“That feeling of freedom, open highways of possibilities, has kind of been lost to materialism and marketing.” - Sheryl Crow
For the past 16 years, I have planned and hosted Super Bowl parties—sometimes as a community event with 100+ teenagers, other times in my neighborhood with 20-25 of my closest neighbors.
However, for various reasons, this year was different. For most of the game, I sat with my 10-year old son and his best friend from across the street. And for the first time in 15+ years, I was able to just sit down and watch the football game… and all of the commercials.
Now, just to be fair, I appreciate entertainment just as much as the next guy and find great enjoyment in clever advertisements. But as somebody who has developed great frustration over the consumer-driven culture that we live in, I observe marketing with a skeptical eye. I often seek to determine the underlying promise of any advertisement and uncover what else, other than the product itself, marketers are trying to sell me.
Far too often, I discover their underlying message promotes foolish misconceptions about life. We would be wise to recognize and intentionally reject each of them. Consider just a few misconceptions on display during Sunday night’s Super Bowl.
7 Life Misconceptions Portrayed in the Super Bowl Ads
1. Happiness is for sale.
Marketers often seek to convince us their products will increase our happiness. From soda and alcohol to fashion and automobiles, happiness is offered to us in our very next purchase. I was surprised at the level of boldness some products used in promoting this misconception. Coca-Cola (“Open happiness”) and Volkswagen (“Get in. Get happy.”) stand out among the rest. The truth of life is that happiness cannot be purchased no matter how hard we search for it in material possessions. And advertisers do a great disservice to their audience by promising it in temporal packages.
2. Self-confidence can be quickly found in the right purchase.
Every person desires to be comfortable in their skin and self-confident in their abilities. We have an ingrained desire to accomplish, succeed, and make something of our lives. But many of us are held back by a lack of self-confidence. Thus, we desire any quick advantage to find it. This again is a common theme among marketers and many will offer it to us in exchange for our dollars. Both Audi and Speed Stick (among others) employed it on Sunday. But putting your confidence in an automobile or stick of deodorant is not the same as finding it in yourself. Instead, focus on your strengths, celebrate your uniqueness, and learn from past failures rather than dwelling on them.
3. Youth culture represents the pinnacle of life’s seasons.
Advertisers idolize youth culture and our society rewards them for it. For example, watch this Taco Bell commercial. Apparently, the “youth” season of life is to be among the most praised, promoted, and desired. And while I often look back on my college years with fond memories, I have come to the conclusion there are far greater things to accomplish in life than rejecting authority and staying up late. I have learned the value of family, service, contribution, mentoring, and improving the lives of those in community around me. Maturity and wisdom have taken root. And the only reason I’d want to relive my youth is to do it all differently.
4. Sex is the ultimate goal.
Sex is best enjoyed and brings the greatest fulfillment in a committed relationship. For marketers to esteem it in any other light is painful for me to watch—especially with two 10-year olds in the room. My hope is that both of them—and society—will grow to appreciate all the beauty and value and perspective that women bring into our world. Marketers that seek to sell their products using women as objects of sex to be conquered are degrading to both males and females. I am not expecting the trend to end anytime soon, but Axe Body Spray, Gildan, Fiat, and GoDaddy stand out among the worst offenders last night.
5. To watch television is to experience life.
Network television advertisements often use this misconception when promoting their television shows (to be fair, movie studios do the same). In their marketing, to watch their show is to experience life at its fullest. They appear to offer the very best thing you can possibly choose to do with your next 30/60 minutes. Coupled with the subtle lie that everyone else is watching (#1 Show / #1 Network / #1 Movie), this becomes a motivating sell. We begin to believe that if everyone else is spending their evening watching… I must really be missing out. But you are not missing out. Life is not meant to be observed. Life is meant to be lived.
6. Adventure/Respect is discovered in the right automobile.
The automobile industry doesn’t sell just cars anymore, it sells respect, confidence (see above), and adventure. After all, with most cars nowadays driving well past 100,000+ miles, marketers must sell us something different than a simple mode of transportation. Some will seek to convince us their vehicle is good for the environment… some will promise us respect and envy… others will promise us adventure. But they are all wrong. A certain model/style of vehicle will not bring the promised results. It will get you from Point A to Point B. And there are far greater places to earn respect and find adventure than a car dealership.
7. A website will solve your life problems.
Cars.com promises to make buying a car simple and easy. GoDaddy.co promises wealth and luxury. They are both over exaggerating. Websites offer information and inspiration, but they do not solve your problems. They will not accomplish the truly important things in life for you. Hard work, dedication, discipline, and focus result in the type of life change many of us desire. Too often, websites and the over-delivery of information only cause us to postpone the hard work necessary to secure lasting change in our lives. Don’t look for a website to solve your problems. Look for them to provide inspiration. But then, put the computer away, and get to work doing something about it.