Rating the Super Bowl Ads

Until that stunning fourth quarter, it was looking as though the over-the-top commercials would be the only interesting part of Super Bowl 42. Turns out they were just the most interesting part. With the price of a 30-second spot up to a staggering $2.7 million this year, it's vitally important for companies to make a good impression before television's largest audience. Here's a breakdown of who got their money's worth and who should ask for a refund.

5. E-Trade: Baby
Is it a direct rip-off of the Quiznos "Baby Bob" ad? Absolutely: a beyond-precocious baby brags about the stock profits he earned using E-Trade while a clown ties balloon animals in the background. But this one is much funnier than the Quiznos ads, mainly due to the natural, improvisational dialogue: "Me and the boys were talking about what to do with all this extra coin, and I was like, 'I'm renting a clown.' And I did. Bobo here. And, uh, I really underestimated the creepiness."

4. Coca-Cola: Balloons
The best special effects are the ones that make you forget they're special effects. So kudos to the team behind this inventive Coca-Cola ad. In it, two giant balloons at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade (Underdog and Stewie Griffin from "Family Guy") float after a Coca-Cola balloon. They float through midtown Manhattan after their prize until the balloon of a lovable loser snatches it away from them. You're a good man, Charlie Brown.

3. Diet Pepsi: What Is Love
Diet Coke maintains such a vice grip on the calorie-free cola sector that you could almost forget Diet Pepsi exists, until the Super Bowl rolls back around. But the Pepsi crew made an impression with this funny ad, in which a nation of celebrities, parents, game show contestants and Hibachi chefs nod off to the tune of Haddaway's "What Is Love." That is, until they get their fix of Diet Pepsi Max, infused with ginseng and extra caffeine. Then they're back to doing the head-jerk from Saturday Night Live's "A Night at the Roxbury" sketches. Extra points for the Chris Kattan cameo at the end.

2. Budweiser: Rocky
Why this commercial was so winning is a mystery, considering it's a retread of the "Clydesdale Donkey" ad from 2004. But while this version isn't quite as funny as that predecessor, it's much cuter. Hank, a Clydesdale deemed unworthy to represent the Budweiser brand, is trained by a Dalmatian, only to return triumphantly the following year. Adorable animals, a training montage: I don't know how much more you could ask for.

1. FedEx: Pigeons
FedEx may never best their 2005 ad for FedEx Kinko's, which deconstructed the 10 things necessary for a great Super Bowl commercial and ticked them off one by one. But if they can't top themselves, they can at least top all of the other commercials this year. The "Pigeons" ad, which features a shipping department consisting of carrier pigeons, is not only funny, it drives home the point that switching to FedEx could save you a headache. A classic, effective sales message in an entertaining, well-executed commercial.

Audi: The Godfather
It's a shame that every Super Bowl commercial is held up to the standard of being funny. Audi's spot, a takeoff of the still-terrifying horse head scene from "The Godfather," substitutes an old blood-soaked grille from a luxury car. "Old luxury just got put on notice," goes the tag line, as a sinister, sparkling Audi speeds away from the scene of the crime.

5. Life Water: Thriller
Watching a Super Bowl commercial and asking, "What does that have to do with the product?" is like looking at the Mona Lisa and saying, "What a bland, unflattering outfit she's wearing." It's a valid comment, but one that shows you've missed the point. That said, I totally missed the point of this Life Water ad that featured creepy lizards doing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" routine flanked by Naomi Campbell. What am I supposed to be buying again?

4. Ice Breakers: Carmen Electra
Not to take anything from Carmen Electra—she's a beautiful woman, to be sure—but when was the last time anyone saw her? Spoke her name? Hired her for something? There's nothing wrong with reviving a subprime celebrity (see: last year's hilarious Nationwide ad featuring MC Hammer), but it helps to couch the concept in the person's C-list status. In this commercial Electra is signing autographs for a line of people that wraps a city block. In what alternate universe?

3. Gatorade: Thirsty Dog
A black dog slurps water from his bowl. The tag line: "Man's Best Friend." Cut to a shot of three Gatorade bottles. The ad is pointless, and it made me feel bad for the dog, which looks as if it's been thirsty for about three days. No animals were harmed in the making of this commercial, right?

2. CareerBuilder: Heart
There's a fine line between gross-good and gross-bad, and it's hard to know when you've crossed it. Unfortunately for CareerBuilder, this spot falls on the wrong side of that line. A woman sobbing at her dead-end job is surprised (but not too surprised) when her heart rips itself out of her chest, marches into her boss's office and declares that it's quitting. The heart then marches out of the building. (Tag line: Follow your heart.) A bit literal, no?

1. Sales Genie: Pandas/Ramesh
The product is some Web site that gives your company sales leads, but the commercials were shockingly ill-conceived. In one of the animated spots, two Chinese pandas named Ching-Ching and Ling-Ling argue over how to generate sales for their business (Ling Ling's Bamboo Furniture Shack) before a psychic tells them to go to Sales Genie. In the other, the lead windfall goes to Ramesh, an underperforming Indian salesman with seven kids and a mocking Punjabi accent. These wouldn't be Super Bowl-caliber commercials even if they weren't racist and deeply offensive.

Sony Pictures: Zohan
It's a commercial for a new Adam Sandler comedy. That's all.