Super Bowl XLVII Ads

By abashfulharvestman and thethirdrevelation

Brad Macallam: “The rooster! The rider! A man on a rooster! The rider of the apocalypse! The rooster! The rider!”

Brad: “The rider of the apocalypse.”
Uncle Ted: “Oh, not the rider. It was the horse owner. It was the goddamn horse owner—wouldn’t let me have the horse. Look, imagine it’s the opposite time of the year—there’s no snow—and this, this horse is fully grown.”
Brad: “Uh huh.”
Ted: “And this little guy would be riding this—the smallest horse in the world. And then Willard, my rooster, would be chasing him around the biggest tree on this planet. … Here’s the thing: The rooster would stand taller than the rider and the horse together.”
Brad: “God that sounds fantastic.”
Ted: “Yeah, it was gonna be a commercial, it was gonna make a bunch of money. It was gonna be great!”
Brad: “A commercial for what?”
Ted: [Flustered] “Gah–how should I know. But it was gonna be great!”

–from My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009)

And we’re back, pleased to present another edition of the best Super Bowl ad analysis known to humankind and most monsters. We’ve allowed these Super Bowl XLVII grapes to duly ferment in their oak caskets and they’re ripe to be decanted in the wake of this year’s trip to “a fetid marsh in the industrial hinterlands of New York City.” Now, this is probably about as nauseating a group of commercials as you’ll ever see. The cost for a 30-second spot hit a record high of $4 million. Reportedly, Pepsi replaced Chevy as the halftime sponsor because Beyonce didn’t want to be in a car ad. She would’ve come out as a Corvette Transformer. Americans watching the Super Bowl on TV were projected to do $12.3 billion in spending related to watching the game, and buy 7.5 million new televisions.

Budweiser — “Coronation
Anheuser-Busch InBev, the top spender in the last five Super Bowls, opens the night’s commercial proceedings by taking its self–proclaimed Budweiser “King of Beers” tagline to its perverse extreme, with the ad unabashedly carrying the title “Coronation.” The elitism kicks off with an objectification of women—the ad beginning with a shot of just a woman’s legs walking toward us, coming to serve the viewer. As she enters this elitist soiree, a headless side–shot particularly establishes her as an object by physically lining her up with, and adorned in the same black and gold as, the beer-symbol-objects. The narration starts with “We summon the finest of this nation,” to which we must respond: Really? The finest? At the very least, these people appear to be way too pleased with themselves and their consumption status, status consumption, and their status of consumption. The narration continues: “To help us taste and choose.” Ahhh, elitism cloaked in meritocracy. Good job. The light of heaven is mostly kept out, hazy, filtered, and shunted, suggesting this is a conspiracy of dark lords. There appears to be garish signage outside. Better to stay in. At the end, some sci–fish blue light presents as if trying to project something cinematic and advanced. This is a film you want to be in, co-starring with the beautiful people; a quorum where you want to vote yourself, part of an engineered society akin to the one depicted in the Bud Light ads of the previous Super Bowl. This is a social-engineering meeting. The easy, frivolous-but-serious looks and gestures of this self–anointed and self–appointed lot projects an attitude of natural and inherited aristocracy, while suggesting that this all a cheap parlor trick, a well-produced shell game. At the head of a table illegally and unethically appropriated from Valhalla, the Leader makes a toast to “taste,” clearly in the sense of “We have taste, they don’t,” and adding “To our kind of beer.” Our kind? Our Town? A toast to the exclusion of those framed as not like us! He wears an apron, that unmistakable marker of the working class, while sporting a haircut that costs at least $400. This puts an exclamation mark on the elitism masquerading as meritocracy and authenticity, and serves to distract from Anheuser-Busch’s anti-labor politics. This is steam-roller stuff: trying to shove openly self-contradictory messages down our throats as part of a plan to eat our fattened livers–alcoholism pun intended. The ad and product line also continue the trend of having a beer–logo design that is far superior to the quality of the beer.

Audi — “Prom
Yet another ad equating car and woman is added to the universe. To be sure, baby boomers are not excluded here as we are to infer that the boy’s trip with the car is a gift from his generous father. The father’s hard work has allowed his son access to such a vehicle and to a prototypical, sheltered suburban home—if not the social skills needed to have a speaking relationship with the girl he kisses at the prom. Agency is effectively removed from the son, as we understand that children are what their parents have bought. The prom queen here is of course delighted to be sexually accosted with no context or provocation, has no voice in the ad, and is singled out apparently and singularly for the way she looks. There’s also the theme of entitled transgression: the make of the vehicle is what ostensibly transfers the authority to park in the principal’s space and accost female strangers. This is an endorsement of the mythos that says having high status grants one the privilege to bend and break social rules, drive aggressively, and trample on others. The kid gets a black eye but is triumphant, and the phrase “Bravery. It’s what defines us.” flashes on the screen, followed by Audi’s heartbeat-like sound signature (“Audi: It’s what circulates your blood.”). Bravery here is that entitled transgression, the taking of women, and recklessness for recklessness’ sake—those age–old stereotypes of masculinity. The generational baton has been passed, and it includes white, heterosexual male competition and valuing women merely for their transactional value. Ultimately, the car is a replacement for not only an actual date but cooperative social interaction at large, as the boy never does attend the social function, making this ad part of the “Give me the product, and let me get away” theme this year. Notice how sparingly the car itself is actually depicted. We are long past the days when cars were cars.

Gildan — “Getaway”

A young man rises warily from the floor of a bedroom. He has a sleeping mask on his forehead and a cartoonish amount of lipstick cartoonishly smeared all around the side of his mouth. There’s a pink boa in the background. We see that a young woman is sleeping in the nearby bed. The bed has light pink bedding and the woman has light pink lipstick. He notices, with a look of alarm, that he has handcuffs attached to one of his wrists. The handcuffs have leopard-pattern cushion wraps around them. He gets up and the next shot is from overhead, where we see that she’s sleeping in her underwear. The man creeps towards the doorway to leave, then suddenly realizes he has no shirt on. A look of alarm returns to his face. He realizes he is exposed, genderwise, and that his very life could be at stake. He goes to the woman and starts to take the shirt she’s wearing off her back, thus committing sexual assault. He then notices a cat looking in his direction. The cat functions as a witness. The man is undeterred and returns to removing the shirt when the tagline “IT’S ABOUT TIME YOU HAD A FAVORITE T-SHIRT” flashes on the screen, which can be read as “IT’S ABOUT TIME YOU STARTED COMMITTING SEXUAL ASSAULT.” This message is reinforced by a masculinity : femininity :: ordinariness : style analogy, in that she seems rather fashionable and he does not. For example, she has a sytlish purse, some nice guitars, a fashionable haircut, and light-pink femininity markers. He has an autumnal plaid shirt and an unstylish haircut. Even though a woman wearing a man’s t-shirt can be interpreted as a cute and basic way to bend the gender binary, Gildan appears to find this too much gender transgression. Her haircut may also be too boyish. It believes that his masculinity has already been made too subject, including by way of the cuffs and with the smeared lipstick on him signifying her pleasure and her control. Coupled to this is a normalization and routinization of sexual assault, i.e. the message “T-SHIRT WEARING AND SEXUAL ASSAULT: IT’S JUST WHAT MEN DO!” A disturbing entry under the “Give me the product, and let me get away” theme this year. Ad created by DeVito/Verdi

Bud Light — “Journey
Bud Light officially goes on the record as learning nothing from Hurricane Katrina. Cultural appropriation of Voodoo / Vodun and (black) elements of New Orleans is aided and abetted by Stevie Wonder as magical negro. Includes white gatekeeper and the ending realization that this magical negro is an equal–opportunity mercenary, with Wonder’s character laughing rather maniacally at the end to underline this. With the showing of the offsetting voodoo dolls and the sour faces of their young white male owners, the ad makes it clear that the supreme religious symbol–object in this universe—which is the real one, just note that the team colors are accurate—is a container of Bud Light. The outro is the beginning of Wonder’s song “Superstition,” the lyrics of which explicitly counsel against superstition. And so the “superstition” put on display here is ultimately encapsulated by what is held up as a “Bud + Ballistics Spectatorship” One True Religion with Funky Flavor.

Bud Light — “Lucky Chair
Bud Light is explicitly made the coin of the realm in this one. Zoe Saldana’s character presents as some kind of assistant–muse–rabbit foot, using her body to transfer magic to the chair. Again, Wonder’s “Superstition” is the outro. Here’s Tim Hughes on the song: “The…sense of space is intimate, as if the listener were hearing the song in a smaller room or studio instead of a large concert,” and for Budweiser, conducive to their religion on the couch. “The lyrics of ‘Superstition’ are not ambitious, sentimental, or political, by Wonder’s standards. … [B]ecause belief in folk superstitions is a far more innocuous form of escapism than the forms depicted in [‘Too High,’ ‘Jesus Children of America,’ and ‘Pastime Paradise’], these lyrics have little bite or controversy.” In other words, goes down easy with the Bud. “After the sharply struck first note, there is a pause of 0.6 seconds before another note is heard. This pause grabs the listeners’ ears in much the same way as the very similar, opening snare–shot of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’ (fn: “Both songs announce their beginning with a sharp snare beat, followed by a pause that allows the listener to orient their ears toward the song before it resumes. Larry Starr has discussed the opening of the Dylan song: ‘The opening attack on the drum, likened by one prominent rock critic to a gunshot both in sound and in cultural impact,…remains a startling opening, both for a song and for an album.’)” Bang! Be born (again) into this religion! (Quotes are from Hughes’s dissertation “Groove and Flow: Six Analytical Essays on the Music of Stevie Wonder“)

Scientology — “Knowledge
Lawrence Wright notes in his new, comprehensive book on Scientology that “Even though membership in the church has been declining for years, according to polls and census figures, money continues to pour into Scientology’s coffers in fantastic sums.” (Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief) Thus has the church used some of that money to try to rehabilitate its image. This ad is part of its “Knowledge” campaign and appears to be modeled on Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” ad. To counter the Scientology ad, I’ve listed here several of the top horrors from the many documented in Wright’s new book.

Mercedes — CLA ad campaign
“This video is probably not what you would expect from Mercedes-Benz, but it was a key component for one of our most successful marketing campaigns. … When your ad discussion follows a discussion of the Kardashians on one network and then follows a discussion of the fiscal cliff on another, you’ve done it.”  –Bernie Glaser, vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA, at the “Balancing the Art and Soul of Risk” session during the “Luxury Roundtable: State of Luxury 2013” conference

Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon, referring to this ad: “This is an upscale moment.”

The Upton video was the first video aired as part of an overall package to advertise the CLA. It was followed by celebrity endorsements, teaser videos, and the final Super Bowl commercial. It had over one million views in its first 48 hours. According to Erin Shea of Luxury Daily, which organized the Luxury Roundtable conference, “With the lower price point of the CLA vehicle, Mercedes was aiming for the generation Y consumers, which is why they made [the] video with Ms. Upton and the final commercial featuring Usher.”

Mercedes — “Car Wash”

The ad is in slow-motion. It opens with a pan up of Upton, who is wearing white sandals, a black, low-cut tank top, and jean short-shorts, establishing a Daisy Duke / Aryanist “Ideal Woman” objectification point-of-view, segueing to her holding car-washing suds that symbolize white supremacist semen. Bluesy music and the Daisy-Duke look Americanizes the Aryanism. She blows on the suds-as-semen, then sultrily looks into the camera as the shot dissolves into one of the suds-semen slipping down the windshield of the car. We get to a shot where Upton is on the far left, at the head of some boys who appear to be between 14 and 16 years old and who are wearing red football jerseys, the jersey-wearing explicitly cementing a white supremacy / hetero/ sexist / ballistic four corners. Three boys are washing the car while staring at her and two are in the background holding signs–with–balloons advertising the car wash. The shot has the boys washing the car slightly downhill from her. She is their object of desire, their ultimate goal, and they will have to put some labor in and go uphill a bit to get her. The next shot is of her giving a look communicating this message. Six colorful balloons attached to one of the signs are then very noticeable, a reminder that these are still children, but it’s not too early to start this process. Some luxuriating and seduction from Upton follows. Dissolve to a white boy among them trying to handle a spraying hose-as-ejaculating penis, who gets some on a nearby black boy who is giving a come-on raise of the eyebrow to Upton. Cut to Upton telling the multiracial lad “You missed a spot.” She wants to ensure he is fully enlisted in this white supremacy process being fueled by objectified and hypersexualized white womanhood; that all are committed, whatever their racial background. They must all be in full compliance with the laboring-for-status-through-Mercedes to receive the currently just-out-of-reach white supremacist sex. That this is the gateway to a white supremacist paradise is emphasized by the barren surroundings. She walks away and we’re supposed to walk to the MercedesBenzUSA Facebook page. A number of people went to the page and criticized the ad. Ad created by Merkley + Partners.

Mercedes — “Soul
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” –Matthew 4:8-9 (KJV)

“Everything transitory is but an image.”  ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: First Part

Wow, thanks for getting us out of such a dilemma Mercedes! Provides immediate relief to those who believe in the devil and/or Willem Dafoe—which is basically everyone—and confirmation for those who don’t believe in the devil. Specifically, the sell is a high-celebrity lifestyle, unearned hero status, and role as a leading action man. The high–stakes, real–deal nature of the would–be transaction is confirmed by the contract being in Latin. A complementary reading is that Mercedes is actually the devil and this is just Dafoe playing himself as he happened to be on some felt fall Friday. As mentioned in the preceding capsule, they’re gunnin’ for ’em young. Another animal in the “Give me the product, and let me get away” menagerie this year.

Hyundai — “Stuck”

Anti-social and ecstatically apocalyptic, this ad features a family incredulously passing vehicles with all the apocalyptic trappings: obesity, radioactive waste, unmaintained ballistics, and literal warheads. Literally. The takeaway is that society is too far gone, past saving, and you—consumer—realize this too, so congratulations on your keen perception, buy a Hyundai. You’ll need it. We’ll give you the turbo, and let you get away from these…”people.” Hopefully to the suburbs, or a community of radicals armed to the teeth. Ad created by Innocean.

Hyundai — “Team”

We are lead to children playing challenge tackle football by shots of the children who will ultimately make up the “good” team undertaking adult, masculine, and heroic action. Bullying is ultimately to be contested in the arena, violently. Don’t try to defuse the bullying or, God forbid, address the root causes; no, escalate things, to the point where it’s unlikely the “bad” can even save face or otherwise be reincorporated into the good society. The process is aided by The Mother, who in this society, endorses and actively facilitates such violent displays of masculinity despite her sex and gender. You’re excused if you forgot that you’re being sold an SUV. The children do live in suburban sprawl and are under the driving age. Much space must be covered, literally and metaphorically. It’s never too late to get ’em started (see NFL Evolution and Mercedes Upton entries)! The tagline is “NEW THINKING. NEW POSSIBILITIES.” but nothing new here in the way of thinking or possibilities. In fact, could say the central message is “don’t think about new possibilities.” Surely is trying to appeal to suburbanites who long for a feeling of toughness and masculinity that they can’t otherwise get from their boring, usual environment and habits, offering both nostalgia for their own youth and a window into living vicariously through their suburban-limited children. This is a possible destination for the fleeing car-drivers in Hyundai’s “Stuck” ad (just above): to be stuck in an endless loop of suburban ballistic self-aggrandizement. Celebrity voice at the end is that of Jeff Bridges, and thus do we have an implicit appropriation of The Dude. Ad created by Innocean.

M&M’s — “Devour”

Last year we had an ad leveraging the cold female / boisterous male mythos. This year she goes from dismissive to treacherous. Women, our better halves, sabotage us at the first opportunity. Like the candy, they vindictively undo us without provocation, ultimately destroying us. Women: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. Can’t live without the paranoia.

M&M’s — “Love Ballad”

Uses an escalation of imagery to tap into the mythos of reverse oppression based on sex, arriving at nonchalant murder by baking and cannibalism. Ad created by BBDO NY.

Go Daddy — “Perfect Match”

Largely and rightfully panned, here we have one of the more simply and straightforwardly cynical and exploitative pieces of the past few years. The concept is stereotypical beauty engages with stereotypical un-beauty in a sexual manner, shock ensues. Also here is the trope that sex inequality is such that even the most inferior males can and should be able to get the most superior females. Opposite supermodel Bar Refaeli is one Jesse Heiman, who we understand does web development, and is actually a career “nerd” extra whose appearance has been determined so representative of the archetype that, rather than risk missing the mark, Hollywood producers have tapped him again, and again, and again to represent it. Talk about hyper-real. One might argue that, by presenting a taboo scenario, the ad is actually enlightening; however, given GoDaddy’s past ads and the pornographic and sexual milieu they’re known for, it’s extremely difficult to view this as anything other than a cynical play on stereotypes—any discomfort or shock is evoked simply for its own sake. Also bandied here is the assumption that techno–literacy and personal appearance are related: those in IT are going to wear glasses and have bad skin, etc. etc. Ad created by Deutsch NY.

Doritos — “Goat 4 Sale”

This is the second consecutive year Doritos has featured murder as a theme. Both times, animals have been used to make it go down easier, and superficial weirdness has been used to distract from the gravity of the message. Instead of dealing with the goat’s Doritos addiction, the previous owner pawns him off on an unsuspecting buyer, the message being that one shouldn’t deal with problems oneself, but rather should deceive others, even if it results in the deceived’s murder and the prize is nothing more than a chemically adulterated tortilla chip.

Pepsi — “Party”

This is a surprisingly low-concept ad using the standard “soft drink transcends reality past the point of impropriety” mythos. When the cat parents are away the mouse children will play, and play ballistically, but the parents won’t go ballistic in response if they are neutralized with a Pepsi. Soft Drink > Parenting. But the Kids Are Alright, they too have esophagi. Esophagi to drink Pepsi. In the suburbs. Pepsi continues to be addicted to the youth angle, largely as a strategy to make ground in the cola wars. They’ve largely conceded the non-youth demo to Coke and continue to focus on trying to get those next gen consumers–the product here is called Pepsi NEXT. Their success has been limited in part due to their advertising not being as effective as Coke’s, and relatedly, their apparent underestimation of baby boomerists’ reluctance to get off the stage. Ad created by TBWA/Chiat/Day

The science of why you might want to kick your diet soda habit

Best Buy — “Asking Amy
A game Amy Poehler is used here to create an affably nattering, ignorant, and over-sexed woman hectoring a young male Best Buy employee. Interestingly, the employee is unable to answer any of her questions, though ostensibly this is because the woman is unable to censor herself and is effectively diuretic, verbally. Also, a message seems to be “No answer is really needed. Just get the latest technology and gadgets, don’t question it.” Tech and gadgets may be aphrodisiac here, so much so in fact, that America’s comedic leading–lady obsessively goes after a Best Buy worker drone. Taking it further, we can see twinned tropes of “woman being complicit and/or leading in her own oppression”—since Poehler herself leads the (sex) (tech) penetrative work here, and there’s a fair amount of (body) objectification going on to boot—and of “sex inequality is such that the most inferior males can and should be able to get the most superior females.” Since we’re appropriating a well-known and critically acclaimed comedian for her eager and loopy persona, we don’t have as high a woman-as-ignorant-and-leaky-vessel concern as we might otherwise, but we are concerned. Significantly.

Coca-Cola — “Mirage
The winner of this year’s WTF award when all is said and done. Our first guess was that the concept here was that cinematic types of classic film were in a race to this Coke bottle, including cowboys, Mad-Max-style wastelanders, a Bedouin invoking Lawrence of Arabia, and whatever the hell the showgirls in a bus were from. After research, no film of any particular note has featured showgirls driving through a desert on a bus. Also, the Bedouin guy really is not a clear invocation of Lawrence—he has no particular resemblance to anyone in that film, and the only reason we’re enticed to make the connection is that two-thirds of the other parties seem to be cinematic. At best, this is some half-assed concept that started as something and ended up as nothing in particular, and any possible Lawrence reference is vestigial. At worst, it’s a racist snub, as the Arab-lookin’ dude does not get to participate in the race. Why is he there at all? To be bettered. The online place viewers were directed to go to was broken at the time you were supposed to visit. Since then, a race narrative has been constructed, and Coke says that the narrative is “how the race played out on Game Day,” seemingly impossible if the site was down. Notice that the holy Game Day is a proper noun. Included in this embarrassing montage of insipid tweets and general insipidity are shorts for each group that we won’t dignify by describing. The one for the Bedouin is most astounding of all and an ecstatic non-sequitur. Did Coke at the last second realize that it hadn’t provided a prominently depicted character as a voting option for viewers, and thus decide to piece together a cut-away where a robe-sleeved man reaches for a Coke that was just right there, ha–ha, he was the smart one after all…but he just looked at that far off coke with such longing because…you know he’s the smart one, the Coke, he already had one right there? If we’re rambling, be assured it’s a defense mechanism.

Let us take this opportunity to mention that the NAACP has aligned itself with Big Soda, despite the epidemic of overweight– and obesity–related diseases among black Americans.

Jeep Chrysler — “America Will Be Whole Again”

We’ve paid dearly for our recent wars of choice in lives, treasure, broken bodies, and broken minds. We won’t be made whole by buying a Jeep. To claim so is offensive in the extreme. Yet, the company and its admakers drive us directly into that Valley of the Unreal when they put “Whole Again” right in the ad’s title. It throws the thesis “War is a force that gives us meaning” into the back of a Jeep and suggests we drive around in nationalistic parades and in suburban and exurban circles with it; you know, if we want to be patriots and make and keep ourselves a nation. To make such an appropriation of our pain is a violation of the highest order. Furthermore, the admakers apparently just could not help themselves otherwise, deciding this would be narrated by the symbol of everydayness and everyday self-help that is Oprah. That’s how you solve war problems and problems of (the) nation: self-help, namely buying a Jeep. The Big O used to give cars away, but man is she making a hard sell of this harm transport. Ad created by Global Hue.

Ram Trucks — “Farmer”

Holy Agrarian Myth & Fundamentalism Batman! What an appropriation and attempted intergenerational transmission! So notable for what it leaves out, such as: the present domination of farming by factory farms and big agribusiness; the distorted agricultural subsidies that public officials have linked to these; the exploitation of farmworkers; the exploitation of animals; the resource intensiveness of farming; Monsanto; chalky corn; hormones; food safety; overuse of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides; methane; sustainability; agricultural runoff; the family farm and farmer as endangered species; that less than 1% of Americans claim farming as an occupation, and only 17 percent now live in rural areas; that Republicans are currently using the farm bill to cut food stamps—which 47 million Americans now rely on—in blue states only. Pffeww. That’s more bitter harvest than can fit in the back of all the Ram Trucks, including the ones made in Mexico–which is where the overwhelming majority of farmworkers hail from! No points for originality either. Ad created by the Richards Group. Here are some other responses:
Sustainable farmer’s response
Farmworkers response
Funny or Die response
God Created Transit” response

NFL — “NFL Evolution”

Remember when at the top of this post we said this is probably about as nauseating a group of commercials as you’ll ever see? Well, we weren’t kidding. The following NFL ads, coming under the misleading banner “NFL Evolution,” are not only automatically inducted into the Hall of Shame, but provoke us to go ahead and name the Super Bowl–ad wing of said Hall of Shame after the NFL administration. These are part of the NFL admin’s PR offensive undertaken in response to the concussion crisis and under the weight of the owners’ and administration’s liability for it. The following quote and those immediately below are from Patrick Hruby’s “The Choice” article: “Between 1998 and 2007, the NFL reportedly spent more than $100 million promoting youth football. Former league director of youth development Scott Lancaster said the league’s strategy was to ‘take out all the negatives and emphasize the positives’ of the sport. At a 2005 youth marketing conference titled ‘Making Your Brand Cook and Mom Acceptable,’ Lancaster also said that children were important to the NFL, because they would someday become adult football fans with discretionary income. Four years later, [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell was invited to a Congressional hearing on brain trauma. He was scheduled to appear with the father of a Texas high school quarterback who had died after suffering a concussion. According to ‘League of Denial,’ NFL lobbyist Jeff Miller was apoplectic. He demanded that Goodell be placed on a different panel. Congressional staffers acquiesced. Today, Miller is the league’s director of health and safety. Meanwhile, Goodell is pushing to increase the NFL’s annual revenue from $10 billion to $25 billion over the next 15 years. ‘It’s in the interest of the National Football League to cultivate doubt around this,’ [Lawrence Margolis, professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina] says. ‘To say, “We’re interested in the well-being of kids, college players and our players — but we need to be certain. Let’s be certain about this brain trauma stuff. Don’t want to jump to conclusions.” It’s all about creating a sense of doubt and not being willing to address the problem.'” “Answer My Question, Commish!

NFL — “NFL Evolution: Forever Young” (Voiced by Jim Brown)

“Sports concussion expert Robert Cantu proposes that children under age 14 not play tackle football, largely because both their brains and bodies are still developing and therefore more vulnerable to serious injury. … A recent Marist College poll found that roughly one in three Americans say that knowing about the damage concussions cause would make them less likely to allow their sons to play football. Earlier this year, a Washington Post survey of more than 500 NFL retirees found that less than half would recommend that children play. According to the National Sports Goods Association, tackle football participation has dropped 11 percent between 2011 and now. … And according to ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines,’ Pop Warner — the nation’s largest youth football program — saw participation drop 9.5 percent between 2010 and ’12. … The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has labeled sports concussions ‘an epidemic,’ reported in 2011 that roughly 122,000 children between the ages of 10 and 19 went to emergency rooms annually for nonfatal brain injuries — and for boys, the top cause was playing football. … In a pair of studies, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest researchers recently found that 7- and 8-year-old boys received an average of 80 head hits per season, while boys ages nine through 12 received 240 hits. Some of the impacts were 80g of force or greater, equivalent to a serious car crash.” During the actual game, immediately after this ad aired, CBS cut to what I’d call a father–sovereign–God shot of Goodell with a child, a shot that followed Goodell saying he would “absolutely” let his son play football. He followed this up after the game by telling the Art Modell–patch–wearing Ravens that by winning the game they had “reached the mountaintop.” What a factory of sadness.

NFL — “NFL Evolution: Forever Fridays
“The National Federation of State High School Associations reports decreasing football participation numbers since 2008-2009. … Meanwhile, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates that between 4 percent and 20 percent of college and high school football players will sustain a brain injury during the course of one season. The Institute of Medicine reports that football consistently has the highest concussion rate of any high school sport (11.2 percent), and that the concussion rate in prep football is nearly double that in the college game (6.2 percent). … [H]igh school players exhibit brain function changes long before they have recognizable signs of a concussion — and that the more hits a player endured on the field, the more their brain function changed. … Seven high school football players have died this year, five from brain injuries and two from spine and neck injuries.”

NFL — “NFL Evolution: Forever Family” (Voiced by Jim Brown)
“[D]epending on duration and severity, brain damage can mean missed games. Missed classes. Learning disabilities. Changes in mood, memory, personality. It can permanently alter who you are, and who you have a chance of becoming.” Ad’s message: It’s never too early to get ’em started! All racial backgrounds, for a maximum number of bodies, please!

NFL — “NFL Evolution: Forever Tradition” (Kennedy Family)
We don’t need our own memories—we can just watch Kennedy family footage on a loop and whatever other Americana might suffice! Do let’s take a moment though to demystify what we can of the Kennedy mystique. First, JFK was a power-hungry philanderer with authoritarian leanings who dragged his feet on civil rights. Second, RFT was a self-serving asshole. Third, though Ted did have Liberal Lion in him, he left the scene of Mary Jo Kopechne’s death, had this swift response when asked why he wanted to be President, and got co-opted on NCLB and the individual mandate. But yeah, football toss in the yard.

NFL — “Forever Trailblazers” (Samantha Gordon)
Look, it must be safe: even little girls play and excel at it these days! Give us all the female bodies to use up too!

NFL — “Thank You For Being a Fan
The players are such willing participants in this process that they’re eager to become human gifts! To make sure you don’t miss the metaphor, we’ve actually put them in gift boxes, which have to be extra large because these are professional football players! Meanwhile, Goodell’s 2012 gift for being the devolutionary face of the NFL was $44.2 million. Of an organization that is officially a nonprofit.

Parody.

According to a recent NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll, forty percent of Americans say they would encourage their children to play a different sport than football. Here‘s a petition to revoke the NFL’s tax-exempt status.

Budweiser — “Brotherhood
Budweiser again goes strongly self–referential, and all–in on the emotional manipulation, by using its Clydesdales. The ad was dastardly effective, as it was generally described as “heartwarming,” etc. and won USA Today’s Ad Meter, the twelfth time in twenty-five years that it’s won the Meter. “Heartwarming” was a common descriptor despite the ad showing a free-running Clydesdale being lured and packed into a Budweiser tractor–trailer truck to transition him to being a slave–conduit for corporate self-reference. By the way, Budweiser would also like your children. Raising them into such good condition and delivering them this efficiently would be plum. He is a hungry King. In effect, we are all Clydesdales and lambs for the slaughter for Budweiser, the question simply is how shall we escape and dethrone the King. The Clydesdales’ birth was a marketing ploy coinciding with the end of Prohibition and Budweiser has traded on the myths surrounding Prohibition, brazenly in this Super Bowl ad the previous year. By “brotherhood” they don’t mean a brotherhood with their workers, as they have a history of anti-labor politics. The U.S. Justice Department initially blocked, on anti-competitive grounds, a $20.1 billion deal by Anheuser-Busch InBev to acquire the half of Grupo Modelo (Corona) that it didn’t already own, but recently settled with the self-proclaimed King. Budweiser actually had a naming contest for the foal with the options being Barley, Buddy, and Brewster. The use of the Fleetwood Mac song “Landslide” continues the depressing tradition of corporate appropriation of songs.

Oreo — “Whisper Fight
Mmmm! A reductive and antique take on a public library! How cavalier. These stereotypes really must be protected: our heritage will endure! Assumptions will be shared, blood will be shed, spoils will be enjoyed. Random rapid ballistic escalation out of false conflict here, in what is actually a safe public area, theoretically and actually. Yet, we see, absurd and un–needed, the library is destroyed in a burst of the ad creators’ Freudian infantile aggression, the whole edifice and its (dis)contents at once mocked and literally dismantled. At the same time, even when giving release to the id, we follow the Policy, the Policy, the Policy. The police, also incompetent, attempt to keep the peace also simply by citing Policy: “You guys have to stop fighting: we’re the cops.” Libraries, we assume, are also inert and redundant. Notice also that no advanced technology is present at this library, nothing but books and study carrels. Viewers are commanded to continue the conflict on Web 2.0 and in life. Oreo was generally proclaimed the corporate winner of the 34-minute blackout that afflicted the game, because it posted this separate ad to Twitter, making sure not even blackouts are safe for human bonding to will out over sugar consumption and (related) hyperactivity and inattention.

Milk — “Milk Processor Education Program: Morning Run” (The Rock / Milk Mustache)
Milk and Oreo might as well have done their commercials together this year, so similarly ensconced in cheap surrealism were they. The Rock is our protagonist and the game is to Get the Milk Quickly and First—for the children! The priority of securing the milk is revealed through escalating comparisons. It takes priority over getting a little girl’s cat out of the tree, even though it would take only a few seconds to do so, seconds which are inexplicably wasted by our protagonist asking her what’s wrong. Then, priority is taken over apprehending some clownish bank robbers, even though they wouldn’t have taken long to apprehend since they’re so clownish. There’s just no time for delay! Next, he comes across a multi–casualty incident involving the circus, featuring a lion and an older woman trapped in a car. Presumably children > older woman because the children have more life left, and this ad deals in a world of artificial scarcity. Finally, Our Rock gets to the milk man, who is stuck behind circus cars, and we are not to think of the anachronism that is the milk man, but to look up with him to the sky, feel the same shadow that falls across Our Rock’s face, and realize that this veritable public service announcement is not only about the saving of children by milk, but Our Rock using milk as the fuel to repel sheer apocalypse in the form of an alien invasion now upon us, coming into our windows this very moment even. In closing, he addresses the three children as “Ladies”–why not gender up the chillens while we’re at it!–saying it’s “Time (for him) to go to work,” and proceeds to punch an alien in the face. Thus does the ad liken milk to emergency oxygen in a plane: put your own mask on first before helping others, and thus does Our Rock become ≥ the Rock of Gibraltar. America’s milk processors are clearly looking to increase their breakfast market share over juice and coffee with this one. Question: When Our Rock is done defeating the aliens, will he make happy some cows?

Volkswagen — “Get Happy
The ad is propelled by the stereotype of Jamaicans as happy-go-lucky people. Seeing that the ad was designed for the most American of American contexts—Super Bowl viewing—it’s hard not to draw parallels to blackface, black minstrelsy and the myth of the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation,” the plantation here being the modern American office, with the ad featuring the bossman and the rank–and-file oh–so–getting along (New York Times columnist Charles Blow called it “blackface with voices.”). In fact, the other employees’ lamentations of drudgery, even the bossman’s own, are immediately and directly shot down from the outset by the walking, caricatured stereotype. Converts are made, and the ad ends with the bossman and the walking caricatured stereotype becoming indignant when an employee questions this dynamic. It was actually quite debated whether or not this ad is racist. Also: “The ad is costing VW $7.6 million to show during Sunday’s Super Bowl, but by debuting it on CNN and posting it on YouTube, where it has racked up over half a million views in less than a day, the company is using the inherent controversy to maximize the ad’s reach before it ever runs as a paid advertisement.”

Calvin Klein — “Concept”

The concept here is man as machine, even though Calvin Klein was billing it as “man vs. machine.” The Hollywood Reporter described it as futuristic, but if so, what kind of future is this, besides one where we have become mere (mechanical) instruments and the Adonis ideal is slavishly worshipped? There’s so much white space, it’s as if everything besides the Adonis ideal as/and machine has been erased. An armature of modernity has been projected against a Tron-like future stripped down even further than Tron, where the only drivers allowed are Adonis types, who only drive Adonis. The product is called 360° underwear, for all us men whose undergarments have been limiting us to fewer degrees of rotation. This is how we shall be able to skillfully play the kind of three–dimensional, Tron-like ballistic death chess that will soon be ascendant. Again, so much white space! This was Calvin Klein’s first-ever Super Bowl commercial.

Kia — “Hotbots”

By far the most elaborate equating of car and woman we can recall. Society has reached its dream of robotic woman–property–things, but you just can’t stamp out that irrational nature, it is too core. Here the robotic woman mistakes the man’s reasonable inspection of the vehicle she is affiliated with at a car show—where people typically inspect vehicles—and overreacts with the oh–so–popular random and out–of–measure ballistics (see also the Oreo “Whisper Fight” entry). Along with M&M’s “Devour” ad, we can see emerging a theme of barely repressed fear of emasculation—how can a car at once be female and a symbol of dominance? Here we have some social cognitive dissonance playing out: do we conquer and achieve manhood by just possessing the car, or must we conquer via the car? The former is the prescribed male/female relationship, the latter an idea advertisers are interested in, but it makes the woman–car equation difficult, arriving at a kind of reverse Stepford Wife. The depicted robot does not break the rules of cinematic androids. Continues the trend of companies advertising smaller cars by overcompensating in the masculinity department. Ad created by David & Goliath (actual name of the ad agency).

Taco Bell — “Viva Young
Leading diarrhea producer Taco Bell suggests it’s the Fountain of Youth. Preys on our fears of being abandoned and trapped in a nursing home. The CEO of the ad agency confirmed that the Bell ringers were targeting millennials, and it’s hard not to see the ad as inside the ageist bun. As the Learning Against Multimedia Project notes, “It never steps too far from sarcasm, which seems to mock older adults more than celebrating them.” The ad makes sure to include multiple side-by-sides of the elders and the actual young people who are also out on the town, reminding us that this is only fantasy, which is really brought home at the end when they show the elders doing a slow–walk back into the confining retirement home. Thus does this feel like a joke for the Bell-targeted millennials to consume, with the rebelliousness ultimately circumscribed by an ageist, diarrhea–inducing taco. If the song sounds off in some way or multiple ways, it’s surely in no small part due to it being translated from the Spanish using only Google Translate. Taco Bell and others continue to promote the pro-obesity concept “fourthmeal” (one word!). Fourth Quarter! “Fourthmeal”! The Bell has bookended their “fourthmeal” promotion with something they call “Mtn Dew A.M.,” which is Mountain Dew and orange juice mixed together.

Skechers — “Gorun 2”

Second Super Bowl in a row—see previous year’s Hyundai “Cheetah” entry—where cheetahs are wrongly demonized and then used as mere pawns in our consumption. Documentary feelings are safaried using D.Attenboroughesque voiceover. I hope all these anti-cheetah admakers don’t accidentally get their throats ripped out by a big cat.

Axe — “Lifeguard”

White hetero male violent saviorship turns into white hetero male sexual competition, catalyzed by a betraying, trading-up female, and terminates with a linking to space travel [spoiler alert] via sweepstakes. This was Axe’s first-ever Super Bowl commercial. Ad created by BBH London.

Belfor — “Restoration”

This company’s headquarters is located in Birmingham, MI. First, Americans’ fascination with weather–based destruction is leveraged with shots of schools and public infrastructure crumbling. An anecdote of a Belfor employee coming across a goldfish, stealing it, and renaming it is astoundingly conveyed. “I know this is the least of your worries, but I have appropriated your goldfish, and named it Henry. I know where you are, ostensibly near your place of employment, but I’m writing you to tell you I have taken your goldfish, and it will be referred to differently than you likely would have referred to it. Please don’t write back and tell me the original name of the goldfish. We will give it back ‘when the time comes that you are able to take him back.’ To be sure, you are surviving currently in a cave or bivouac, and cannot sustain a goldfish until such a time as we enable you to. Please consider this goldfish, who’s name is now Henry, as collateral.” Unlike other reconstruction firms, this one cares about rebuilding communities. They do it for free.

If you’ve read this entire post, you’re either a qualified semiotician, or on your way to becoming one.

The best defense being a good offense.

This is not God, my son.

This is not God, my son.

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