As the world's biggest stage for marketers, we'd have to give Super Bowl XLVI, generously, a B-minus. While the game was compellingly competitive right until the last play, and Madonna acquitted herself pretty well for a 53-year-old halftime-show attraction, America's brand marketers barely held up their end of the extravaganza.
For one thing, there was no genuine stand-up-and-cheer advertising moment during NBC's telecast as there was last year, in Chrysler's spot featuring Eminem and its new Chrysler 200 "Imported from Detroit," although Clint Eastwood was a worthy successor.
In fact, stand-out moments in the ads were almost non-existent; the humor that carried most of the ads didn't come close to an outbreak of hilarity; and a few spots manifested jump-the-shark syndrome, such as an NBC promo that cameoed Betty White.
Reviews of the ads this morning have formed a consensus that this was a sub-par Super Bowl for advertisers. Below, brandchannel contributor Dale Buss weighs in with his ad-by-ad review of commercials that ran from just before kickoff through the end of the game:
The Dictator: Any trailer for a movie starring Sacha Baron Cohen has a good shot to be an attention-getter. And with lines like, "What am I, a Kardashian?" "No, you're much less hairy," the flick seems to have some promise. B-plus.
Verizon: Droid Edge now comes in more colors with a lower price. But there was nothing new here in the latest chapter of a continuing Verizon campaign that treats Droid phones like CIA listening devices. D.
Old Navy: The fact that this was a spoof ad (Old Navy doesn't actually offer a menswear line called Corporado) was likely lost on most viewers. D.
McDonald's: One thing Ronald McDonald is still good for: heading McDonald's charity that benefits victims of childhood leukemia and other kids' cancers. This spot was an appropriate reminder. B-minus.
Hyundai 1: So now Hyundai is trying to make its mark as a performance brand. Worthy way to introduce its Genesis R Spec model. C-plus.
NBC 1: The network came ready to make the most of its Super Bowl broadcast to leverage other properties, starting with this engaging look at some photogenic American Olympians who will figure in NBC's coverage of the London Olympics this summer. B-plus.
Hyundai 2: An effective portrayal of the team spirit that has been one key to the brand's rise in the U.S. market. A way to say, "We've arrived." B.
Bud Light 1: By "turning gold [beer] into platinum," Bud Light has come up with the blue-bottled Platinum line. But it isn't clear what's new except the color theme. C-minus.
Audi: "So Long Vampires" both highlights great headlights and takes a whack at America's overwrought vampire chic. Only problem is that the real vampire fans tend to be teenagers who won't be able to afford the featured Audi S7 sedan for another couple of decades. B.
Pepsi: Spot guaranteed to star X Factor winner Melanie Amaro and a comfortably campy Elton John was fairly entertaining. But the brand promise of "Pepsi for all" could have been spelled out a bit better. B-plus.
Hyundai 3: Difficult to miss the point of this ad: the new Veloster is faster than a cheetah. The human prey denouement was worth a chuckle. B-minus.
NBC 2: The first of the evening's promos for tonight's debut of Smash pulled up the curtain on what could be a hit in the making. B.
Bud Light 2: Typical beer-ad vibe about good times that accompany brewskis, presumably including the new Platinum that is "triple-filtered"with a "smooth-finish, top-shelf taste." But it still isn't clear what exactly is new here, other than its eye-catching package design. C-minus.
M&Ms: Unveiling a business-savvy, modern female in Ms. Brown was an effective way to herald the return of brown M&Ms that so many aficionados miss. Truly "Not Your Average Chocolate." B-plus.
Best Buy: Promising start with a roster of actual high-tech impresarios bragging about their real-life inventions. But not enough pie in their faces when the ad abruptly shifted to what Best Buy came to tout: "Lots of unbiased advice" about buying smartphones. Is this really an ad that's going to help the struggling retailer come back? C-minus.
NBC 3: If nothing else, this promo for Celebrity Apprentice reminded us that NBC may have saved America from a Donald Trump presidency. B.
Coca-Cola 1: Polar bears watching a TV that must be airing the Super Bowl, and one gets concerned. The other hands him a Coke. We appreciate that this was selected on the fly during the game, but it doesn't say much of meaning other than playing to the fans and bringing Coke's mascot to the game. D.
Chevrolet 1: Post-apocalyptic ad ticked off Ford but it was one of the funniest of the night, right down to raining frogs at the end. And it finally begins to make sense of Chevy's year-old but struggling slogan, as Tim Allen intones, "From the beginning of the week to the end of the world, Chevy runs deep." A-minus.
Bridgestone: Other than the pure act of encouraging name recognition and proving it has a funny bone, it isn't clear what Bridgestone accomplished with this first of two spots bemusedly conflating rubber tire and sports technology. C-minus.
Go Daddy: Not sure where else it can go with the Patrick/Michaels tease series, the brand does more of the same. C.
Lexus: Finally appearing in the Super Bowl, Lexus rolls out a new sedan and talks about "change." But it doesn't make clear what the change is. C-minus.
Battleship: Just kept thinking during this movie trailer, "What is Liam Neeson doing in a Transformers-style movie?" C.
Budweiser: A celebration of the end of Prohibition is a reasonable heritage-builder for a venerable brand. B-minus.
Doritos 1: This crowd-sourced ad tickles our canine itch and produces a winner, especially with the twist at the end: "Have you seen our cat?" A.
Chevrolet 2: A funny spot worthy of Chevy's crowd-sourcing prize, although it's light on reasons that a Camaro makes a great graduation present. A.
General Electric 1: An effective ode to the wonders of American manufacturing, but it seemed to be another Budweiser commercial by the end. B-minus.
John Carter: This trailer wasn't as effective because we've been seeing it for weeks — a complaint a few viewers this year may have felt about the deluge of sneak peeks online for other ads, by the way. D.
Taxact.com: A great yarn about a kid having to pee, which caught our attention. But "Feel the free" -- ? What does that mean? C-minus.
NBC 4: Yet another effective promo of the network's Super Bowl strategy, last night's premiere of Season 2 of The Voice. C.
The Lorax: Finally, pixilation comes to Dr. Seuss, making this trailer interesting. B.
Volkswagen: A charming tale about a dog who slims down so he can chase the new Volkswagen Beetle. But the kicker about last year's Star Wars ad was too self-referential, jarring and disconnected. C-minus.
NBC 5: Somehow a promo featuring both Jack Black and Howard Stern should have been funnier. D.
H&M: Long glimpses of David Beckham's body and tattoos, if you like that sort of thing (clearly, one for the ladies — witness the close-up on his wedding ring). Interesting to see actual prices in a Super Bowl ad. C.
Coca-Cola 2: OK, now the polar bears are fumbling with a Coke bottle as if it's a football. D.
Chevrolet 2: Great idea to stitch together all of the brand's web-video viral stunt promotions for the new Sonic, catching eyes of Millennial targets for the car. Also, Allen made even more sense when his voiceover said, "From the first time, to the time of your life, Chevy runs deep." B.
Star Wars: Coming soon in 3D. For certain individuals, this trailer was the highlight of their month. B-minus.
The Avengers: Indulged pre-pubescent memories of comic-book fans about how cool it was to think of Hulk and Captain America and Iron Man and Thor and that Scarlett Johansson character all on the same incredible team. B-plus.
Teleflora: Sexist? Suppose so. But Adriana Lima, in one of two Super Bowl appearances this year, was riveting in an old-fashioned way. And there was no missing the message. B.
Skechers: Least effective use of a dog all evening, and then there was the lame glimpse of over-exposed Mark Cuban at the end. C-minus.
NFL 1: Good idea for the league to remind viewers of its commitment through Play60 to thwart childhood obesity. B-minus.
Cars.com: Something about Cars.com giving you confidence to make a car purchase, but we can't shake the creepy image of a snake-like Mini Me coming out of the guy's shoulder. C-minus.
Doritos 2: Mildly entertaining story of a baby and a grandma sticking it to an obnoxious kid. C.
E-trade: Fell far short of previous epic E-trade spots such as last year's ad about the tailor. C-minus.
GI Joe: Regardless of whether this movie looks interesting, will anyone remember this when it finally hits cinemas on June 29? D.
NFL 3: In a promo repeated a few times through the rest of the game, there's something about a $1-million giveaway and a fantasy league. C.
Chase: Drew Brees' kid is destroying the neighborhood with errant kicks of his football, and the spot effectively shows how Chase QuickPay can assuage the resulting property damage. Cute kid, too. A-minus.
Toyota: There are "nearly 7 million Camry stories out there," the ad tells us, and then shows us a few. Effective nostalgia generator. But does it really help sell the new Camry that Toyota is counting on? C-plus.
Hulu: Will Arnett is funny just showing up. And it was interesting to hear TV programming as material that is driven "into the squishy earfolds of your brain." Made the pitch that Hulu needed to make. B.
Bud Light 3: Cacaphonous spot but it seemed like the message was something about a Bud Light app. C-minus.
NBC 6: Best network promo of the night as Madonna "catches" Jay Leno's cell-phone ring tone: "Like a Virgin." B-plus.
NBC 7: This is where Betty White jumped the shark. D.
Chrysler: This was riveting because it was a Clint Eastwood monologue, because of its two-minute length, and because you kept hanging on through the actor's "second half" pep talk to see how it would help Chrysler sell cars. But alas, because it didn't, and because Chrysler simply tried to borrow impact from its Eminem spot of a year ago, this epic effort has to rank as a disappointment. B-minus.
NBC 8: Smash looks like it could be pretty good. C-plus.
Fiat: Chrysler's ad about a temptress, and a car, clothed in black and red works on American television as well as it did in Italy. Fiat's 500 line can use an Abarth about right now. B-plus.
Pepsi 2: We get it: Even Coke delivery guys secretly drink Pepsi Max. But did they have to bring back Regis Philbin? C.
Toyota 2: Again, an interesting take by a brand that historically hasn't produced interesting advertising. But what is reinvented about the new Camry? A missed opportunity. D.
Coca-Cola 3: Something about a bear roaring and then going back to the TV. D.
Oikos: By the time she head-butts the self-satisfied pretty boy John Stamos, that's exactly what we want her to do. And it may boost Greek yogurt sales, if not Oikos specifically. B.
Century 21: Good way to remind beleaguered Americans that a Realtor might be able to help them. But it's time to put Deion Sanders and Donald Trump off the screen for a while. C.
Acura: The much-previewed spot featuring Jerry Seinfeld playing himself was a good yarn. It also was a reminder why Jay Leno's acting career never went anywhere. B.
General Electric 2: This spot gets closer to the point hinted at by the first one: "We're on the forefront of revitalizing manufacturing." B.
Budweiser 2: Here we see what Bud was setting up with the first spot of the game. We see glimpses of the moon landing and the U.S. beating the Soviets in Olympic hockey, and it solidifies the connection between Budweiser and "great times." Better than most beer ads. B.
Bridgestone 2: Maybe the tire brand should just sponsor the halftime show and call it a day. Tim Duncan and Steve Nash dribbling silent basketballs? D.
NFL 3: An interesting montage of the league's history, narrated by Danny Glover — until you realize that the point is supposed to be how the league is acting on concerns about concussions, ending lamely with, "Here's to making the next century safer and more exciting than ever." Oblique attempt to "confront" the issue fails badly. D-minus.
Honda: Another highly previewed spot that was a pop-culture touchstone before it ever aired. So that gave you time to consider how bad an actor Matthew Broderick really is. B.
Act of Valor: Hard not to root for this picture which apparently includes actual Navy SEALS. B-minus.
MetLife: One of the charming surprises of the evening had us re-playing to see how many cartoon characters of yore had joined the Peanuts gang. Let's see, there were the Jetsons, Scooby Doo andn the Gang, the Cosby Kids, Peppy LePeu, Magilla Gorilla .... A.
NBC 8: Continues the buildup of Katherine McPhee for Smash, and doing so quite effectively. B.
Hyundai 4: Back to Hyundai as a performance brand with another R Spec spot; we get the point. But can Genesis really be an effective form of CPR? B.
Bud Light 4: The somewhat entertaining adventures of the dog, Herewego, in a "traditional" Super Bowl utilization of canine charms. B-minus.
Kia: Too much sand from Mr. Sandman sends this guy on the dream of his life, involving that woman from the Teleflora commercial, riding a bucking rhinoceros, and ... yes, a car. Was it Optima? C.
CareerBuilder.com: Just because Anjelica Huston doesn't like this ad doesn't mean it's not funny. Actually, it was just OK, and the chimpanzees thing is getting a bit old. C-minus.
NBC 9: Standard promo fare falls short of the others. C-minus.
Samsung: Satisfying opening for those who are wary of Apple's takeover of human life. But after that, as a celebration of the new Galaxy Note, it sort of fell apart. D.
Cadillac: To the point: Cadillac thinks it can finally play with German rivals in compact-sedan segment. Message about the ATS noted. C.
History Channel: The cable network on a roll looks like it might have another winner in Swamp. B-minus.
GoDaddy 2: So that's what the internet cloud is! Will Danica Patrick have her clothes on during NASCAR races? C.
NBC 10: Winding down to the end of the game, promo of a new series, Awake, that isn't Smash but could be interesting. C-minus.