Creepy and freaky to the point of parody, (but it’s not) it starts with the announcement: "Hey guys, size matters!" Then a dorky guy actually winks at the camera as he hears about giving the kind of gift that will "pay off" in the bedroom. There are a few more specific selling points, and one manages to demean both women and a major food group at the same time: "Chocolates taste good for a few seconds," the annoying voiceover guy says, "but then she’s gonna ask if she looks fat!"
Stay classy, Vermont Teddy Bear Store!
So if you will indulge me, I’m going to go back to that ridiculous orgy of advertising that accompanied the football game last Sunday. I know many critics found the spots disappointing, lackluster, disconnected from the brand, etc. These are complaints we hear every year.
Many of the protests this year said the ads were too political.
Still, in all of the hashover, nobody seems to have noticed one breakthrough: No stupid sexist spots! Not a one!
What a paradigm switch for a traditionally beer-swilling, sports-watching audience! No leering! No cleavage! No demeaning stereotypes! No open, jokey contempt shown for women! Hallelujah, baby!
Come to think of it, there was almost no sex, either. (Except for Sarah, who momentarily falls for a very sculpted and muscled Mr. Clean — but then is knocked out of her erotic stupor by the presence of her actual man.)
Forget sex. This year we’re too busy being torn asunder by politics. Indeed, of the top spots on the USA Today Admeter, many featured (unpartnered) rugged individuals on a mission.
Number one was Melissa McCarthy for Kia, as a jokey non-eco-warrior, singularly not fighting to save the trees nor the whales, but still a solitary hero in her hybrid car.
While both Budweiser and Audi seemingly stuck their necks out about reverence for immigrants and equal pay for women, respectively, and were hammered online and with threatened boycotts for it, each also landed in the top five on the USA Today Admeter.
How do those two things reconcile? I’d argue that some of the seemingly politicized work, while taken as anti-Trump on its surface, was not.
Let’s start with Budweiser, whose advertising, going back many years, served as a foundation for jokes involving sexy, objectified women and groin-injured men. This year’s immigrant spot was not an obvious choice to speak to its target audience. Instead, A-B went with a beautiful piece of cinematography showing a very basic story of man vs. the atavistic elements: Mr. Busch goes to St. Louis, and battles prejudice, spit, and a paddleboat fire in order to ignite his dream of brewing beer.
Left out of this dark and moving tale was the fact that once there, he married the boss’s daughter, which tends to help one’s career.
But that part doesn’t fit into the glorification-of-the-individual yarn, which is basic to the story of libertarianism. And in the end, that was the message.
Never mind diversity, inclusion, and kumbaya; in the end, individuals rule.
Audi fits into the same category. Again, the client went with a rich, cinematic, tale, a girl-against-the-odds story. The film and the music were so inviting and beautiful (something very nostalgic about the look of the race and the helmets) that the “What will I tell my daughter?” voiceover from the Dad, about women being “worth” less than men, did come off as harsh, and the equal pay line at the end seemed a bit discordant.
But it was all about the visuals. After the determined blonde-haired girl wins the race, (and there were a couple of daring, competitive moves that she made that I didn’t really understand) she and Dad head to the Audi together. No messy Mom in the middle to make it all “relationship-y.” No grown women around to show any kind of “loser” or “less-than” vibe. This girl has the goods, and no less an authority than her father has trained her to make it so.
Fox actually censored an advertiser with very deep pockets, new to the Super Bowl -- 84 Lumber -- for being too political. The company was forced to show the last half of its five-minute ad online. But in line with Bud and Audi, the company relied on a big budget, documentary-like film to tell the story of the difficult journey of a mother and daughter from a Mexico-like place to the U.S.
Trolls were up in arms with what they saw as a pro-illegal immigrant message. It seems that the company was trying to have it any number of ways, but those who watched the ending online got to see that the lumber company actually presented the wall -- literally made it so -- that thus far is just a figment of our President’s imagination.
Not only did they build the “wall” on film, but they also included the president’s vision of a “big beautiful door” inside the wall. After their almost inhuman journey, the mother and daughter find the door and walk through it in the end. There is so much light coming from the other side that it could symbolize that mother and daughter have arrived in the promised land of America -- or, equally conceivably, have crossed over to their last rewards.
Either way, it’s about grit and determination and the will of the individual. The final line says: "The will to succeed is always welcome here."
I realize that the fetishization of the individual theory gets a little heavy, so why don’t we go back to sex, and the lack of it.
I give you the Bud Light spot. I thought it was mighty odd to bring back the ghost of Spuds Mackenzie, a dog who, even though played by a female, came off as a sexist bro back in the ‘80s. I also found the way the ghost of Spuds was shown hanging in mid-air to be particularly disturbing.
But he was brought back to offer a message to a younger generation. “You, with your isolationist tendencies and your video games and your pot, every now and then you have to get off your couch and out of the house. Go to a bar and meet a girl, drink a beer!”
The message didn’t work. Somehow, way in advance of our current situation, with a president rattling around the White House alone, devoting himself to work, while his wife stays in New York, advertisers managed to tap into the Trump juju.
The message? No sex this year -- we’re rugged individuals.