The last four Super Bowls have been the four most watched TV programs in U.S. history. And some reports predicted the 2014 edition of the big game would break all previous records to become the most-watched ever.
With this many people gathered around their television sets watching the exact same programming, marketers will invest significant time and money getting their products on screen: 30-second advertisement spots sold for $4 million. They willingly make the investment knowing the most popular ads will be talked about in offices on Monday and watched over-and-over again on YouTube.
Watching and rating the commercials has become as important to the game as the events on the field. And only minutes after the final whistle, countless media sources rank the best and the worst advertisements declaring their own winners and losers.
Just to be fair, I do appreciate clever advertisements as much as the next guy. But as a whole, I have begun to watch them with a different focus. As somebody who has developed a great frustration over our consumer-driven culture, I often watch the marketing of products to determine their underlying promise. To uncover what else, other than the product itself, marketers are trying to sell me. And I am rarely impressed with what I find.
Often times, I discover the underlying message promoted by marketers represents misconceptions and inaccuracies about life. They push forward faulty rationale. And we would be wise to recognize and reject each of them. Consider just a few of the inaccuracies on display in last night’s football game:
7 Life Inaccuracies Portrayed in the Super Bowl Ads
1. To accomplish good in this world, buy more stuff. There has been much conversation about the softer, nicer tone of this Super Bowl’s advertisements: less sexism, less sleaze, and less coarse humor. I welcome the change. Instead, we received ads designed to evoke fuzzy feelings and emotional responses. Some companies (Axe, Chevy, U2) even took the next step and offered social change through the purchase of their products. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for world peace, beating AIDS, and celebrating cancer survival. And I appreciate companies that are investing money into social good. I just don’t think buying more stuff is the best way to accomplish it.
2. The best food is found in fast service and slick packages. In Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh Oxenreider speaks about the joy and pleasure of eating “slow food.” She reminds us of the simple pleasure and benefit of purchasing quality food in season, including family in preparation, slowing down while we eat, and finding opportunity to linger at the table afterwards. Perhaps that is why the foolishness of some food commercials stick out to me. At one point, Subway referred to their new Frito Chicken Enchilada as food that “could not be resisted” and Sodastream promoted a new soda that was both “better for you and better for us.” There is wonderful food out in the world to enjoy—it’s just not on sale in your local fast food establishment or candy aisle.
3. We don’t need less TV, we need better TV. I have learned one of the great subtleties of television is its ability to further its own cause—in other words, those who watch television are the most drawn to watch more of it. This is most often accomplished through television’s promotion of its own programming by highlighting “the most watched new show,” “the funniest new series,” “must-see tv,” or “the next great sporting event.” Television promotes more and more of itself to present viewers and boldly calls for even more of their attention. During the football game, I noticed countless advertisements for new shows and new television networks to improve our television-watching experience. But in a country where people spend 34 hours a week watching TV, better, more personalized television is not the answer. Turning off the television is the answer.
4. If you can buy a luxury car, you should. Harvey Mackay once said, “If you can afford a fancy car, you can make more of an impact driving an ordinary one.” Car marketers would try to convince you otherwise. Their advertisements during the Super Bowl seem to presume that buying expensive new cars should be the goal of every American. Jaguar, Audi, and Kia all made claims to be the most luxurious vehicle on the market—as if luxury and reputation are the two most important goals anyone could achieve in their next car purchase. But as a nation that owes $11.28 trillion in consumer debt, we don’t need to buy more luxury cars, we need to change our spending habits entirely. And even if we do have the money to buy a new luxury car, is that really the best possible use of it?
5. Buy a website and you’ll become a successful entrepreneur. Websites are great. They provide opportunity to find your voice, interact with the world, and help bring about the change you desire. I am continually grateful for the opportunity this one provides for me. But I get a little nervous when I see companies make it sound too easy. Building a successful website takes time, money, energy, dedication, and passion. Both GoDaddy and SquareSpace seem to indicate it may be as simple as buying a new web address. And while purchasing a web site address is certainly your first step towards successful entrepreneurship, it is only the very first of many.
6. America is defined by football, soda, beer, and cars. American pride was an important theme for advertisers during this year’s Super Bowl. Coca-Cola, Budweiser, and Chrysler were among those who intentionally used the theming to help promote their product (Chrysler even went so far as to use this line: Detroit made cars. And cars made America). Also, for some reason, Super Bowl Sunday was deliberately referred to as “America’s holiday” over and over again this year. But it seems to me this country is about higher ideals than entertainment and consumerism—or at least, it could be.
7. Happiness is for sale. Advertisers often seek to convince us their products will increase our happiness and fulfillment in life—that the answer is found in spending more. From soda to alcohol and fashion, happiness is offered to us in our very next purchase. But 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. We would be wise to look for it elsewhere.
Image: Photo Credit: Heinz