Super Bowl High-Pressure Zones
After the shock of hearing Bob Dylan’s opening koan toss, “Is there anything more American than America?” we had a full two minutes to wrap our heads around the sheer cognitive dissonance of Mr. Tambourine Man pushing Chryslers (huh?) in a jingle-jangle jingoistic commercial.
I know Bobby likes to confound expectations, but my head couldn’t extend far enough to accept a message that completely countered the 1960s counterculture that his songs -- and persona -- helped create.
And even though he’s been a creepy/weird presence in ads before, (he lurked demonically in the corner of a castle in a Victoria’s Secret commercial) here he seemed like an out-of-sync apparition.
Nothing hit on any cylinder. One of his overly preachy lines -- sending us to Germany for a decent beer -- stepped on the next advertiser, which was Budweiser, no less.
Actually, it was one weird year. With all the pre-releases and social media, there were thousands of ways to gauge success. Results were all over the place, with few viewers agreeing on much besides their love of the old standbys like Budweiser Puppy and Doritos campaigns.
But there was something new, and perhaps, threatening going on this year. It didn’t make people comfortable, but it mirrored a new America. For one thing, the line up of brands suggested the 1% vs. the 99% in our economy: Maserati and Doritos.
Maserati was trying to “normalize” itself as nothing hugely indulgent: just another $60,000+, middle-class luxury car brand. I loved the commercial, which starred Quvenzhané Wallis, best known as the little girl in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Her voiceover was a raspy poem -- “The world is full of giants.… We had to learn how to deal with them, how to overcome them.…" -- set to magical imagery that reminded me of the movie. In addition to the ad’s sheer beauty and production values, what impressed me was that the sole star of an automotive spot in the Super Bowl was a young African-American girl.
That was in direct contrast to VW and Jaguar, both full of white men -- and VW even included a joke about penis size. Most old-school Super Bowl jokes involve a painful hit in the groin, and thankfully, this year, those were absent. The only nearly nude person was David Beckham for H&M, and frankly, many men didn’t seem to appreciate the move.
General Mills' Cheerios went with the biracial Gracie and her family and upped the ante -- both with the Super Bowl spot itself, and the new additions to the household, including a puppy. It was charming, delightful, and incredibly well-acted, and deserves raves.
So does Coca-Cola for presenting an uber-inclusive spot that updated the spirit of “Mountaintop” (“I’d like to buy the world a Coke”) in a beautiful, contemporary and appropriate way. Sadly, it too set off all the scorn and hatred that the original Cheerios ad prompted on the Internet (and then some.) As a corporation based in the South, Coca-Cola is not known for being ragingly liberal. It was merely honest and forward-thinking enough to show us the demographic mosaic that is our present country.
With all this newness, I was disappointed that Apple didn’t run an ad to commemorate the 30th anniversary of “1984.” (Especially after Lee Clow tweeted that it might be happening.) After all, “1984” was the first Super Bowl commercial to become a broadly shared cultural (even pre-Internet viral) experience. It not only became a blueprint for all Apple launches and the rest of the tech industry, but it also reset expectations for future Super Bowl ads. It set the tone for all the cinematic shockers that left viewers stunned and open-mouthed.
And, amazingly enough, it actually made good on its overblown claim that the introduction of Macintosh would change everything.
Thirty years later, we can see that it was the first in a string of Apple products leading up to the iPhone that did revolutionize the world. Products like sneakers or corn chips can’t do that.
Apple did release a spot that is comprehensive and beautiful -- shot on iPhones. It’s gorgeous, which would have been a nice way to reestablish image domination, especially when Samsung has been eating Apple’s lunch.
Now the world looks to the Olympics, and then next year’s Super Bowl. For every action there’s a reaction.
I don’t doubt that sex will make a comeback in the ads of 2014. But I also hope that other advertisers follow Cheerios and Coke in moving forward, serving entertainment that also possibly tells us more than we might want to hear at the moment.