In case you clicked on this blog post title for the sole purpose of ridiculing us/me for excessive introspection, I’ll lead off with a disclaimer: I promise not to get too didactic about a Budweiser advertisement that is just trying to sell beer to youngish white guys, not change the way our culture thinks.
That being said, I can make a good case for why advertisements reflect who we are as a culture – or where we’re going. They are a social barometer and I believe Google’s entry into TV advertising during the Super Bowl proves this point. I’ve never seen a television ad by Google before. It tells me the company is feeling a little uncomfortable about how it’s viewed and wanted to remedy that. There is a lot of angst out there about how much information it is accumulating, and its ad depicting a student’s online searches – from study-abroad-student to parent – was meant to massage that worry away. To me the ad was a bold but soothing statement: We know you’re uncomfortable with us knowing everything about you, but you shouldn’t because we’re harmless, helpful and we’ll be there when you need us.
I’ve also asked my colleagues to give me their takes on what Super Bowl advertisements say about us. Below are their responses.
I was struck by the fact that so many of the different brands went with a theme of the “poor, beaten-down man.” Dodge Charger, the FloTV, Dockers, and even the Dove commercial all seemed to be trying to tap into some high level of emasculation among the male audience. Now, I’m not a man, so maybe they were right on target and a huge segment of the male population is feeling beaten down by women, married life, etc. But as each ad passed, I couldn’t help feeling a bit uncomfortable and even insulted on behalf of men. In a time when so many are out of work and the economy is struggling, it seemed like the ads could come across as just another slap in the face – Look what else is bad in your life! You don’t have any power! – instead of inspiring a purchase.
I loved the Google ad. Simple, clever, and visual but not overdone with graphics, animation or motion. It got the point across. I loved how the ad personified “Google.” Here, Google is the storyteller. And the ad illustrates how this ubiquitous search engine helps us find answers to a multitude of topics, and is often a starting point when researching answers to some of life’s toughest decisions.
The Snickers commercial where Betty White gets planted into a mud puddle in a pick-up football game was funny. As it turns out, a guy was only being accused of “playing like Betty White” and once he ate his Snickers bar, he became a “guy” again and played like a “guy” – whatever that means. It’s a common “guy thing” to chide the poor performance of other men with a comment like “hey great shot Alice … does your husband play basketball too?” While humorous, the inference is clear that men are expressing a belief that they are superior to women in whatever sport they happen to be playing at the time. In the case of the Betty White comment, I don’t think it is a stretch to say most men would think that men play the game of football better than women.
Annheuser-Busch continues to live in the niche which earlier this year they discovered to also be their rut. After their “Drinkability” campaign was rejected by a viewing public that expects the Big 3 breweries, and most especially Budweiser, to be humorous and avoid any actual discussion of the product or its merits, they took the lesson to heart and stuck to humor. While I don’t think this was their best year as far as the quality of the ads, seeing the expectant, here-comes-the-big-laugh look on people’s faces every time a Bud ad came on confirmed the funny, product-irrelevant Budweiser Super Bowl ad as an American cultural landmark that is more responsible for bringing the “Super Bowl Commercial Party” than anything else.
Timothy Richman (note the spelling of his name…”Rich Man”). Timothy is rich in life, as we see from his incredible progression from adolescence to adulthood. Tim is a whole song and dance ahead of the rest of us; he does speak fluent Italian, randomly, and nonetheless Tim the Rich Man, still has trouble choosing a car. No worries, cars.com can help the man you can already do everything. I do wonder, however, why is Mr. Richman buying his car at night?
I don’t encourage too much obsession over what advertisements are telling us. Most of the time the deepest observation one could make about an ad – especially TV ads – is that they are shallow and forgettable. However, the Super Bowl is a good time to ask yourself what you’re being told and whether you’re buying it – not literally, of course.