Super Bowl commercials transform advertising norm

While the goal lines at Lucas Oil Stadium were clearly demarcated Sunday, the lines between entertainment, art and advertisement were not.

Every year, millions of Americans gather around their TVs to drink a lot, eat a lot, maybe root for a team, and most importantly, consume the finest ads corporate America has to offer.

No matter who walks away with a Super Bowl ring on his finger, it’s the host TV network that’s the real winner, pocketing $3.5 million for every 30-second ad this year.

The obvious reason the spots cost so much is that the Super Bowl’s ad breaks are pretty much the TV equivalent to Park Place and Boardwalk in Monopoly.

But this is a little complicated now by the fact that so many people watch the Super Bowl just for the ads.

How many times have you heard, “I’m just watching it for the ads this year”? How many times has that been your own reason for watching? I know it’s been mine for as long as I’ve been watching the Super Bowl.

So now the commercials themselves are such a popular attraction, are advertisers really paying for a slot during one of the most popular sporting events in the world, or do they want to brush shoulders with the top ads in the world?

If the latter’s the case, even in part, it may in some way fundamentally change the nature of the advertising.

Whereas the typical ad is the annoying thing squawking at us to buy something in between segments of a TV show we can probably watch online now anyway, the Super Bowl ad is an event in itself.

There are at least two real-time audience reaction ranking systems for the ads: ADBOWL and the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter. This is not to mention the inevitable shows highlighting the best ads of the year and, of course, all time.

Certain Super Bowl ads have entered the culture’s consciousness as much as great works of art. The Ridley Scott-directed Apple ad from 1984 and Coca-Cola’s “Mean Joe” Green spot are a couple of examples.

It’s not the fact that the most famous Super Bowl ads are well-produced or memorable that make them really any different from the most cheaply produced, befuddling local ads (Raben Tire, I’m looking at you).

What seems to make these ads different is that they’re advertisements for entertainment’s sake. Sure, they’re still selling something, but commercial cinema is just selling itself, or whatever product paid to pop up in Brad Pitt’s hand. That doesn’t necessarily detract from its value as art.

With the Super Bowl, people for once are seeking the commercials out themselves, not muting them, throwing their remote at the TV, or, in the case of most Hardee’s ads, losing faith in humanity

Not to start up the debate of what constitutes art (I’ll leave it to faculty lounges and long late-night, chemically enhanced conversations), but isn’t this all at least part of it? In the very least, it’s essentially the definition of entertainment.

Even the most amusing everyday ads aren’t the main attraction. Super Bowl ads kind of are, at least for some of us.

In the end though, this isn’t to suggest that some day down the road we’ll be watching Michael Jordon and Larry Bird play HORSE for a Big Mac in the Museum of Modern Art. Even if Super Bowl ads are art, the best of them aren’t great art, and they probably never will be.

If it’s true that a great book or film or piece of music is like a great friend, a great Super Bowl ad is just that guy you know who has a witty comeback for everything.

I’ll probably laugh at the new Geico ad’s joke, but I’ll still really just want to hang out with Orson Welles and Bob Dylan and Kurt Vonnegut.


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