Debate all you want about who had the best or the funniest Super Bowl ad on Sunday (two of the "amateur" Doritos contest entries placed in the top five in USA Today's insta-poll, with one winning $1 million for coming out on top), but only one of these ads was not like the others. Did you pick the Saturday Night Live "MacGruber" sketch for Pepsi, aka PepSuber? If not, you should have.
SNL's PepSuber spot ranked 44th out of the 50 ads surveyed by USA Today, and Nikki Finke over at Deadline Hollywood Daily called it her least favorite of the night. MediaBistro's AgencySpy and Stuart Elliott at The New York Times were among many observers who couldn't figure out exactly what was going on. Let me help explain what happened. Especially since Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch tried to yesterday but has since removed its post?! Interesting. That post had alleged that Pepsi wanted to buy promotional space during SNL, and if you saw SNL this past weekend with host Steve Martin, you noticed not one, but three MacGruber-Pepsi sketches, each one ramping up the amount of Pepsi content to ridiculous proportions in the third and final spot. For my full recap of SNL #34.15 with Steve Martin, click here.
Truth is, the sketches with Will Forte (MacGruber), Kristen Wiig (assistant Vicki) and special guest assistant Richard Dean Anderson (reprising his role as TV's MacGyver) were never originally supposed to be part of the SNL broadcast, which is why all three bits aired during the commercial blocks. According to my sources, SNL agreed to produce three Super Bowl ads for Pepsi, but as Sunday approached, the show started to think that they might not air during the big game. In fact, PepsiCo only informed reporters on Sunday that they'd air SNL's PepSuber ad, according to the Wall Street Journal. But NBC didn't have this information on Saturday night, and the show didn't want to have put in all of that time, effort and money for nothing. So they aired them as in-house ads during breaks of SNL. Which only confused viewers more that night, and frustrated folks on the show as well. Are these ads or sketches? Is SNL in the product-placement business now? Are we heading back to the early days of TV comedy, when Milton Berle was emcee of The Texaco Star Theater? So many questions. Actually, I only brought up three just then, but you may have more to add to the proceedings. If Pepsi had shown all three of the ads on Sunday, viewers would have enjoyed the surprise and bought in to both the comedy and celebrity aspects of the MacGruber/MacGyver/Pepsi triangle. Only airing the second spot threw non-SNL viewers for a loop. They didn't see humor so much as they saw SNL comedians hawking Pepsi. And NBC's decision to air the ads during SNL also threw viewers for a loop. They saw the humor in MacGruber — Forte is always very funny in this anti-MacGyver character — but couldn't help asking why he was drinking Pepsi, and thinking, is SNL now sponsoring products? It's one thing for SNL to spoof advertising — this past weekend included a spot for "Chewable Pampers," after all — or for the actors from SNL to endorse a product in a commercial. But when you cannot tell if an SNL sketch is an actual advertisement or a spoof, then where's the joke in that?