It's a good thing there were so many surprises in yesterday's Super Bowl game itself (although one of them – the 35-minute power outage – we could have done without). Because instead of the suspense and surprise that traditionally come with Super Bowl commercials, this year's viewers can be excused for having a certain sense of deja vu all over again.
Part of the reason was literal deja vu; in a mad scramble for free views, almost all the advertisers released their commercials early online.
Before game time, some 11 million people had seen the Toyota "Wishes Granted" campaign, about 5 million the Volkswagen Rasta spot and 2.2 million the self-indulgent Budweiser Clydesdale saga on combined websites.
Compounding that was the presence of so many of the same brands, the same characters and the same tired formulas Super Bowl fans see year after year after year.
Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi, just about every car manufacturer except GM and Volvo, and that bastion of good taste, GoDaddy, were back.
So were Danica Patrick and the E-Trade talking baby. Subway even dusted off Jared Fogle to sell their 11-inch "Footlong" sandwiches.
For the eighth year in a row, Doritos ran a pair of crowdsourced commercials about how their product is so irresistible that otherwise sane people will do bizarre and humiliating things for it.
Budweiser, thinking that it worked back in 1987 when their market share was more than three times today's, did another spot about the Clydesdales.
Chrysler was back with two commercials spending most of two minutes each glorifying a segment of the American population (this year combat veterans and farmers) and using their vehicles (Jeep, whose manufacturing has just been outsourced to China, and Dodge pickups) as product placements.
If you've seen "Cocoon," you've seen the Taco Bell commercials, and if you saw the Coke commercial from the late 1960s with the singers on the hillside, you've seen the other VW spot.
And Samsung, with apparently nothing better to think of, followed the old commercial-about-a-commercial formula.
Two of the holdouts, who waited for the broadcast to let people see their spots, did surprisingly well – in part thanks to the element of, uh, surprise.
Tide's commercial – about a t-shirt with a Joe Montana-shaped salsa stain that becomes the NFL equivalent of the Shroud of Turin until its owner's wife washes out the stain with Tide – would have been very predictable if viewers knew in advance that it was a Tide commercial. But they didn't, because Procter & Gamble kept it a secret until air time.
"It looks like our strategy paid off," North American fabric care marketing director Sundar Raman told USA Today. The commercial was the USA Today ad meter's San Francisco 49ers, coming in a breathtakingly close second.
One of Chrysler's commercials – the one with still photographs illustrating Paul Harvey's paean to family farmers – also took viewers by surprise, though not necessarily in the way the company expected; it lit up Twitter with zillions of tweets asking what the ---- the spot was all about.
And the Old Guard at Budweiser is in for two surprises. Their pleasant surprise is that the ad meter's 7,619 self-selected (and therefore not representative) panelists voted their Clydesdale spot first by a nose. (Anecdotally, at the Super Bowl party I went to the spot drew a lot of oohs and aws – from women, all of whom were drinking wine.) Their unpleasant surprise will be that this will do absolutely nothing whatever to prevent them from enduring their twenty-sixth consecutive year of ever-shrinking sales, revenues and market share.