Let Me Entertain You | The Great American Advertising Tradition

It’s that time of year when all of America sits down in front of the television to watch men in tights run around a field, interrupted occasionally by elaborate Doritos commercials. This Sunday is the Super Bowl, and I’m pretty excited.

I know that it’s a bit strange that I should care about football. It’s been established that I am a huge nerd and spend my free time crying over fictional characters. But I’m actually looking forward to this Sunday, and not just because I have a strange crush on Peyton Manning. I’ve discovered that watching Sports Center on ESPN regularly at the gym teaches you how football works, so for the first time this year I’m going to actually understand what’s going on in the game.

Seahawks are the Best!
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning shake hands.
I think his arm is bigger than my head
Photo courtesy of John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty Images/ESPN.

But more importantly, the Super Bowl is one of the most important media experiences of the year, one that basically the whole country experiences together. It’s like we’re all on one communal couch, eating guacamole and watching the halftime show. Of all of the big annual television events, the Super Bowl is the one that really connects us in the great American tradition of watching men kick a ball around. There’s no Republicans or Democrats this Sunday, there’s Broncos fans and Seahawks supporters.

But let’s not become too excited about the triumph of the American spirit as expressed through the medium of football. Every experience we have is exploited by advertisers, and the Super Bowl is no different. In fact, Super Bowl commercials are an experience nearly as exciting as the game itself.

On the surface, it seems simple. Advertisers recognize that a ton of people (roughly 100 million) are going to be watching this game, so they put their best product forward to entice viewers. It gets a little more ridiculous when you consider that in 2013, a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl cost around $4 million.

Advertisements are such an interesting medium in entertainment. Like a television show, they have to entice a viewer. But they don’t have forty-five minutes to entertain; they have less than forty-five seconds. Furthermore, they need to convince the audience of the value of a product. This is a challenge at any time, but especially on Super Bowl Sunday. Only one day a year are commercials ranked and parsed, not only by citizens but by news sources such as The New York Times or Entertainment Weekly. If the ad is good, it will be remembered, even memorialized.

If a Super Bowl commercial hasn’t made you laugh, or get teary or even briefly inspired, you’re dead or lying. Who can forget Clint Eastwood’s inspirational speech in the 2012 Chrysler Super Bowl advertisement? They weren’t advertising a car, they were selling the American dream, and it was the most talked about commercial of that year. Or the Snickers advertisement that brought Betty White back in style in 2010. One of my personal favorites is the Fiat 500 Abarth Super Bowl commercial, also of 2012, featuring a supermodel fulfilling some nerdy guy’s fantasy.

The Super Bowl commercials are as discussed as the actual game, and therefore are a cinematic experience. The advertisers use sex, or nationalism, or sheer weirdness to impress upon the viewers that the year’s biggest collective viewing experience isn’t about sports: it’s about commercialism. Each year, the system becomes more elaborate. I predict a dystopian future in which the advertisements are the main event and the Super Bowl is what happens in between. It’s almost as scary as a zombie apocalypse, to be honest.

So this Sunday, root for your team. Eat the chicken wings and chips and dip. But don’t get sucked into the commercials, you’re better than that. Appreciate them as entertainment, but nothing more. The Super Bowl is one day a year where you can be enthusiastic about sports without irony, which is a very unusual occurrence for Tufts student. Sit on the American communal couch and enjoy the game.