In the wake of this year's mostly craptastic round of Super Bowl ads, companies would like you to know that 1) They are smarter and more ironic than you and/or 2) Their external ethnic advisory board told them they're not racist. Oh, never mind then.
Let's start with Groupon, which posted a defense of its Timothy Hutton/Tibetan ad by saying they meant to be offensive — because they're making fun of you! And themselves, sort of:
When we think about commercials that offend us, we think of those that glorify anti-social behavior — like the scores of Super Bowl ads that are built around the crass objectification of women. Unlike those ads, no one walks away from our commercials taking the causes we highlighted less seriously. Not a single person watched our ad and concluded that it's cool to kill whales...Our ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon. Why make fun of ourselves? Because it's different...what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?
You can buy that that was the intention and still believe the Super Bowl's blunt cudgel is no place for irony, but it remains a bad ad — confusing, lacking any real connection to the brand itself, even an insincere commentary trying to have it both ways (celebrity charities are ridiculous! Now donate to a charity!). Even if it was directed by Christopher Guest. But maybe the problem was that it was too real? Here's the theory from blogger (and grad student, duh) Aaron Bady, via The Atlantic:
Reading people's complaints about Super Bowl commercials, I'm struck by the feeling that what people are really upset by is the basic fact that the capitalist profit motive is an amoral drive. Yet since that can't register as a scandal — capitalism, you see, is good! — we instead use vague, almost meaningless sentences like "in poor taste." The joke of the Groupon commercials, after all, is the foolishness of people who think commerce can be a form of social good. The joke makes no sense unless you accept the disconnect between selfish-desire (purchasing) and social good (charity).
Or maybe we just want good deals on pedicures without faux-moralist, pseudo-ironic posturing?
Next up, we have the marvelous confluence of racism and sexism that was the PepsiMax "Love Hurts" ad. (For an excellent, fuller critique of it, see here.) PepsiCo. gave a statement to MSNBC, faithfully transcribed by our founding editor. It included the line, "We vetted this ad with our external ethnic diversity advisory board as well as nationally recognized community activists." Case closed.
That "Love Hurts" ad was made by an amateur (ahem, a white guy) and voted on by the public, which doesn't tell you anything you didn't know about majority rule. And it did pretty well on USAToday's Ad Meter, placing fourth in a room full of Real Americans who just want to laugh. (The two most popular ads, both for Doritos, both involved dogs. Who were, so far as we know, neither racist nor sexist.) Still, Advertising Age's critic wasn't impressed either with PepsiMax, its brother company Doritos, or Budweiser's parent company: "Simply put, Pepsi and Anheuser may have won the Ad Meter, but they seem to have lost the war. The Volkswagen and Chrysler ads are the talk of the town this morning, not the frat-boy antics that Pepsi and Anheuser dusted off the shelf yesterday and pretended were new."
Speaking of beer commercials, Tom Scocca over at Slate had a brilliant theory on the particular brand of misogyny they present annually. First, they posit that beer is both rare and "drives men mad with desire"; then, that women don't want men to have beer.
Taken literally, this is baffling. Beer is cheap and easy to find. The only cost should be $6.99 for a six pack, at any convenience store. And rather than hiding from women to drink their beer, many single adult heterosexual men seek out female company when they're drinking. "Drink our beer and avoid contact with women!"-who could possibly be the target for that pitch?
But it makes perfect sense if the target audience is-and it is-16-year-olds. The girls aren't really girls; they're Mom. And Mom is the first hurdle in the thrilling obstacle course that makes up the world of the teenage beer drinker.
We feel like a veil has been lifted away from our eyes. But, as Scocca continues, this makes the PepsiMax commercials even more baffling, because even sixteen-year-olds can drink soda. Unless, of course, they want to drink soda and flirt with a white woman? Or do something good for Tibet? Okay, we're lost. It's just laziness.
What Really Rankled People About Those Groupon Super Bowl Ads [The Atlantic]
Why Pepsi, Bud Should Sit Out Next Year's Super Bowl [Adage]
Beer Commercials Are Not Stupid [Slate]
GroupOn Super Bowl Ads [Groupon]