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Super Bowl Ads Are Funny, Expensive and Careless

by Blake Rehberg

This is the sports section, and I am a sports editor so I feel compelled to talk about what is probably the biggest sporting event. Yes, I am talking about the Super Bowl. I know it was nearly two weeks ago and barely exciting when it happened but that doesn't mean there is nothing to say.

The game featured way too much defense, a record 21 punts and slow, uneven action that resulted in only a handful of exciting plays. The game didn't even stay close enough to hold people's attention. The Ravens took the game 34-7. I suppose I could analyze a little bit of the play, but hey, it was boring when it happened, and I can't change that no matter what I say.

However, we can look at the other major part of the Super Bowl. Big time commercials have come to be a part of the Super Bowl tradition. Super Bowl XXXV may have had the lowest rating for a Super Bowl in eight years, but on Jan. 28 around 60 percent of the televisions in America were tuned in to the Super Bowl. That means a whole lot of people saw the commercials that ran during the Super Bowl. Most of these commercials were more entertaining than the game itself.

I would have to say my favorite commercial was the Bob Dole Pepsi ad. The commercial led us to believe that it was another Viagra ad, but alas it was just a parody. Pepsi's slogan is the "Joy of Pepsi." Too bad Pepsi is not more like Viagra. That would certainly add a lot of joy to the issue.

There was also the Snickers Cruncher ad, where a disgruntled man crunches the "it happens lots of men" doll to relieve his stress. There was the EDS ad featuring the running of the squirrels. This promises to be a classic. In a ad a corpse continues to smile despite the undertakers repeated attempts to give him a frown. He was apparently very happy with the job he found online.

Maybe the commercial will help if it its fate is the same as the failed dot-coms that appeared in an E-trade commercial featuring the return of the dancing E-trade monkey. Then again if can muster up $2.3 million, it doesn't seem like they are in any trouble to me.

There was the Levis commercial where an accident victim was luckily a donor and his jeans could be rushed to a needy man. What a service!

Another one of my favorites was the Doritos ad in which the woman was trying to show off her skill at putting things in her mouth by attempting to catch Doritos shot out of a tennis ball launcher. Instead she gets knocked in the head.

Anheuser-Busch spent the most, shelling out the cash for eight ads. They had four of the top ten commercials in a viewer poll by including the number one commercial. This concerns me a little bit because a large portion of the audience is underaged, but they did address that. Anheuser-Busch paid for an anti-drinking ad featuring N*sync, those pillars of our society, discouraging drinking.

That wasn't the only positive ad to run during Super Bowl. There were three different anti-smoking ads.

Unfortunately, positive messages don't always produce good results. I am talking about the Subway ad featuring their low-fat subs. I admit that this is still a commercial intended to generate business, but at least it is offering people a healthy alternative. However, it didn't win over audiences. It was rated almost at the bottom of's viewer poll.

All the successful commercials used humor to sell their products, and they did a good job, but commercials can have bigger implications than most people realize. Most of the time the humor has to come at someone's expense. The corporations realize this, and so they appeal to groups with larger buying power while accepting the fact that they offend smaller group.

It's telling that after spending millions to produce and air their ads, 52 companies chose not to spend $200 more to caption them. 69 commercials were aired during the Super Bowl. Each 30-second ad cost $2.3 million. Of the 69 commercials, 17 were captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing. That means that 52 commercials were not accessible to millions of people around the world.

There were some commercials that perpetuated stereotypes in order to generate that humor and allure for their product. These commercials profited at the expense of groups that were subjected prejudices.

Mainly I am talking about a Cingular ad featuring a "touchdown dance school" in which football players were being instructed by a small man wearing tights that talked with a stereotypical gay inflection and possessed a buoyant enthusiasm traditionally associated with homosexuality. The ad was essentially creating humor by contrasting the "machoism" of a professional football player with an archetype of an effeminate male. Essentially they are supporting the idea of athletes as manly figures who embody male ideals.

I wonder how people like Corey Johnson will view such ads. Johnson is a high school football player from Massconoment, Mass., that came out last year. Not only does he have to deal with the day-to-day toils of being gay in a straight environment, he also has to deal with the cultural ideal of men as macho heterosexual individuals.

Another ad for a Visa card features a stereotypical nagging wife who sucks up her husband with the vacuum cleaner after he ignores her request for help with chores. This ad is probably supposed to appeal to women who really wish they could get rid of their husbands that easily, but I think that it has an adverse side effect of not encouraging males to seek more secure domestic relationships. I wonder how many men sat on their couches during that commercial and thought how similar that nagging wife was to their own.

These are the types of sacrifices that marketing agencies are willing to make. They appeal to their larger audience by offending others. It happens in all commercials, but in commercials that appear during sporting events there is a trend that can be seen.

Commercials that portray beer as equivalent to a good time, use sexy women as cheap eye-catchers to a largely male audience or feature men proving their masculinity by use of some product make up a large percent of the commercials you see during sporting events.

For a company the effects are simply that they lose some business, but that is acceptable to them because they have designed their commercials to gain more money than they lose. However, for the viewer there is another side effect. Stereotypes are perpetuated and ingrained into people's minds so that they become subconscious. Most of us here at Oberlin can probably recognize such misrepresentative and stereotypical themes in commercials and know better than to let them permeate out understanding of the world around us, but what about the rest of the general public?

The issue of advertising's effects on American youth culture is even more important. How are you going to tell a kid that women are not simply sexual objects or that it is okay to be gay when all that he sees are images to the contrary? Kids have no mechanisms for filtering these stereotypes.

I admit I watched the commercials and I even laughed at most of them. It wasn't until later that it occurred to me that some of them might be offensive. I wonder how many people never realize they are offensive. There are also those people who immediately think such commercials are offensive because they are the ones being stereotyped. Commercials are designed to subtly make you want to buy a product. What we have to beware of is the harmful mental residue that can also come with it. Commercials can be fun and entertaining, just be careful about who is shaping your view of the world.

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Copyright © 2001, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 129, Number 13, February 9, 2001

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