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Few standouts in an underwhelming field of Super Bowl ads

This year’s crop of Super Bowl ads was a bit underwhelming, with few absolute clunkers but also relatively few standouts. Here are some favorites, and some analysis by a heavy hitter in the Twin Cities ad world.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Super Bowl ads, but never before have I sat down with the intention of watching every single one.

I did this year, joined by my wife, and we found it pretty easy to pick out the best ads. This year’s crop was a bit underwhelming, with few absolute clunkers but also relatively few standouts. Our favorites, in no particular order:

• Aged actors Betty White and Abe Vigoda get tackled in a Snickers spot.

• Chubby men in tighty whities infest an office on “casual Friday” for CareerBuilder.com.

• Google facilitates a trip abroad, a courtship, marriage and a baby.

• Brett Favre just might be retiring in 2020, according to Hyundai.

• Coca-Cola brings happiness to the cast of “The Simpsons” (disclaimer: Coke is a marketing client of my agency, but we don’t make their ads).

• Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and David Letterman promote Letterman’s “Late Show.”

I also checked in with a heavy hitter in the Twin Cities ad world: Tom Fugleberg, executive creative director of the Minneapolis marketing agency Olson. Fugleberg’s opinions tracked fairly closely with ours, but he also made an important point about the annual adstravaganza.

‘Start of a two-way conversation’
“You’re starting to see a huge change,” Fugleberg said. “The Super Bowl spot is becoming more than just that moment. The ad is part of a bigger movement, the start of a two-way conversation. That’s something we at Olson have been talking about for quite a while now.”

Many of this year’s ads, he noted, served as an entry point for other related marketing activities. Volkswagen’s ad called for people to play an online game. Denny’s announced free breakfasts for everyone. Dockers promoted a contest, while extended versions of GoDaddy’s suggestive ads were continued online.

“There were also some interesting themes developed,” Fugleberg said. “We had back-to-back pantsless people and back-to-back tackled people. We had tiny people, a couple of beavers — and there are always a few ads that make you think you hallucinated them.”

He mentioned the Emerald Nuts/Pop Secret ad with human aquatic tricks and a Taco Bell ad featuring ex-NBA star Charles Barkley doing … something.

“I watched that whole Barkley ad and I’m still not sure what was going on,” Fugleberg laughed.

Focus on the Family
The ad that got the most pregame buildup aired early: a Focus on the Family spot starring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mom. The ad sparked controversy for its anti-abortion message — but you wouldn’t know that from watching the ad.

If you hadn’t read any of the coverage of the ad, and simply watched the spot itself, there’s no way you’d know what the message was. So give Focus on the Family high marks for effectively using free media to carry a message that its $2.8 million ad didn’t convey.

In past years, as many as three or four Twin Cities agencies have made ads for the Super Bowl. This year, the local presence was much less. I understood that Fallon was making an ad for its new client, Chrysler, but if it ran, it must have been in the pregame or postgame time periods. I didn’t see a Chrysler ad during the four quarters or halftime.

Periscope debuted its new Twins campaign with an ad that ran during one of the game’s regional slots. And local actor and writer Mike Rylander created one of the six Doritos ads that were chosen from among consumer-generated entries. Rylander’s spot, “Snack Attack Samurai,” got the nod from Fugleberg as the best of the consumer-generated Doritos ads.

If you want to catch up on Super Bowl ads you missed, go to cbssports.com/superbowlads.

Which ads did you like — or hate? Let us know in the comments.