With another year of football now over, and a sufficient amount of groundwork prepared for future violent concussion-induced rampages, let's reflect on the big event - the culmination of years of training, skill, strategy, and strenuous physical endurance required to make the cut. You know where I’m going… let's talk commercials. Before I get into my take on the advertisers, I feel compelled to make a statement about the game itself. The Super Bowl is such a bitter-sweet time for me. My family had a long tradition of getting together for the game, putting money into the pool, and of course, the eating that accompanied every emotional memory from my youth. Ah, the homemade chili, the sloppy joes, the bottomless spinach dip, and the glorious chocolate chip cookies. As I got older, the tradition became even more bitter-sweet, mostly because I could drink an IPA with my cookies. Then I moved away, and the Super Bowl was no longer the same. I realized without the family aspect, the event just didn’t carry the same anticipation.
Other factors added to the demise of excitement – mostly learning about the issues with concussions, the scandals of violence, the huge amounts of money going into the owners’ pockets without proper post-career medical support for player injuries, the exploitation of college players, the hidden dangers of pee-wee football… I could go on if I wasn’t too lazy to research it. Americans are raised on the tradition of football. We all keep the cycle going. By watching the game, we essentially support all the dysfunctions of the sport.
Despite my uneasy conscience about the sport of football, I watched the game. It’s an opportunity to be social, and what better way to socialize than enjoying the best creative work money can buy. I’m one of the 78% looking forward to the real entertainment – where today’s modern storytellers go to make a buck. Commercials seem harmless, and can even be fun. But, should we say no to advertising for the same reason we should say no to football? Am I perpetuating a dysfunction of our greedy society by watching these commercials? Can we save humanity by rejecting both?
People want to have an emotional experience. We’re desperate for real emotional experiences. It’s part of the reason men love sports, because it simulates various emotional experiences without the discomfort of intimacy. A great commercial combines music, emotion, story, and style to take you to the deep landscape of your own memory and desire like a mini-movie. When done right, we get a little jolt from watching it. It holds the drama and comedy in one compact moment.
We seem to need commercials. Life is so fast that we must get our emotional experiences in 30-second busts. However, let’s never forget the whole purpose of advertising: to get our money. They need to do everything they can to use those emotions to connect us with the item in question. What’s the difference between that and a door-to-door salesman? If someone comes to the door with magazines or the gift of Jesus Christ, most people grab for a shotgun, or if you really want to terrify them, family vacation movies. But, with commercials, we hang onto them like a family crest.
Sure, it’s fun to share a good commercial amongst friends and family. Oh, how that animal made me laugh. Say it again. It’s making me laugh again. The whole camel hump day joke seemed cute the first year, but when my dad sent me his own hump day fan art using scissors, paste and crayons, I was ready to cut that hump right off.
We have the real power with advertisers. Companies NEED us. Without us, they don’t make any money. That’s why they spend millions of dollars to get our attention (talk about a sign of desperation) - they need us all. Even with the convenience of fast-forwarding through the commercials made possible by DVRs, the advertisers still spend obscene piles of cash throughout the year to impose their brand in between TV twists and resolutions. It’s the only reason that TV can make all those quality shows (as well as the other non-quality shows) – they get advertising money.
And now advertisers are trying to take full advantage of social media, with their hashtags on the commercials, and their Facebook ads in the name of your friends. Every time I see an ad for Walmart with the heading “Your friends X, Y and Z like Walmart,” I go nuts. Don’t those people know that Walmart hoards as much wealth as the bottom half of our country owns put together, and that they fight to avoid paying their workers a living wage? I guess their advertising painted a strong enough picture to cloud those realities. It’s also a reminder that we need to be vigilant. If we don’t give them money, they fail. If we all decided to stop buying from Walmart, the company would crash, and maybe mom and pop stores could flourish once again.
I’m just as guilty because I used the #withdad hash tag during the Super Bowl, even if it was only to poke fun. By the way, they really went after the dad quadrant this year. Good dads. Crying dads. And dads who let their sons die from accidents for – I’m guessing – the insurance money? Here are a few of my thoughts I put to Twitter:
What? That commercial wasn’t for Pizza Hut? It was for domestic violence? Well, I’m assuming it was AGAINST domestic violence. It probably was one of the more effective commercials, if you weren’t socializing and everyone stopped to listen. It’s chilling to watch on the Internet from the quiet of your home office, but in the midst of all the festivities, I suspect it didn’t have the same effect, especially for the people experiencing domestic violence. Regardless, it was mostly an odd year, outside of the wonderfully awesome Polar Bear with the sombrero. So hopeful and adorable!
It’s difficult to ignore advertising online, with the hope we can get a good deal or a coupon by clicking their links on social media. Or, in the case of the Super Bowl, we just want to be entertained. The commercials have become just as ingrained in our psyche as the game itself – all part of the comfortable routine of ceremony.
I still wonder - can we shake ourselves from that comfort? Can we summon our bravery to forge a new path? If not for ourselves, then for the sake of protecting our children from concussions, or from the easy allure of a greedy conglomerate who just happens to support injustice and inequality for the sake of larger profits?
One more reason I hate advertising is because I love advertising. That’s right. I laugh and I cry. I need the 30-second burst of story. It’s a reality, but I do have a dream that some day our society can reward storytellers directly for their stories, instead of buying Tylenol for ten cents cheaper at Walmart in exchange for a sugary, manipulative commercial about home-town family values. In my dream, we pay storytellers directly, so they can manipulate us without the sales agenda.