I have an unabashed hatred of football. I find it nasty, brutish, and entirely too long. Yet, in an effort to live a great American tradition, I convince myself every year to curl up on the couch with a box of Chinese food and sit through the Super Bowl. Usually my boredom is alleviated in part by another great American tradition–mass consumerism–in the form of Super Bowl commercials. However, I found this year’s batch to be a pretty weak showing.
The breakdown of Super Bowl commercials goes like this: one-third food and beverages (mostly of an alcoholic nature), one-third cars (mostly of an American nature), and one-third everything else (mostly of a movies-you-couldn’t-pay-me-to-see nature–really, another “Fast and the Furious” movie?).
Celebrity endorsements were the name of the game this year. P Diddy advertised Mercedes, Adrien Brody serenaded a glass of Stella Artois, and Faith Hill apparently has her own flower delivery service. Creepy animated versions of half-time headliners The Black Eyed Peas failed entirely to convince me that chatter.com was a worthwhile service, and Kim Kardashian’s ass sold Sketchers Shape-Ups. Eminem was apparently enlisted to advertise the entire city of Detroit, although if the commercial is any indication, what one does in Detroit is hop into a fancy American-made car and drive the hell out of there. Another memorable celebrity spot, in a Best Buy commercial, featured the impressively eclectic combination of the Osbournes and Justin Bieber, ending with the comment that Bieber “looks like a girl.” Well, it’s about time that commercial humor caught up with the jokes that the rest of the world has been making for years now.
There were a few commercials that I found innovative and enjoyable. I find that I am partial to commercials with no dialogue, ones that are little silent films that use pure imagery to convey a message about their product rather than lackluster bantering jokes. Coca-Cola has mastered this technique. This year I was drawn to a Coke commercial where two border guards share a small recognition of their inherent sameness over a bottle of ice-cold Coke. Apparently all it takes to solve border disputes is a carbonated beverage (are you listening, Palestine and Israel?).
Yet, the grand prize for commercials this year went to Volkswagen. They had two major spots during the game, both of which were those cute little silent films I was talking about. The commercial in the fourth quarter starred an animated beetle racing through a forest floor through tangoing praying mantises and over startled ants, advertising the release of the new 2012 Beetle. The other commercial has already found its way to the top of all the Super Bowl commercial re-caps with its perfect blend of pop culture and adorableness. In it, a Darth Vader-clad child tries his dark power on a variety of household objects and pets, with no luck. But when he raises his little hands towards the family Volkswagen Passat, lo and behold! The lights flash (secretly operated by his dad in the kitchen). This charming depiction of childhood imagination was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the heavy doses of masculinity and nationalism that accompanied the commercials for other cars.
An interesting component of the Super Bowl commercial round up was its contrast to last year’s group. Last year I noticed a heavy dose of misogyny used to advertise everything from cars to beer to individual TVs. This year’s advertisers, however, seemed to turn that sexism on its head. For example, GoDaddy.com, which was one of 2010’s biggest offenders, made fun of itself by incorporating Joan Rivers into its commercial, playing on the audience’s expectations of its advertising campaign. Other than those blatant references to portrayals of women in advertising, sexism was not really present in this year’s commercials. Is society moving forward? Judging by the amount of NASCAR and beer commercials, probably not, but it’s a step in the right direction.