DETROIT -- This year's Super Bowl was not a super venue for automakers' TV spots.
About 141 million U.S. TV viewers watched the Feb. 5 NFL championship game, estimates ABC, which broadcast it. The Super Bowl is routinely the most-watched TV show of the year. Marketers pay big money -- $2.5 million for 30 seconds of ad time during this year's game -- to air commercials they want viewers to remember and like.
But the vehicle brands that advertised during the Super Bowl -- Cadillac, Ford, Honda, Hummer and Toyota -- didn't especially impress viewers or critics.
Cadillac's commercial cast the 2007 Escalade as a high-fashion model. It ranked fourth on USA Today's list of the five least popular Super Bowl spots among a focus group of consumers.
Toyota's bilingual father-son chat about the 2006 Camry Hybrid, intended to promote the benefits of hybrid technology, left Slate.com cold.
"Do we need a reductive explanation couched as a discussion with a child?" the online magazine asked.
Ford's choice of a spokes-amphibian for the 2006 Escape Hybrid startled Advertising Age critic Bob Garfield.
He wrote: "The shocker Sunday night was seeing our beloved Kermit the Frog whore himself to Ford Motor Co." Garfield conceded the spot itself was "charming."
Advertising Age, like Automotive News, is published by Crain Communications.
An ad review in The Wall Street Journal dismissed the entire lineup of automotive commercials. "None of the carmaker ads generated much heat," the newspaper said.
Other automotive spots were somewhat better received. Stuart Elliott, ad critic for The New York Times, liked a commercial for the Honda Ridgeline pickup. The spot paired two iconic characters from truck mudflaps: a silver silhouette of a shapely woman and cartoon legend Yosemite Sam. "A delightful spot that mashed up Looney Tunes and the Pep Boys," Elliott said.
A second Toyota commercial, for the Tundra, showed the pickup on a beach at low tide. At high tide, the truck is tossed about on the rocks. After the tide ebbs, the truck's owner returns and drives off.
"A good example of Super Bowl cinema: simple and dramatic," said Advertising Age's Garfield.
Instead of showing a new commercial, Hummer revived a previous spot that portrays a giant robot and a monster falling in love and giving birth to an H3. Said Garfield: "We like this spot in the Super Bowl more than we did when it broke on mere-mortal TV."
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