How bad is the American economy? So bad that we're having to import our punch lines from Sweden. When you watch 32 Super Bowl commercials and the most memorable slogan is Skillnaden ar drinkability, you know you've got a problem.
Abandoned by many of its most faithful advertisers, including Federal Express and all the American manufacturers, and reduced to do business with companies that usually show infomercials with flashing 800 numbers on obscure cable channels in the middle of the night, Sunday's Super Bowl ads were a bedraggled lot.
Full of tired slapstick (when you've seen one guy thrown out a fourth-floor window, you've seen 'em all), cheesy teases (when Danica Patrick said she was enhanced, guys, she meant her Internet service; don't bother to check the "uncensored" version on the Net) and inexplicable gimmicks (would you really take advice on stocks from a talking baby?), the ads were even more boring than the game's first half.
Skillnaden ar drinkability, by the way, means "great drinkability," the punch line (literally) to an in which NBC talk show host Conan O'Brien endorses Bud Light in a commercial for Swedish TV, with disastrous results. Anheuser-Busch was one of a handful of traditional big Super Bowl advertisers -- including Coca-Cola, Pepsi and a couple of others -- who stuck with this year's telecast, buying four and a half minutes of ads. Price tag: Somewhere north of $10 million. Big bucks in a ragged economy, but Anheuser-Busch was just acquired by the Belgian brewer InBev and seems worried its customers may go on some kind of jingoist rampage. Surely it's no coincidence that many of its commercials Sunday dealt with the concept of "Americanism," from the O'Brien ad to one about how its signature Clydesdale horses immigrated from Scotland. ("It's a story of strength, triumph and oats.")
Though lackluster, the Anheuser-Busch ads at least offered a sense of familiarity. A sense of economic dislocation echoed through many of Sunday's commercials. Were we really seeing dog food ads during the Super Bowl? Yes, and Pedigree hopes your pooch enjoyed a commercial ridiculing owners of ostriches, rhinos and boars.
If Pedigree's ads seemed a sad tumble for an event that once was associated with Cadillacs and computers, the cash4gold.com commercial smacked of downright desperation. This year, ads offering to melting down earrings and wedding bands for gold; next year, buying your hair or blood.
To be fair, the cash4gold ad -- with broke celebrity pitchman Ed McMahon selling off his gold hip replacement -- offered a certain bleak hilarity. So, for different reasons, was an ad with Bob Dylan not only flogging Pepsi, but acting like it was the official drink of the Woodstock Nation. Actually, Pepsi was famously (or infamously, to people like Dylan's fans) Republican in those days, backing Richard Nixon's presidency in return for White House help in breaking into the Russian market. The times, they really are a changin'.
If Dylan's fans were disillusioned -- you could practically hear the sound of ancient vinyl shattering on the walls of every nursing home in America -- it was nothing compared to the disappointment of anybody waiting for the much-ballyhooed 3D trailer for Monster Vs. Aliens, the animated Dreamworks movie that hits theaters in March.
Dreamworks handed out 125 million pairs of 3D glasses for use in viewing the trailer at halftime, which means 250 million American eyeballs were probably still bleeding well past midnight. The trailer looked dim, patchily colored, and wretchedly vulgar -- the latter not from the 3D process, but the content. A three-dimensional shot of a man sitting on a toilet? Man, where is Janet Jackson's nipple when you need it?