, would extend beyond the farthest reaches of the galaxy. If they can have an American Craft Beer Festival, why can’t they have an American Craft Beer Commercial festival?

The enduring popularity of Super Bowl commercials provides an opportunity to revisit an earlier post about the United Airlines ads that were embedded in NFL Films’ team highlights during the 1960s. Read the post and see how the commercials were used as part of the story while also containing United’s tagline, “Incidentally, 13 out of 14 professional football teams fly the friendly skies of United.”

One important correction: earlier I wrote that 1965 was the only season in which United sponsored highlight films. I decided to delve deeper into the vault from which I spin my tales, and I discovered that United was “on board” until at least 1969, when “23 of the 26 professional football teams” were now flying those friendly skies. There were some changes from the first season’s ads, however.  For one thing, Brubeck-style jazz was out, and breezy strings were in. While traditional ad copy was still eschewed in favor of script copy relevant to the team’s season (i.e., “After a tough loss to Pittsburgh, the Browns were determined to beat the 49ers in San Francisco”), there were no longer shots of players inside the plane. Most of the ads show players and coaches climbing aboard, then descending from the plane (after it has touched ground and come to a complete stop, wise guy). It’s still neat to see the likes of George Halas or Johnny Unitas ascending the portable stairway to the plane, but the later United ads don’t really take us “behind the curtain” like the first ones did. Getting a glimpse of Max McGee playing cards, Pete Retzlaff enjoying an in-flight meal, or Norm Snead chatting up a friendly “stew” gave us an intimate look at life off the field, and in those days, such looks were rare.

United Airlines Ad (AP)

In short, the later United spots were sort of regressive. A nice stylistic move forward might have been to add sync sound to the interior shots of the players during flight. Imagine being able to hear Dick Butkus tell a stewardess, “You know we just lost to the Lions, 21-17, so we need this win over the Giants…..and I’d like a shrimp cocktail, the Salisbury steak with potatoes au gratin, and a scotch and soda.”

Anyway, enjoy the Super Bowl – and the commercials. Just make sure that you’re not between beverage gulps when that talking baby is cooking some of his patented hilarity. It would be embarrassing to let fly with a cascade of your beverage of choice on the adjacent party-goers.

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