One of the larger events in my sheltered and myopic little world is nearly upon us. I am, of course referring to Super Bowl ad time. As a youngster, I quickly discovered that the game itself was almost always lame and usually criminally one-sided, holding little to no actual excitement whatsoever. It was only later that I was able to divine what the noise was really all about.

The ads.

My giddy expectation is tempered only slightly by the annual bitterness I experience at the realization that not all of the hyper cool Super Bowl ads actually get played in Canada. What this usually means is that I get to watch Christine Magee pumping Sleep Country in rotation for what feels like a mind-numbingly unfair period of time. Nothing personal Christine, but these ads are not quite what I was filling up the bowl with chips for, you know?

And really, how amazing is that? Truly the one time that advertisement takes center stage. As a medium, television would not exist without advertising, yet somehow we all buy into the idea that “The Office” is somehow there for us to enjoy while the ads are an afterthought. That charmingly naïve notion goes out the window pretty fast when “Dwight” gets himself a job at Staples and “Kevin” plays with a shredder conveniently on sale at the same place. Great show, but don’t ever forget who pays the bills.

The Super Bowl manages to invert this reality perfectly, as the ads cease to be an intrusion and instead are often anticipated more than the game. And it is proven that this football game can bring in the crowds to watch them.

Consider this. In 1953 nearly 108 million people tuned in to watch Lucy Ricardo give birth. That was 68% of the entire US population. 1983 saw just over 50 million people watch the finale of “MASH.” Currently, “American Idol” is considered a ratings juggernaut and they rope in about 30 million viewers. Overall audience numbers fall each and every year.

Yet the Super Bowl endures.

In 2006 the Super Bowl gathered nearly 91 million viewers in one shot. That kind of audience has almost ceased to exist in the modern world of entertainment. Ad placement here can only be described as “The Promised Land.”

Somehow, sport remains the perfect medium for advertisement. No matter how bad the average athlete behaves (notable exception: O.J. Simpson, who will never, ever, ever shill professionally for a company again – not even and we will still happily support their pitches for beer, chips, internet sites, ED drugs and whatever else they signed an endorsement deal for. And through it all, the ads stand out.

Most will remember the Budweiser Frogs. It’s listed as the top Super Bowl ad of all time. There was Reebok’s “Terry Tate, office linebacker” series, which had the unstoppable giant brutally leveling his fellow office workers in the hallway, by the copier, and into the water-cooler. There were the Bud Bowls and those ads during the wonderfully silly internet start-up years where millions were tossed around by companies that ceased to exist only months later. Apple Computer’s “1984” campaign still tops many all-time best lists. The good ads go on.

The expectation placed on any ad debuted during the Super Bowl is massive. It must be exceptionally creative, wildly inventive or totally entertaining. There is no half measure. And may I say now, any firm that thinks it’s okay to run some ad they’ve been using for months already – don’t. I mean it. Don’t do it.  Resist the temptation to cheap out. If you can’t get a new dress for the party then stay home. You hear me Gillette? Five blades is not the big deal you make it out to be each ….and ….every  ….. ..single…..year. Enough already!

The half time shows are a whole other kettle of fish. They should continue to take a back seat for at least the next few years thanks to Janet’s peek-a-boo with Justin back in ‘04. Since then we’ve had Paul McCartney and most recently the Rolling Stones. Talk about risky, man…..

Whether Super Bowl XLI goes down in history as anything special or not really doesn’t matter. The ads will play, and I will be watching them along with millions of others. I’ll do my best to profile a few of them for you next week, singling out the very good and maybe even one or two of the more horrifically misguided ones as well.

Wasssuuuuppppp indeed.

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