It is not surprising to us that marketers use whatever means necessary to separate us from our money. They would even admit as much. But it is surprising, at times, to see what depths they will sink in order to accomplish their goal.
The Super Bowl has long been marked as an American tradition, both for the game it represents and the marketing it provides. Ranked annually as the most-viewed television program of the year, there is no wonder Madison Avenue invests as much time into the game as the football teams themselves.
As somebody who has developed a great frustration over our consumer-driven culture, I often watch the commercials, not for entertainment’s sake, but to determine the underlying promises being offered behind the products. I am rarely pleased with what I find.
Often times, we discover marketers making promises they can’t possibly keep. Here were eight I noticed during this year’s Super Bowl.
8 Empty Promises in this Year’s Super Bowl Ads
1. An Automobile Can Make You a Better Parent. Hyundai.
Parenting is hard work. It requires intentionality, observation, wise counsel, strategy, and follow-through. And I get a little worried when a car manufacturer makes the claim that their vehicle can help me do it better.
Certainly, there is always room for new tools to parent better. But spending tens of thousands of dollars at a local car lot to buy a car I can track on my phone will never replace the parental impact of hard work, significant conversation, appropriate boundaries, and quality time.
2. A Television Can Prevent You from Missing Out. CBS.
I don’t know if there is any product in the world better at promoting its own self-interests than television. When we watch anything, we are bombarded with advertisements promoting other programs.
The networks, of course, are quite calculated in how they do this. Most often they feed on our fear of missing out by highlighting “This Year’s Most Watched Program,” “This Year’s Best New Series,” or “This Week’s Can’t Miss Game of the Year.” Each time, they subtly implant into our minds the false reality that everyone is watching. And with it, they include a promise they will never fulfill: the best way to never miss out on life is to spend it in front of a television.
3. A Candy Bar Can Give You Unparalleled Confidence. Butterfinger.
Over the years, I have noticed countless manufacturers promise their product will grant more self-confidence—cologne, cars, and clothing, just to name a few.
But this year, a candy bar made the same claim— that, somehow, chocolate covering a flaky, crisp, peanut butter-flavored center can make a person bolder than bold. This is a promise I may never understand—other than the fact that marketers routinely try to promise self-confidence packaged in their unique product.
4. A Body Spray Will Help You Discover Your Most Powerful Uniqueness. Axe.
Axe Body Spray is no stranger to attention and critique. Since 2003, they have made a name for themselves portraying various ways their products supposedly help men attract women. Teenage boys have worn their scent ever since.
This year, their promise was nuanced. While they did make a point to remind consumers that their product makes men irresistible to women, they also indicated their product will help wearers discover their most powerful uniqueness. How wearing the same scent as everyone else helps a young man discover his uniqueness, I’ll never know.
5. An App Can Get You a Mortgage (and all the stuff you’ve always wanted). Quicken Loans.
In one of the oddest commercials of the night, Quicken Loans promised its users quick, easy home ownership—mortgages seemingly available to anyone with a smart phone. And because home ownership inevitably results in more purchasing (lamps and blenders and couches), home ownership makes mortgages even more accessible to others as the cycle of demand increases.
I understand convenience is helpful and to a point, their premise is correct. Convenience and accessibility is a major driver in our compulsion to acquire. But the idea that making mortgages accessible to everyone is a smart move for our country fails to recognize the lessons we learned the hard way over the previous decade. I was glad to see The Washington Post renounce it so quickly.
6. A Watch Can Make You Stronger. Fitbit.
Our society loves shortcuts. And marketers love to manipulate this tendency whenever possible—especially when it comes to matters of health. The Fitbit watch advertisement is a good example. In this ad, consumers who wear the medal and plastic device around their wrist often display superior strength and health compared to those around them.
Fitbit had a strong Christmas mostly because of their subtle claims that wearing their product will get you into shape. Indeed, the watch may provide some helpful tools. But when it comes to matters of health, few things have changed within the human body. It still requires discipline and intentional effort—there are no shortcuts.
7. Watching Football Can Improve Intimacy With Your Spouse. Super Bowl Babies.
Certainly the NFL deserves credit for originality. Their internal data suggests Championship-winning cities see an increase in babies born nine months after the Super Bowl. Never mind the fact that “data suggests” is the strongest wording they felt comfortable using, they needed the studies to reinforce their promise: Football brings families together and may, if your team wins, result in more than your team getting lucky.
I won’t argue with their presumption because I haven’t seen the studies. And while the commonality of football may offer some bonding opportunities for families, I have a hard time believing football is an aphrodisiac in most interpersonal relationships.
8. A Fast Food Cheeseburger is Historically Delicious (and Healthy). Jack in the Box.
Fast food restaurants are not unique in making promises they can never fulfill. Chips, soda, and countless other processed foods do the same. Jack in the Box, perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, made the claim that their new Double Cheeseburger is “historically delicious.”
But this year, not only do they make empty promises concerning their burger’s flavor, they also make the claim that their new double cheeseburger is also healthy. Oh, they wouldn’t make the claim with actual words, that would be too obvious. Instead, they rely on image association. In their commercial, the new burger is offered to a healthy, fit, young jogger who gladly accepts the burger and proceeds to take a large bite out of it. The juxtaposition is clearly orchestrated and meant to instill a specific message and promise—this fried double-burger served with processed cheese and mayo is not bad for you. In fact, it is consistent with a healthy lifestyle.
As with most of the empty promises contained in this year’s Super Bowl ads, we ought to know better.