This year I forced myself to watch Superbowl XLIII, preferring to view online via www.ustream.com and not on the BBC in order to see the advertising. The Superbowl has over the years become a showcase for American advertising at its extravagant best - and the commercials now form part of the overall razzamatazz . A few—most famously the 1984 60-second spot for the launch of the Apple Macintosh, written by my New York colleague Steve Hayden—have entered advertising mythology.
These commercials are spectacularly expensive to make and to air. Rather countercyclically, the cost of a 30-second spot has increased since 2008 and now stands at $3m. Extraordinary, until you remember there is really no other time in the year where you can reach an audience of almost a hundred million people simultaneously. The Apple launch commercial only aired once, and yet entered popular folklore - so a brilliant and memorable Superbowl commercial can pay off quite well.
It must be said yesterday evening's crop were a mild disappointment. Perhaps the most interesting idea of the evening was Denny's offer of a free Grand Slam breakfast for everyone in America this Tuesday (although the ads which launched this idea were quite fun too). There was the usual mischief from Doritos and GoDaddy.com, plus rather a lot of commercials featuring animals and occasionally the kind of blue-collar sexist smut we simply don't get in the UK any more.
But my dim view seemed to be shared by everyone else watching. And I could tell this because the event - and the commercials - were very widely Twittered.
Twitter, which I have written about before, is wonderful for providing a live popular commentary on events. The protocol which makes this possible is called the hashtag - any Twitter post (a tweet) relating to an event is simply accompanied by, say, #superbowl or #superads09. (You can see a discussion of this here) Using a site such as Twitterfall.com you can simply add the hashtag as a search-term and watch the comments flow in real time. It's a fabulously instantaneous form of feedback, and helps you see within seconds what is capturing the imagination. Watching the inauguration simultaneously on Twitterfall and television, it was obvious within seconds that the high point of the morning was not Obama's speech but Aretha's hat.
PS You can see all the ads here.