Is a Super Bowl ad as effective as people think? Maybe not. I got to thinking about all the products that have been introduced with great fanfare during the Big Game, and realized most of them went on to be failures. Crystal Pepsi, dot-com businesses, a general rule, if you notice a Super Bowl's ads lean heavily toward a certain trend, that trend is either at the peak of its bubble or outright doomed from the start. Case in point with 2002 and its featured product, the mLife.

What is mLife? That is what AT&T wanted everybody asking. None of the ads told you what it was, they only pointed you to a website where you would find out it was a cell phone. But not just any cell phone...the One Cell Phone to Rule Them All. It was supposed to be the mobile device around which your life would revolve. Your mobile life. Your mLife! Lowercase M is the new lowercase I! Nickelodeon's gonna introduce a new kidcom called "mCarly"!

None of that happened. And the bitter irony is, a device like this really would come to exist and take over the world, but Apple would introduce it, not AT&T. They had the right idea, they guessed correctly where the mobile market was heading, they just jumped on it too early. Super Bowl XXXVI would be the only place anybody would ever hear the word "mLife." That, and Super Bowl XXXVII where it made one last tiny appearance.

Anyone remember Battlebots? It was a cable TV show where people built Erector Set styled, remote controlled machines and set them to war against one another. It was a hit around the time this Bud Light parody arrived. With an eye-catching idea and a funny gag, this is a great kickoff for the Bowl -- at least better than the last few we've reviewed here.

Following that is eTrade, the investment company that had been using a monkey for two consecutive Bowls. This would be his third and last appearance, and he went out dancing. It wasn't appreciated by his parent company though.

No lemons yet! This is the ad where Britney Spears travels through time in a genre-spanning 120-second musical covering the entire ad history of the Pepsi corporation. At the time, I couldn't stand Britney, but it was impossible for any human to NOT enjoy this ad. It's darned good. She had endorsed plenty of products before this appeared, but this Pepsi ad would turn out to be THE commercial of Britney's entire career. The shot of her at the end holding the can at arm's length and winking would become the iconic image people associate with her.
It really has been a while, as these next two spots will make clear. At this point in history the Rock was a superstar; his leap from WWE to the big screen in The Mummy Returns was a HUGE deal, Then everyone felt cheated when they paid a ticket and got a lumpy badly textured video game version of him instead, so Universal tried to make up for it with a spinoff movie starring the real deal. To think this would not be the weirdest or dumbest thing Dwayne would sign up for by a LONG shot.

And THEN there's Rudy; I'm sure you don't want me to get started on him. This was the post-9/11 Bowl, so there are a lot of American flags waving in the breeze and slow-motion shots of rescue workers. Giuliani was lionized at this point in time for merely being the mayor of NYC at the time of the tragedy. In the years to come his face would start melting, along with his brain, and he'd become Trump's best friend and all that good press would evaporate into nothing. I winced a bit seeing him pop up here.

First apperance and mention of "mLife."

This Bud Light gag is pretty risque for the Super Bowl.

I miss Quiznos. For mass-produced hoagies theirs were usually a cut above Subway. They're not GONE gone but I think there are like three Quiznos outlets in existence through the entire continental US now, about the same as Rax.

And there's the unstoppable tech powerhouse known as Yahoo; another company whose power has been greatly diminished (yet I confess to still having an active E-mail account there. At least it's not AOL or I'd really look old, right?)

The second mLife spot is two accountants meeting...somebody? They look starstruck, but I had no idea who this was back then and I don't know now either. Is this someone who was famous?

This kid complains that his parents "won't let me have an mLife until I'm 16," which is the biggest clue yet as to what it is. It's now either a cell phone or a car.

The first trailer for Gibson's "Signs" appears after that, super-early (due date: August 6). It was the film that, following The Sixth Sense, convinced everybody Shaymalan could do no wrong. And then his next few films came out.

The Clydesdales give tribute to those lost on 9/11. When this aired everybody was like "awwww." More recently, when companies have issued responses to real-world tragedies, they've been met with outrage: 'HOW DARE YOU TRY TO SELL SOMETHING AT A TIME LIKE THIS, CAPITALIST PIGS."
The main point of the eTrade ad was to end the "monkey" campaign while still using it at the same time. Brisk, an iced tea, did something very similar. Until now it had been sold with stop-motion versions of celebrities with big heads. It was rather successful, but they stopped the whole thing dead with this one, insiting the product "sold itself."

Maybe it's due to having covered that dull 1987 Bowl last time, but the 2002 batch of Bowl ads feels way better than the norm. It's rare I'll truly enjoy an ad from Visa, for example.

Viewers were asked to vote online for their favorite "era" from the Pepsi Britney Spears ad. The opening 1950s scene won and got to be seen in its entirety. Complete versions of most of the other eras haven't been released, with the exception of the 1960s bit (seen here) and the 2000s bit (seen here).

I had a teacher explain to the class that the use of Led Zeppelin in Cadillac ads was an example of targeting a specific generation, namely hers, who were now in the typical age bracket for a Cadillac yet might feel Caddies were too "stuffy." I realized right then that if I ever saw Cloud Strife or Goku used to sell a Cadillac, I would know I was old. It still hasn't happened, but DBZ characters WERE once used to sell a car (the Ford Fusion, naturally).

In the dark future proposed by AT&T, you would need an mLife to date people. Thank goodness that didn't happen....ah, wait. Ah, nuts.

Vin Diesel appears for the first time as the outrageous secret agent known as xXx. Between him and Dwayne, this would cement the dominance of bald white men in the realm of 2000s action movies. UPDATE: My readers have informed me Dwayne is part-Black Nova Scotian, part-Samoan.

The compositing in this Levis ad looks atrocious, even for the time period, but I think that's intentional. Also, I'm saying nothing about that "no smoking" ad from the smoking company because there isn't much more commentary I can add from the last time they did this.

Yikes, That 80s Show happened around this time? People who have seen this bomb say it made two major mistakes: (1) it had no connection to That 70s Show and (2) it wasn't funny. Also, while the humor in That 70s Show grew out of its chaarcters, That 80s Show was nearly entirely jokes about the period setting. Now we have That 90s Show, which I haven't seen, but I understand avoids the mistakes that were made here.

You know what's wild? I didn't have a local copy of Super Bowl XXXVI until one turned up at Goodwill the VERY DAY I started writing this. It's not the copy I'm using, though, because the picture was jumpy on every VCR I tried it in. The out-of-state copy I got in a trade just looks better.

In the first break after halftime, AT&T finally pulled back the curtain on mLife, only in a fashion possibly weirder than what they started with. The 60-second spot focuses on random shots of naked bellies, culiminating in a woman giving birth and the doctor reaching for some surgical scizzors. "We were meant to live a wireless life," says AT&T. GET IT???

This Bud ad has almost nothing to do with Bud but I like it anyway. Come to think of it, none of the other Bud ads focused on the product. Instead it was Bud Light that usually had the bottle play a role.

A 2000s teen comedy, with sex as the central theme. Sounds innovative!

And speaking of sex (because it's the theme of this particular break) the Bud Light ad shown here played throughout the rest of 2002. It came on one evening in front of my conservative grandparents. They laughed their heads off. Didn't see that coming.

Look at this commercial for Universal Studios Florida, full of rides that don't exist anymore. Nickelodeon Studios is a special sore spot (last I heard, the Blue Man Group has that building now).

There's Jared Fogle, the Rudy Giuliani of Subway. This is the risk a product takes by associating itself with one man. Just ask the makers of Jello Pudding.

This Austin Powers 3 ad does not mention the title of the movie. Perhaps it hadn't been decided yet. Perhaps the Super Bowl Censor Committee thought "Goldmember" was too obscene. Knowing Mr. Myers, he probably preferred something worse.
It's the CGI gerbil and rabbit, AKA the very final ad campaign from Blockbuster. They're in a pet shop opposite a video store and they make comments about whatever sale the chain has going, then the gerbil shakes his rear a whole lot. He did this in more than one ad and it's probably the only thing anyone remembers from the campaign. Alas, all the creepy ass-shaking in the world wasn't going to stop the future.

Andy Richter Controls The Universe didn't last long, but the few who saw it seemed to really love it. Maybe I'll check it out someday and write about it.

Remember ringtones? Apparently they were new that month. Choosing the correct bleeps and bloops was important. If you picked a ringtone that was too annoying, you became a burden to your friends. Ask anyone who survived in 2000s society; they'll tell you.
Blade, as you might have heard, is getting a reboot from Disney. It's a Marvel property. Mmm-hmm.

Yup, this is the point where the ads get less interesting and I run out of things to say, so just have a look at the rest of these.


I did not expect to enjoy this one as much as I did, given all my rosiest Super Bowl memories are back in the 90s. But a lot of these ads still hold up, and if I can be frank, those making Super Bowl ads today could learn a thing or two from them.