And so, last night, to the yearly ritual of watching the Super Bowl ads,super-bowl-commercials-2012-header.jpg punctuated by brief episodes of the game itself. This is billed as the showcase of national advertising. The winner last night?

The Baltimore Ravens.

Yep, I enjoyed the game more than the ads. Now, I ought to clarify that this is the first year that I’ve actually understood the rules (at least some of them), which sure makes a difference. And the ebb and flow of the play, with a tight finish, kept me interested. As for the ads,…time out. The amount of contrived, derivative advertising with no brand idea, no advertising idea, in fact, no idea, was alarming – given the average cost of a Super Bowl spot.

I seriously believe the 35 minute power outage was thrown by some Super Bowl Advertising Standards Committee, its president starting the emergency meeting with a “What the heck’s going on?” – or, as Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco might have put it, “What the f***’s going on?” The advertising actually seemed to emerge from the outage in better shape, as did the 49ers; but in both cases it was too little too late.

The damage was done early on. The Ravens got early points on the board and the game was in its infancy when we were subjected to GoDaddy’s “Perfect Match.” A flag should have been thrown at that stage. Many of the ads and products could have been interchanged and you’d barely have noticed. Yes, there were a couple of highlights over the piece. I personally found Ram’s “Farmer” intriguing, though I suspect it’s because I’d never heard of radio legend Paul Harvey and his “So God made a farmer” essay. It was borrowed interest; but at least it was moving borrowed interest.

Perhaps the best way to depict the paucity of fare on offer this year is to compare ads for the same brand from this year’s game and a previous year. One example would be Tide, with its “Miracle Stain” ad last night and “Talking Stain” spot for Tide to Go in Super Bowl 2008. In the former a Joe Montana-shaped splatter forms on the jersey of a 49ers fan. It turns into a media sensation as 49ers from around the country line up for a look. Until the stain is disappeared by the fan’s wife – who’s washed it away with Tide. And also happens to be wearing a Baltimore Ravens jersey. The ad was actually one of the better ones last night, but still seems contrived and over-elaborate when compared with the insight-driven, idea-based gem from 5 years ago. Here it is. Will we see anything to match it next year?