Even if you enjoy this sort of thing, you have to concede the irony: during the televised Super Bowl, commercials, usually considered the bane of a viewer’s existence, become an actual entertainment component of the game’s broadcast, with advertisers spending millions in production costs and national air time to capture the attention of audiences.
In either the mother of all marketing coups or the most cliche example of Orwellian mind control ever (or both), corporations and the advertising industry somehow made the public believe watching these TV commercials is a cool thing to do.
Thus, ever since the 1973 Super Bowl and a Noxema ad featuring legendary New York Jets quarterback “Broadway” Joe Namath, the commercials have morphed into a social happening. We lay out a food and alcohol spread, invite folks over and prattle through the actual football game but shush everyone during funny, often tacky and occasionally downright ingenious TV spots hawking everything from beer and computers to cars and heathcare.
We laugh, scratch our heads in bemusement and go “awwwwwww” over any ad starring animals and babies that is shamelessly designed to tug at heart strings. Super Bowl commercials are as American as fast food and product-recalls. They’re also one of those cloying things Americans do that make people want to bomb us. That is, until they fall under the spell of our TV commercials. Then, all they want is a Big Mac and GPS to the nearest Best Buy.
Between Super Bowl plays, people called me. “I like that one,” said a buddy, referring not to the last Saints play but a Doritos spot about a kid who smacks his single mom’s suitor. According to my man, “Go Daddy” has to bring back the big breasted women if they want to stay in the Super Bowl ad game.
I’m not saying I’ve never watched commercials during a Super Bowl. I’m not even saying I wasn’t amused by some of them. I’m just saying the whole thing is bizarre.
Or maybe not. Perhaps bizarre is reserved for the undeniable fact that generations of Americans are equipped with zombie-like inner body clocks for watching television, developed over a lifetime of our sitting before the almighty tube.
The TV commercial has no doubt contributed to our ever dwindling attention span. The very first American television ad–a Bulova watch commercial airing July 1, 1941 during a Brooklyn Dodgers/Philadelphia Phillies game on New York’s WNBT—was only 10 seconds long and cost $4. Today’s standard TV commercial is between 30 and 60 seconds. This year’s Super Bowl spots cost up to $3 million each.
Regardless, we watch television–network, public, cable, pay-per-view–with the understanding that commercials are more than a necessary element; they’re part of our psyche.
I don’t have TiVo or cable or dishes (Yabba dabba doo to you, too). When I’m watching TV, I actually count on commercials. Otherwise, I can’t empty my bladder, rescue my meal before it completely burns and check email. Intuitively, I know how long a commercial block is; there’s a certain rhythm in my bones, put there by more than half a century of viewing ads for everything from Tareyton Cigarettes to Fruit Loops.
But television ads do more than peddle products. They shape our society. Commercials tell us what to eat, how to dress, what to do and how to feel about doing it. If you don’t know what you’re missing in life, simply watch a couple hours of commercial TV and you’ll be clear. On some level, at least.
The day after the Super Bowl, media outlets treat the Super Bowl commercials as news. They take polls regarding the most popular commercials. They give us the inside scoop on how certain ads were created.
Around the water cooler, people compare commercials. They’re not gabbing about a story line from a drama or an effectively loony sitcom, but an ad for Monsters.com. It is wrong for me to find it all so embarrassingly corny?
In 1970, poet, songwriter and singer Gil Scott-Heron eloquently declared on record, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Four decades later, Ad Week is tracking a rumor to the contrary. Turns out, the Revolution very well COULD be televised by “a major network.” Inside sources have Apple and an erectile dysfunction company splitting sponsorship down the middle.
The stylized spots would air only at the very beginning of Revolution coverage and toward its end, with few interruptions. You know–out of respect for the cause.