Before the dot-com crash and the mainstreaming of ironic humor, and at a time when we apparently needed to advertise things like cheese and soup, the world of Super Bowl commercials was a strange one. Here are some that we will never see again.
One could argue that Super Bowl commercials, as we know them today, were sparked by 1979's Mean Joe Greene ad, or Apple's 1984 ad that still stands as perhaps the most well-known commercial in history. I believe, though, that Super Bowl commercials weren't an annual spectacle until the Bud Bowl.
Perhaps this is because I'm not old enough to remember anything before Super Bowl XXIII. As a little kid who regularly drank gas station beer, let me tell y'all, I loved the Bud Bowl. And now, upon my first viewing in 20 years...
...holy s*** the Bud Bowl was stupid. One depressing theory is that children were Budweiser's target demographic, because they knew we'd be drinking in 10 or 15 years. A far more depressing theory is that they knew that adults would love this, and that they were right.
Generally speaking, Super Bowl commercials aren't stupid anymore -- or at least, not Bud Bowl-stupid. Most of them are more bland and predictable than anything else, because advertisers found a way to poke ironic humor into the mainstream a decade or so ago, and every joke has been the same joke ever since. Still, it's an improvement.
Did we have to graduate through a lame comedic history of animated beer bottles before getting to this point? It's possible. So we may as well tip our caps to the commercials of years and decades past. Below are some Super Bowl ads that, for one reason or another, would never, ever run in a Super Bowl today.
Remember when commercials would advertise a product by explaining what it did and why you should buy it? iPad commercials do this, sure, but 30 years ago we had James Garner offering rebuttals and s***. It's as though the advertisers had written big long books of apologetics that offered answers for every question you could throw at them. Don't flash cameras cost a lot? No, but wasting film and bad light does! Now pray with me and accept Polaroid into your heart.
Note the title card at the beginning. Why did commercials ever have title cards? These days, they're so rare to see in TV shows, or the funny papers, or anywhere else that whenever I see one I feel like I've tripped and fallen into the 1980s, a time in which everything had a name and you couldn't just point at something and say, "that." GET ME OUT OF HERE
Anyway, the tracking issues of this recording don't do any favors for this commercial, in which the CIA apparently tossed burst-bombs of LSD out of an airplane and onto Sesame Street (one strange effect being that the anthropomorphic birds and woolly mammoths actually disappear when you're trippin' balls).
This commercial certainly couldn't run today, because the food in the ad probably went bad a year or two ago.
Apple's 1984 "Big Brother" ad overshadows the one they aired the following year, in which a bunch of people traverse through Mordor and fall off a cliff and die because they failed to consider the word processing options available to them.
"Hey Ted, how's things?"
"Oh, can't complain. Just another day at the wear-blindfold-and-meander-through-foreboding-countryside factory."
"You hear they fired Schmidt the other day? Kept screwing up. Just wore earplugs and stood there."
"Yeah, if you're going to do that all day, good luck keeping a job with his company."
"So have you checked out any of the new word processors lately?"
"Nah, don't really have a use for it. After all, my job is just to wander around blindfolded and--AIIIEEEEEEEEEE"
"Wait, what happened?"
"I'M FALLING OFF A CLIFF! I THOUGHT MY WORD PROCESSOR WAS PERFECTLY SUFFICIENT! I HAVE BEEN DESTROYED BY MY OWN HUBRIIIIIISSSSS"
"OH MY GOD! THAT IS TERRIBLE! WE HAVE TERRIBLE JOBS!"
"I KNOW RIIIIIIIGGGHHHHT"
"HOW DOES THIS BUSINESS MAKE ANY MONEY?"
"I DON'T KNOOOOOOOOWWWW"
The idea of the Dairy Council buying -- or needing to buy -- a Super Bowl commercial advertising cheese in 2011 is laughable. Perhaps, though, this ad worked wonders. After all, cheese is everywhere today, despite the fact that it's essentially milk with its liquid limbs rendered stiff by a sort of rigor mortis after being left to sit too long, then shuttled through your maw and into a body which is likely at least somewhat intolerant of it.
Cheese has its place, and is a good thing when applied with a steady hand, but it is everywhere, and for absolutely no reason. Lamentably, it's a default option on a sandwich, even though it rarely makes it a better sandwich and sometimes even detracts from it. We slap flat little cakes of curdled cow juice on everything, and we do so reflexively and without thinking about it, which suggests to me that this commercial must have been tremendously convincing.
Okay, so it's January 31st, smack in the middle of the Super Bowl, and you want me to remember to watch something on March 2nd? Can't I just watch it online? You know, the Internet? ...Basically it's a big long-ass cord with a computer at the end of it. No?
You playin' right? Ha, yeah, look at me, I'm a write this down on my PalmPilot -- wait, no, f***in' in my notepad with my pencil. Wait, check it. What are those... ROLODEX! I'm a get this pen, haaaaa, get this pen, write it in a damn Rolodex. Oh hold up, I don't think I'll even be around on March 2nd. I'm scheduled to fly to a Rubik's Cube tournament in the Soviet Union via zeppelin. haaaaaa y'all past people got clownt
During recent Super Bowls, the commercial-viewing experience has been pretty mundane. At some point over the last few years, nearly every advertiser decided that everything needed to take the tone of entry-level mock-serious humor. Yes, the dopey guy in the plaid shirt is striking a hero pose and trumpets are playing because he drank a beer, that's neat, I get it. That is every Super Bowl commercial now.
This is surely not reality, but the perception I get is that the advertisers are too unsure and self-conscious and afraid to make a commercial that's genuine, earnest, humorless, and completely bad ass. This is a commercial about an F1 car and a jet getting left in the dust by a freaking Nissan, and it is incredible.
This commercial would never be aired today; in fact, I'm not sure why it was ever aired. A girl is ditched by her friends at the school dance, which is bad enough because sad kids are a bummer to begin with. Then it turns out that her consolation prize is soup. Pre-made canned soup! She has to go home and eat soup by herself because nobody likes her! And the soup clearly just completely makes her day, which makes the whole thing even more tender and abjectly sad.
If advertisers want us to buy their things, they shouldn't make commercials that make us feel like this. Soups are assholes.
At some point between 1996 and 2011, we collectively put to rest the notion that everything needed to be extreme. We had suffered through about a half-decade of XTREME advertising -- guitar-playing grandmothers, rapping grandfathers, guitar-playing stuffy British butlers, rapping stuffy British butlers, stuffy British butlers wearing sunglasses, stuffy British butlers peeking peering over their sunglasses and saying "dude," kids whose hair stood on end after eating cereal, kids whose heads literally turned into fruit after eating fruit candy, all that s***.
I think this, the moment this commercial aired and we observed how incoherent and poorly-conceived it was, was the moment we as a culture decided that we had achieved the desired levels of both EXTREME and XTREME, and that we may as well move on to talking babies and ducks.
Today, computer.com is an auto-generated link farm, presumably there to generate some income until the day someone actually wants to purchase the domain name. 11 years ago, it was, according to the ad, "computer stuff."
The site appears to have been one of the many casualties of the dot-com busts, and it offered a valuable lesson: don't bother purchasing a Super Bowl commercial if your site's address is something that every person in the history of the Internet has intentionally typed in and surfed to because they were bored.
I don't even know what a Blockbuster is like in the year 2011 -- I live two blocks from one and have not been inside of it since 2007 -- so I certainly don't know what a Blockbuster Super Bowl commercial would be like in the year 2011.
This, I think, is the best they could do: a man in a pair of overalls walks on screen and says, "Hello. My name is John Blockbuster, president of Blockbuster Video. We pooled together decades of strictly-enforced late fees in order to purchase this commercial. Remember: we carry that special kind of extra-buttery microwave popcorn that the big grocery store that's 10 minutes away does have, but that the smaller grocery store 5 minutes away doesn't have. I love you very much and I hope that you liked all the movies you rented. Goodbye."
Then he turns, opens the door of a Blockbuster self-service kiosk, and steps inside, and as the camera slowly zooms in, it grows apparent that this is where he lives. Someone approaches the kiosk and presses a series of buttons, and you see a set of fingertips timidly push a copy of How To Train Your Dragon out of the slot before a fade to black. This commercial shall be 90 seconds long.
Years after the dot-com crash had swallowed up online services such as CashInOrderToReceiveGold and Gash4Cold, Cash4Gold managed to soldier on into 2009. It still survives today, but since this commercial aired, allegations of shady business practices have come to light and Ed McMahon has passed away.
Consider this: it's possible that in Ed McMahon's final appearance in front of a camera, he was cutting away from M.C. Hammer to offer a bittersweet farewell to a solid-gold toilet. Everything is a miracle.