Super Bowl ads showed us just how bad the U.S. economy is

How bad is the American economy? So bad that we're having to import our punch lines from Sweden. When you watch 32 Super Bowl commercials and the most memorable slogan is Skillnaden ar drinkability, you know you've got a problem.

Abandoned by many of its most faithful advertisers, including FedEx and all the American manufacturers, and reduced to do business with companies that usually show infomercials with flashing 800 numbers on obscure cable channels in the middle of the night, Sunday's Super Bowl ads were a bedraggled lot.

Full of tired slapstick (when you've seen one guy thrown out a fourth-floor window, you've seen 'em all), cheesy teases (when Danica Patrick said she was enhanced, guys, she meant her Internet service; don't bother to check the ''uncensored'' version on the Net) and inexplicable gimmicks (would you really take advice on stocks from a talking baby?), the ads were even more boring than the game's first half.

Skillnaden ar drinkability, by the way, means ''great drinkability,'' the punch line (literally) to an ad in which NBC talk show host Conan O'Brien endorses Bud Light in a commercial for Swedish TV, with disastrous results.

Anheuser-Busch was one of a handful of traditional big Super Bowl advertisers -- including Coca-Cola, Pepsi and a couple of others -- who stuck with this year's telecast, buying four and a half minutes of ads.

Price tag: somewhere north of $10 million. Big bucks in a ragged economy, but Anheuser-Busch was just acquired by the Belgian brewer InBev and seems worried its customers may go on some kind of jingoist rampage. Surely it's no coincidence that many of its commercials Sunday dealt with the concept of ''Americanism,'' from the O'Brien ad to one about how its signature Clydesdale horses immigrated from Scotland. (``It's a story of strength, triumph and oats.'')

Though lackluster, the Anheuser-Busch ads at least offered a sense of familiarity. A sense of economic dislocation echoed through many of Sunday's commercials. Were we really seeing dog food ads during the Super Bowl? Yes, and Pedigree hopes your pooch enjoyed a commercial ridiculing owners of ostriches, rhinos and boars.

If Pedigree's ads seemed a sad tumble for an event that once was associated with Cadillacs and computers, the commercial smacked of downright desperation. This year, ads offering to melt down earrings and wedding bands for gold; next year, buying your hair or blood.

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