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Super Commercial

February 5, 2010

If the Super Bowl were directed by famous filmmakers (like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, etc.), it might capture the attention of a wider swath of American society than it already does.  Of course, that would be a pretty difficult feat, as the single most watched American television event on an annual basis.  But if you really can’t stand all the hype, don’t hate the game; watch the ads.  The advertisements alone are enough to draw a substantial audience that couldn’t care less about the game, as any stereotypical (or perhaps hyperbolic?) female viewer would tell you.

Throughout the years, the ads have amounted to quite an impressive stockpile of entertaining and relevant American culture, which in turn have inspired and spawned additional creativity.  After all, who could forget Apple’s announcement that 1984 would be nothing like 1984? Hell, the Budweiser frogs almost literally spawned an industry of parody t-shirts if nothing else. How about E*Trade wasting $2 million on a dancing chimp? Or Terry Tate: Office Linebacker?

Once you consider the pervasiveness of subsequent references to those ads in television, film, and the internet, it’s clear the Super Bowl has an extremely significant impact on pop culture beyond mere sports.  But more importantly, beyond being merely entertaining, the ads themselves are the closest thing to a finger on the pulse of the American cultural psyche because of the stakes implicated by the size and breadth of the audience.

The modern Mad Men and Women who call the signals for Super Bowl commercials are not always given as much credit as they deserve for grasping the American mood. Their most interesting ads can’t be taken at face value.  For example, who could forget — although Holiday Inn seems to have tried — the 1997 class-reunion ad in which a hot babe struts through the party, chest out, her blond hair swinging, as a voice-over ticks off the part-by-part cost of her cosmetic surgery make-over? The message: her make-over involves mere thousands of dollars, compared to the millions Holiday Inn has spent on renovations. You must remember the tagline:  she’s finally recognized by a former classmate who sputters, “Bob… Bob Johnson?”

So what were the Mads telling us here? If pricey renovations were acceptable for corporations, they were also acceptable for ordinary people?  That Holiday Inn going upscale was no different from transitioning genders? Or, by extension, that anything a corporation can do, you can, too? In other words, corporate privilege equals personal agency.

From a psychological perspective, studies have shown that advertisements are more compelling and persuasive when using fiction to emotionally charge the content and lower the audience’s guard.  Nietzsche could have told you that.

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