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Mourning the Loss of Memorable Super Bowl Commercials

04/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but it seems the Super Bowl commercials that used to be hyped as cultural and entertaining events, have been getting more forgettable and blander every year.

Judging from the pathetic batch of commercials that aired on Sunday, you would never know that some of the most powerful marketing firms spend in excess of $100 million on Super Bowl ads; while major companies start working on next year's Super Bowl commercial the day after the Super Bowl.

If someone held a gun to my head today, and asked me to name my favorite Super Bowl commercial from this year, I would quite honestly have to tell the person to go ahead and pull the trigger.

I thought the whole point of a Super Bowl commercial (with over 100 million worldwide viewers tuned in) was to generate water cooler talk the next day; and make the brand so ingrained in people's minds--it would be hard to forget.

If you're old enough, the very mention of Brother Dominic and Xerox, automatically calls to mind memories of the corpulent monk in the hollow dank monastery, carrying a bundle of manuscripts to a print copier salesperson with the mournful plea: ``Can you do a big job for me.''?

Soon after that Xerox Super Bowl commercial ran in 1977, Brother Dominic became a household name. I can't imagine many viewers who saw that ad struggling to name which product the diminitutive Franciscan was endorsing.

Another unforgettable commercial that remains tucked away in my memory was the famous Coca-Cola commercial that ran on January 16, 1972 during Super Bowl VI, when a sea of inhabitants representing various countries and cultures from all walks of life, gathered at a hillside near Rome and formed a pyramid, while signing ``I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company... I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony''

Those memorable lyrics, with a clear message of ``peace and harmony'', was written by Bill Backer, creative director for the McCann-Erickson advertising agency, while stranded at an airport in Ireland. The tempers of annoyed passengers stranded at an airport were only cooled when they gathered at the airport café to share their miserable experiences with others while sipping on a beverage, a Coca-Cola. Backer jotted the lyrics down on a napkin, and the rest is history. The 60 second spot, by the way, was produced for $225,000.

Of course, the Super Bowl commercial which had the greatest impact and is still talked about the most was an ad that only ran once. It came during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII in 1984, when Apple Computer hired a well known English director and producer, Ridley Scott, director of Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Thelma & Louise (1991), and Gladiator (2000), among others, with a $900,00 budget to produce a 60 second commercial on the introduction of the company's Macintosh computer.

The commercial was modeled on George Orwell's classic novel, ``1984'' in which a ``Big Brother'' authoritative image was commanding clone-like members walking into the chamber in goose step fashion to conform to conventional standards. A female athlete then lurches toward the Big Brother image, shattering it with a sledgehammer. The commercial ended with the words: ``On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984.''

In addition to its mesmerizing influence, the Apple commercial aroused a powerful liberating response with viewers and struck a deep emotional cord; one of the many reasons the commercial is still talked about to this day.

Not all commercials, of course, had to channel such profound themes in order for them to be effective or memorable. Humor works pretty well, a concept largely ignored this year.

Remember Miss Piggy in 1997, dressed in a low-cut black evening dress who became mesmerized by a handsome young man; that is until he made the mistake of trying to eat Miss Piggy's Baked Lay's potato chips.

Another amusing Super Bowl commercial came during a Federal Express commercial in 1999, when the entire Detroit Red Wings hockey team were anxiously waiting for the Stanley Cup to arrive. When the box did arrive, shock sets in when they discovered burro food had been sent to them by mistake, while their prized trophy was headed to the South American country of Bolivia. The commercial ended with the sage advice: ``When you need to get something delivered, go with Federal Express.''

Capitalizing on tragedy or an individual's handicap, albeit with a touch of class, worked pretty well for Diet Pepsi in 1990, when singer Ray Charles took part in the ``Ultimate Blind Taste Test.'' 10 years later, the E*Trade Group sparked some definite water cooler chatter with the brilliant ``Wazoo commercial'' in which a patient is rushed through a busy emergency room. The doctor, after having examined the patient's derriere, says he has money coming out of his Wazoo. The patient is immediately whisked away to a private room.

So after being greeted to a heavy barrage of mindless, unimaginative and forgettable Super Bowl commercials; from a Sumu wrestler, a man taunting a dog with Doritos; office workers without pants, to Denny's overworked chickens, I long for the days when Super Bowl commercials presented creativity, humor, and came with a clear message that remained etched in your mind.

-Bill Lucey
WPLucey@gmail.com