Commentary

The Super Bowl, Re-Politicized And De-Sexed

I just had the great misfortune of catching a Valentine’s Day TV spot (recycled from 2012) for the Vermont Teddy Bear Store’s “Big Hunka Love Bear.”

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.  

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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.

8 comments about "The Super Bowl, Re-Politicized And De-Sexed".
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  1. Neilan Tyree from The Propeller Group, February 10, 2017 at 3:15 p.m.

    I took a break from the Stupor Bowl this year and was feeling a bit...out of touch.

    NOT ANYMORE!

    What a terrific recap. So much so that... Yes, I'm going to lift my personal ban on watching (or caring) about this year's entries and go see for myself.

    As a longtime enthusiast of your column (here, there, everywhere), I MUST say you rather outdid yourself this time.

    Prompting me to IMMEDIATE action. And what more could a column hope to do!

    Bravo.

  2. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, February 10, 2017 at 3:22 p.m.

    You're right, Barbara.  I realized I missed the Carl's Jr. spots with the voluptuous models in bikinis (who couldn't have eaten more than a few snap peas for months before), lasciviously chomping down on a gigantic, fat-laden CJ bacon cheeseburger.  Food and sex.  What could be better?

    Oh, yeah, that CJ CEO guy who loves this campaign will be our new Secretary of Labor.

  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, February 10, 2017 at 3:42 p.m.

    I know.  Carl's Jr. Guy as Sec of Labor-- it sounds like a bad joke. He's not for increasingly hourly wages, all for robots, and obviously has tremendous respect for women. 

  4. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, February 10, 2017 at 3:51 p.m.

    Great insights, Barbara. Thank you. 

    Who won? And who lost? Fox. They had 91 spots at $5million each and that didn't include the overtime of four more. Who lost besides Atlanta? Viewers inundated with Fox promotions and shows, new and old.

    On Monday after the Super Bowl I presented the spots to two Advertiisng classes at Pepperdine. Loved doing that again. Some observations, of mine watching the spots on Sunday and before.

    i joined the USAToday Admeter and evaluated and voted on each spot. Approximately 58% before the game. 100% during and after the game. 
    One of spots you may have been commenting on was the GoDaddy spot. It didn't work. Doesn't work. No one remembered it. Not like the salacious spots iof the past, which had different objectives and strategies. Melissa McCarthy in the Kia spot was excellent. I compared the Ford spot with Kia. Ford lacked ID or identification until the end. Kia did a better job.
    We watched the 84 Lumber spot and went to the web.  We watched the GNC spot which wasn't allowed to present. I liked the "Coke is Beautiful. Loved Audi, great message and branding. 

    One observation is that there's too much promotion. The halftime had two or three sponsors, if you add the show. The drones were sponsored. I stopped counting celebrities in the TV spots or voice overs at more than 50. 

    I then gave the students the following slogans and questions? Who used or sponsored...


    • "Experience what's inside?"

    • "Progress is for everyone?"

    • "Drones powered by...?"

    • "Defining what a cable company can be/" (it can only go up)

    • Aerial coverage by....?

    • "Precision crafted performance?"


    The students just didn't remember.

    One more thought. One of the brightest students thought the timing of the Tiffany spot , before halftime, was brilliant. She mentioned that Lady Gaga neede more jewelry from Tiffany on?  I agreed and then told them that the Tiffany CEO was fired or resigned, after the Super Bowl.  That was interesting timing since one of the reasons was lack of sales..."It's Only Creative If It Sells."


  5. Don Perman from self, February 10, 2017 at 4:10 p.m.

    Thanks for the fine recap.  You managed to touch many complex facets.  Nice work as always.

  6. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, February 10, 2017 at 4:47 p.m.


    Another thought-provoking and insightful column.  Thanks!

  7. Jane Farrell from Freelance, February 11, 2017 at 11:04 p.m.

    Excellent insights - I didn't realize the lack of sexism until you pointed it out! I did think the Melissa McCarthy ad was absolutely terrible. A woman gets "whacked" (literally) in a number of ways. I didn't count how many ways there were, but after the first one it got old. Other than that, several amazing commercials, including the one about Mexican immigrants (made for 84Lumber, but who remembers that, anyway)??

  8. Jim English from The Met Museum, February 17, 2017 at 12:51 a.m.

    Thank you,  Barbara.   And yes,  why bring the ghost of Spuds Mackenzie.  Let the "super party animal" rest in peace.

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