SuperBowl Ads: Super?

In the world of advertising, the Super Bowl is the hallmark of all the things the industry stands for. The advertising seen during the Super Bowl often helps to set the rates for the rest of the advertising year. In fact, the advertising during the Super Bowl is so coveted and important that since 1995, the rate for a 30-second commercial during the game has jumped from $1.2 million to $2.3 million this year. For that kind of money, Madison Avenue ad executives pull out all the stops; perennial audience favorites Pepsi and Budweiser often produce the most memorable ads, and this year was no different. Some of the ads went for the old “sex sells” adage; some advertisers thought that shock value would have a bigger impact; still others went for base humor—commonly called bathroom humor—to get the message across. However, the overall quality of the commercials seen at the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston left something to be desired. The ads often came out as flat and not at all memorable. It is only because that I made notes that I am even able to recall half of the ads broadcast during the eight-hour program that football fans wait for all year.

The first of the multi-million dollar ads was rolled in the first quarter. In it, two Grizzly bears wander into a hunting cabin. After rummaging through the well-stocked refrigerator and an empty cooler, the scene shifts to a convenience store where a gloved hand pushes a check made out to “cash” across the counter toward the clerk. The clerk asks for identification, which is promptly handed over. The picture on the ID is of a very hairy man dressed in hunter's garb. The camera switches back to the customer, who turns out to be… a grizzly bear dressed in hunter's garb. And laughs abound as the clerk takes the check and the bear runs out with a case of Pepsi. The soda manufacturer had several witty, funny ads that managed to be humorous without resulting to lower-based jokes. Budweiser, another of the advertisers who created a couple of memorable ads, didn't hold to such lofty standards. Although several of their commercials (they had ten spots over the course of the afternoon and evening) were memorable and amusing, all of the ads somehow managed to work in an element or two of things that wouldn't be discussed in polite company. One such ad depicted a man and a woman on a romantic sleigh ride through moonlit woods. The man pulls the white horse up short and hands the woman a large, lit candle. “How romantic,” the viewers think as the man bends to the side to get a couple of refreshing Bud Lights from the cooler. And then the camera focuses on the horse, specifically, the horse's rear end. At this point, anyone who has been on a farm knows what is going to happen. The horse apparently had a case of indigestion that resulted in flatulence as the combination of methane and flame had the expected result, leaving the woman with a blackened face and singed hair.

The juvenile humor seems to be the calling card for the current generation of twenty-somethings; the ads were, no doubt, inspired by some of the programming on television today. Shows such as MTV's “Jackass” and “Viva La Bam” are likely required research when thinking up some of the advertising these days. The Super Bowl advertising only managed to put this kind of humor on a worldwide display as more than 800 million people tuned in. However, marketers are focusing on a slightly smaller audience. “In addition to being the most-watched TV show each year, it [the Super Bowl] appeals to all demographics – but especially to one craved by marketers: free spending young men” (McCarthy).

Yes, the all-important 18-34-year-old male demographic pretty much dictated what kinds of humor we would be subject to during Super Bowl XXXVIII, but I wonder if the advertising researchers got it right when they decided that so-called “bathroom humor” would be a good strategy. Are young men like the ones I saw on television on Sunday, training their dogs to bite other men between the legs so as to get free beer? I think that the ad executives on Madison Avenue ought to take a closer look at the culture today and determine whether they are wasting the fabulous opportunity provided by the Super Bowl (not to mention millions of dollars) by alienating more than half of the audience available to them on “Super Sunday.” Sure, the lower humor can be amusing; I'll even admit that I laughed at the “romantic sleigh ride gone amiss” ad. It is just that, if I were the CEO of a company thinking about spending millions of dollars on a 30-second advertisement, I would rather put my best foot forward and appeal to as many people as possible rather than grossing some of them out. I believe that the challenge to advertisers ought to be to create memorable, funny commercials for the Super Bowl—and year ‘round, for that matter—that don't drop to the lowest common denominator. Remember the Pittsburgh Steelers' “Mean” Joe Greene and the little boy in the stadium tunnel? Yeah, I thought so.

Work Cited

McCarthy, Michael. “To Ad Buyers, Super Bowl = Young Men.” USA Today . 14 Jan. 2004: C1.