What Super Bowl commercials really reveal

Super Bowl commercials are the highlight of the game for me. Advertisers bring their A game, and every year there are a few commercials that will be talked about for days. This year was no different.

Advertisements reflect their audience. Advertisers spend tremendous effort working to understand their audience and they are usually quite successful. Because of this work, commercials reflect our common desires. We can look to them and see ourselves, maybe even parts of ourselves we don’t like or parts we previously didn’t recognize. What do this year’s Super Bowl commercials say about us?

The NFL has a fantasy football game and the prize is $1 million. One of this game’s commercials is one of the more telling ads of the evening. The slogan is “…like a millionaire.” In one scene, the character gets out of a private jet with a dozen fashion models and the announcer says, “fly like a millionaire.”

The implication is that we enjoy the idea of living like this. Not that we would actually live like this given a million dollars, but we like something in the idea of living this way. Something about the lifestyles in this video appeals to us. Most of the scenes are opulent displays of personal wealth. For example, one scene depicts a man bathing in gold coins. What resonates here is the idea of having enough money to act like this. This level of wealth is so far past paying for the important things that we can waste money on dolphins in our swimming pools. I think this is actually about economic security, not about the obnoxious wastes of wealth depicted. People that have tacky gold statues don’t worry about health insurance or rent payments.   

We like naked women and underwear models. GoDaddy.com continued its tradition of advertising with overt promises of nudity on their website, and Adriana Lima, the famous Victoria’s Secret model, appeared in commercials from two different companies. Numerous other advertisements used somewhat more subtle forms of the same idea: we like being titillated.

This desire for sex resonates with us for two reasons. First, we’re reminded of it and teased with it consistently. More importantly: sex feels like love. In the modern world love and connections have become mostly something we select. This contributes to a general anxiety about being loved. The awareness that we choose who we will love through life makes us aware of the possibility that we may never be loved deeply. While some would argue women have sex for love and men have sex for pleasure, I think that, underneath, most of us have sex for love. We want sex for the human closeness, the intimacy that it represents. Every time we see Adriana Lima, we are reminded of that.

Some might argue Christians should not be afraid of where their shelter comes from, where their food comes from. After all, “consider the lilies of the field.” It could be argued that Christians should not worry about whether or not they will be loved. One often hears condemnations (which I agree with, in principle) from Christians about the selling of sex in advertisements.

I think it is more helpful for Christians to see these commercials as reminders of the aching inside of our neighbors and ourselves. We are a people afraid for our futures. A verse more relevant than Matthew 6:25 might be Luke 5:31: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do.” These commercials serve as reminders that we all need doctors to heal our broken hearts. We, as servants about our Father’s business, need to work on healing our neighbors. Instead of complaining about the brokenness in the world around us, let’s work as God’s servants to heal it.

For Discussion

  • What Super Bowl commercials stood out to you and what messages did they deliver?
  • What did this year's commercials say about American wants, desires and worries?
  • How does the Gospel message counter what many of these advertisements communicated?


Comments (2)

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Nice spin, Stephen!  A few million males can now tell themselves they weren’t ogling and lusting, they were praying for their community.  I’m not really picking on you.  On some level, you are probably right: the need for constant titillation is a reflection of the emptiness we experience in our relationships and the desire for intimacy, or at least pseudo-intimacy.  The healthy among us will look and say “that’s nice” and move on.  The less healthy will dwell on the experience, attempt to repeat it, or go looking for more.  The main thing is to check your own pulse.

This might be an age/gender issue. Young guys like babes. When I look at the ads that stood out to the professionals, it is not so clear that the Super Bowl was rocking on the testosterone, some of that may be the result of the evolution of the event itself into more of a national pastime rather than the property of young guys. Perhaps another element would be the continued role of the current economic depression—in that light the Chrysler ad is clearly the stand out. Again. (Weiden + Kennedy are the same folks who delivered for Nike).

Titillation may be one function of advertising, but in a multi-channel world, going to the Super Bowl for your share of flesh, is sort of like going to the Sears catalog to see lingerie. Guys have better choices. That choice element, does play into the pornification factor, seen in the video capture, above.

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