Super Bowl ads -- all show, no sell
So the Super Bowl was the centerpiece of American existence this past weekend: Loved those EDS cats roaming the range in that frantic feline roundup. Too clever. Loved Mountain Dew’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The thing is, of course, that football for many of us is largely superfluous to the Super Bowl.
That’s been true for many, many Roman numerals now.
It’s been true for more celebrity-wailed renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” than we care to remember. It’s been true through the long years of dancers and fireworks and balloons in all those hugely expensive yet consistently weird halftime shows.
Unless you’re from St. Louis or Tennessee — or unless you’re devoted to the idea of the Super Bowl as one of the country’s annual milestones, a tribute to the power of TV to unite us on our living-room couches, slurping down chili — football wasn’t the point of Sunday’s Super Bowl at all.
A well-known fact: You can like football and still not care too much about the Super Bowl.
Leaving aside the issue of the game itself, then, the point of the show is to sell. It’s business.
The point, in other words, is the ads.
That’s no big revelation: At upwards of $2 million for a 30-second spot, how could ad revenue not be the point? That’s more than $70,000 a second — a whole lot of money spent to reach a whole lot of people. The ads are the real game, the game in between the action on the field.
Some people watch only for the ads.
But the question is: What’s the point of these ads?
Other than, you know, as a gauge of pop culture.
It was a dot-com day, an afternoon of entertainment brought to you by Pets.com and Lifeminders.com, Hotjobs.com and Computer.com and another dozen more.coms. Is there anyone in the country who managed to keep all the dot-com ads straight?
Much less figure out what kinds of services most of them were actually trying to sell.
Much less understand how that Epidemic.com guy gets paid for sneezing in the elevator and doing his business in the bathroom — there’s money to be made in bodily functions? — or grasp how those Netpliance geeks with tape on their glasses have anything to say that we need to hear.
Even if you remember the classiness of the commercial featuring Robert Frost’s poetry, you may not remember which dot-com it was promoting.
It’s easy enough to recognize Volvo and Budweiser and Federal Express as separate corporate entities, but many of the dot-coms ran together.
One slogan faded into the next in a big dot-com blur.
But about that Pets.com sock puppet that followed people around, singing to them about their pets: The bizarro puppet with boundary issues was cute.
And in ads as in dating, cute and funny count. But cute had better have a little substance behind it, a little meaning to go along with its quirky edge, or we’ll dump it pronto for the guy driving that gigantic Volvo truck.
Instead, Budweiser brought us a man in a tux delivering a Clydesdale foal, and synchronized swimmers treaded water and pointed and kicked, circling in a pool to promote Visa. Plus, Christopher Reeve was shown rising and walking in a financial services commercial, which somehow seemed more exploitive than respectful or inspiring.
Somewhere along the line, ordinary ads became really expensive minimovies with intricate plots and outstanding production values, worthy of analysis and debate — but aren’t they supposed to make us buy stuff?
It’s the Super Bowl, not Sundance.
If the ads are the point, these ads missed the point of making the sale.
So what are we left with after this year’s Super Bowl? The sheer silly entertainment of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the kitty roundup with the cat-wrangling cowboys.
And this: St. Louis won the game.