Super Bowl sacks viewers

Michael Lucarz

Sponsors definitely kept it real this year with their advertising agendas on Super Sunday; real corporate, that is.

And it wasn’t hard to figure out why, either. While Madison Avenue regards Super Bowl Sunday as the red-carpet, spotlight showcase of its most impressive commercial campaigns, agencies made clear that a little raunchiness never hurt anyone. In fact, a little bit went a long way on Sunday, proving that sex sells and guys are the only ones who really need to dig it.

Commercial time was guy-time even before the team introductions, with the World Poker Tour Tournament of Champions seamlessly intertwined with Bud Light commercials to secure an audience that will likely top the 88.6 million that tuned in last year. And while the actual game was probably the centerpiece of the evening’s festivities, the commercials were right up there as far as worthwhile reasons for nearly a third of the population to watch.

But then again, a $2.3 million price tag for a thirty-second spot should ensure that at least a few people are watching. The beer/chick/Nascar/Levitra barrage was in full effect and suggested that a male-dominated consumer industry is upon us, one that marks a transition from the “women and children first” mantra that seemed to encapsulate commercial ad campaigns of recent years. Corporations pulled out their big guns in the form of ads aiming at the unmistakable demographic at hand on Sunday, primarily the 18 to 36-year-old crowd, by merging elements of vintage Americana with trendy merchandising and marketing schemes. The Pepsi ad in which a young Jimi Hendrix chooses the brand of guitar store while a lowly accordion adorns a Coca-Cola machine, was surely meant to please baby-boomers who could relate, on some level, to an ad that fused classic coolness with modern culture. The commercial was most likely a water-cooler hit on Monday morning, and others probably fared similarly due to large corporations’ eagerness to strike an iron into a hot audience whose lucrative attention span may be short-lived.

If an eclectic array of gender-transcending spots was what you expected, advertisers had the last laugh and they established their sense of priority early on: money in a relatively new market. Online opinion firm held its annual Super Bowl Commercial Poll and, not surprisingly, only one top-ten pick could be even vaguely categorized as having “universal appeal,” with “Randy the Staples Supply Supervisor” peaking at No. 10. Only one year ago we were all captivated by the transient bliss of advertising innovation for the whole family with MTV’s “The Osbournes” ad and FedEx’s “Castaway” spoof, clearly showing a shift in middle-America’s consumer taste hankerings for the new year.

The greatest loss in all of this will be the inevitable and complete lack of creativity in television commercials. And for the amount they rake in off each ad, we better be getting something good. This, however, probably won’t happen.

Now that advertising agencies have realized that massive amounts of money can be made from a comparatively lower-maintenance demographic, why should they spend millions on glitzy glamour, celebrity cameos, or witty wisdom? For now, they don’t need to. The low-budget, somewhat humorous and retro-chic formula features normal people doing normal things, selling a normal product for a completely abnormal price tag, as far as advertisers are concerned. As has been the case in recent years with television, movies and music, corporate juggernauts threaten the roguish individuality of the art in favor of cookie-cutter standards that will make just as much money with half of the effort previously required to sponsor a Super Bowl commercial.

But after all, it’s only TV, and the influx of corporate influence hasn’t diminished our interest in any of the other media genres stifled by it. Quantity versus quality is an antiquated battle, one in which the latter doesn’t stand a chance these days. But advertising firms shouldn’t worry; people will watch Super Bowl commercials forever. It’s only now that most can judge an entire nation’s mindset from the commercials deemed worthy on Super Sunday.