The Super Bowl has long been seen as the “tent pole” of American consumer culture: an annual game that routinely pulls in viewers at a scale otherwise achieved only by one-off events like series finales and celebrity car chases. It actually drives sales of TVs: the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association reports that 2.5 million people plan to buy a new TV for the express purpose of watching the game, part of an overall $8.7 billion in Super Bowl-related consumer spending.
The most visible aspect of the Super Bowl’s importance, of course, is the phenomenon of Super Bowl ads. Companies often use the game to debut important ad campaigns – the classic example being Apple’s 1984 campaign, still frequently referred to as the best Super Bowl ad ever – and increasingly ads are created that will only air during the Super Bowl. This raises the pressure to make the ads memorable and eye-catching ‘must-sees’.
One of the strategies used in the past few years, particularly by breweries and other businesses that advertise primarily to young men, has been to ramp up the sex and violence in ads. While these ads are frequently cartoonish, it’s enough to raise concerns with a large segment of the viewing population. Eighty percent of mothers polled in the US say they intend to watch the game. Most of the mothers surveyed plan to watch the game with their children and nearly half worry that the ad content isn’t appropriate for young viewers.
There’s no question that advertisers have a history of pushing the envelope in order to get attention: Go Daddy, an Internet company that primarily handles domain name registration and web hosting, has had its Super Bowl ads rejected by Fox often enough that it became news this year when its ad was accepted for broadcast. The twist is that the approved ad simply directs viewers to the real Go Daddy ad, which is housed on the company’s Web site and presumably contains content Fox would not be keen to air.
The Web has become an increasingly important part of Super Bowl advertising. The brewery Molson-Coors, shut out from broadcast ads, is still running a Super Bowl campaign, encouraging customers to submit user-created videos to be shown on their Web site, with the prize for the best being tickets to either the 2008 or 2009 Super Bowl.
Advocacy groups are getting in on the action, too. The organization Dads and Daughters has released a list of Tips for Dads and Daughters Watching the Super Bowl Together. After a few suggestions on pre-game activities – playing catch, going for a hike or a bike ride together – nearly all the tips focus on how to cope with the sexualized images of women likely to be found within the game and especially in advertising. “Try to watch the game through her eyes,” the sheet suggests, “If you see an ad or image that disrespects or objectifies females, change the channel so you, your daughter, and your family don’t have those images in your home. Let her know why you decided to flip and ask for her feedback.” It concludes: “Use the Super Bowl to become more media-literate and sensitive to your daughter’s experience. Decide to pay more attention to how media portray women and girls. When you see an ad, ask ‘What if it was my daughter?’, and then reassess your reaction to it.”
Sounds like a good plan, for commercials both on and off the air. The subject of the winning user-generated ad submitted to the Molson-Coors Web site? A young woman from Buffalo, out in the snow in a Coors Light bathing suit.
For Classroom Discussion
Do you think that the Super Bowl actually increases consumer spending, or does it just concentrate it? In other words, would the people who bought new TVs to watch the Super Bowl have bought a new TV sometime this year anyway, or did the Super Bowl really make them buy a new TV? Why do you think so?
How might ads that are created to be aired only once be different from ads created to be aired repeatedly? What aspects of the ad (claims, images, content, etc.) might be different? What different goals might the creators of the ad have when creating a one-time ad?
View a number of Super Bowl ads from past years (available royalty-free at http://www.superbowl-ads.com). Do you think the content is appropriate for the various audiences that watch the Super Bowl? Why or why not? If you think some ads could be inappropriate to some audiences, what impact might this have on the way they see themselves?
Review the Tips for Dads and Daughters Watching the Super Bowl Together. Do you think the tips are necessary? Why or why not? Review the Super Bowl ads you just viewed. Are there any you think a young woman would find disturbing or unpleasant? Why?
Statistics suggest that many women feel more Super Bowl ads should be aimed at them, since they make up a large part of the viewing audience. Design a Super Bowl ad that would appeal to an audience other than the usual one (men eighteen to thirty-five). How would it be different?