Chapter #143: 2010 Super Bowl Advertising - February 12, 2010

The U.S. Capitol, under renovation in 2002 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

"You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time" - Abraham Lincoln

While watching the 2010 Super Bowl, we enjoyed the game, but were dismayed that violence and antisocial behavior were elevated further as art. Our concern was less for the game than for its corporate advertising. For only $2.5 million per minute, a corporate sponsor could perpetrate any message they like on the largest TV audience in history.  

To see that violence is now part of popular culture, look no further than the gang cultures of Los Angeles. Over the past sixty years, gratuitous violence attained the status of cool or acceptable behavior. Now, the waterfall effect of violence pours down from one generation to the next. Likewise, high definition violence is now an integral part of corporate advertising culture. During Super Bowl XLIV, several ads featured physical violence perpetrated on innocent people. The most startling moments included blind-side tackles of vulnerable humans. The digitally enhanced tackles arrived rapidly from off-screen. Their apparent force was so great that victims flew off the opposite side of the screen.

The Washington Monument, Washington, DC - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The word, “New”, is the first tenet of Madison Avenue style advertising. Using “New” in an ad guarantees that people will pay greater attention. Many Americans think that there is nothing new in their lives. Corporations try to fill these unspecified needs with new products, services or simply their advertising presentation. While TV ad violence is not new, high definition images, with surround-sound enhanced violence is. Once a violent ad campaign becomes popular, the only way to “keep it new” is to ramp up the violence.  

“Sex sells” is Madison Avenue tenet number two. Selling sex is at the core of the GoDaddy.com ad strategy. Over the years, this strategy has rocketed GoDaddy from “also ran” to its current position as a top-ranked internet services company. This year, GoDaddy's edgily sexy ads featured female racecar driver Danica Patrick, lying on a massage table. As Danica languidly smiles at the camera and repeats here lines, an attractive blond masseuse stands nearby. Later, the masseuse rips off her own bodice and moves toward Danica. Cut – fade to GoDaddy.com logo. With a strip show going on, who remembers any message other than the innuendo of lesbian sex? What will the two, scantily clothed women do next? With GoDaddy’s history of showing racier versions of their ads on the internet, how many viewers browsed to see if more Danica Patrick action was available? 

View from Lincoln Memorial, toward the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The third tenet of Madison Avenue advertising is Death. Until 1975, self-censorship and tradition dictated that movie violence never originated off-screen. That year, Steven Spielberg’s mechanical shark faltered during production of his movie Jaws. During post-production, there was scant footage of the mechanical shark available. In order to salvage the movie, Spielberg kept the shark off-screen most of the time, using music to represent its lurking menace. When the shark finally appeared, it arrived from off-screen, attacking the hero as he stood on the deck of a boat. That single act of off-screen-to-onscreen violence legitimized the device, both in movies and corporate advertising.

At $100,000 per second, things happen fast in Super Bowl advertising. In the Mars Snickers ad, eighty-eight years old, Betty White runs downfield with a football. With her cutesy face and unsteady gait, naturally we root for her. After dodging several obstacles, Betty is then blindsided by a fast-motion, full-body tackle. Despite the crushing blow, Betty quickly returns. Fortified with a Snickers bar, she makes a successful downfield run. Not so lucky is an elderly, disabled man. Sitting calmly in his wheelchair, a high speed, full body tackle sweeps him off-screen. Why is it, I wondered, that advertisements featuring disabled people so often perpetrate violence upon them?

During halftime, Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend of the classic rock band, “The Who” sang a medley of their hits, starting with, “My Generation”. The song’s most memorable line is, “I hope I die before I get old”. Obviously, the folks at Mars listened to that one.

Close-up View - Statue of Abraham Lincoln, seated in the Lincoln Memorial - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)There is an alarming trend toward random acts of violence perpetrated on older or disabled Americans. Recently, the district attorney in Los Angeles charged and convicted a man for the unprovoked beating of a disabled person. If not for a security camera at the scene, the crime would have gone unsolved.

Contrast Snickers’ onscreen violence with the Anheuser Busch ad featuring a young bull and a Clydesdale colt, growing up together. Is this what The Who meant when they sang, “Out here in the fields, we found something real”? Designed to engender positive feelings about a brand, “feel good ads” of this type have broad audience appeal. How many children who watched this farmyard ad will grow up to favor Budweiser beer?  

Through their ads, corporations reveal what C.G. Jung calls the “Shadow Self”. Often representing the raw, unseemly side of our personality, we try to hide it from everyone. Blind to the messages they are sending, corporations rely on shock value to keep us watching their ads. Projecting anti-age, anti-disability messages immediately brands them as corporate hypocrites. Their sheer meanness is an indicator of the hidden contempt that some corporations feel towards humanity.

With masterful obfuscation on the subject of aging and death, many of these ads target young, healthy Americans. Corporate advertisers offer young people a “free pass” by perpetrating violence only on older, more vulnerable people. This perpetrates the hoax that generation “X, Y and Z” are immune to aging or disability. A deeper, meta-message is that corporations see older or disabled persons as “non customers”, and thus dispensable.  

The Lincoln Memorial at Dusk - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that corporations are “associations of citizens”. Their ruling neglects the fact that foreign interests control many U.S. corporations. Whether foreign or domestic, Corporate Persons, now have the same constitutional right to free speech as any other “citizen”. Does it concern the court’s majority that Corporate Persons immediately ratcheted up their high definition, surround-sound calls to violence against human citizens?  

Now that “corporations are people too”, we shall see an advertising onslaught of which Super Bowl XLIV is only the kickoff. Corporations may now spend their ad money on anything legal, including unlimited support for political campaigns. The 2010 Super Bowl featured at least one ad financed by “an association of citizens”. With its “pro-life” stance on abortion, the ad featured NFL football player Tim Tebow and his mother. In a dysfunctional payback for her not aborting him as a fetus, he blind-side tackles her as if she were a mere Betty White. 

Often unexpectedly, the “Corporate Person” displays its Shadow Self. GoDaddy.com is about sex, and they barely hide it. Mars Snickers are about death as entertainment. Anheuser Busch is about selling beer to children. Ironically, the pro-life “association” resorted to gratuitous violence against a mother to publicize their “pro-life” message.  

Close-up of Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If The Who’s ten-minute mini concert had been a Super Bowl ad, it would have cost $25 million. Since Anheuser Busch ads ran for ten full minutes, you could say that they paid for The Who's presence onscreen. Did our new Corporate Person realize that The Who’s longstanding message is that we should mistrust authority, power and greed? “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss”, they sang.  

As the concert reached its crescendo, Roger Daltry belted out, “We won’t get fooled again. Oh, no…” The song’s finale directed all conscious viewers back to its central message, which is – Do not trust anyone, especially a Corporate Person who buys, sells or pulls the levers of power from behind a legal curtain. This applies equally to those who do their corporate bidding from the bench, wearing the black robes of justice. In either case, the cynical nature of their Shadow Self steps forward, naked for all to see.

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