The Cost of Superbowl Advertising: What happens when you give anyone the mic who can afford it
30 seconds at a time, millions of Americans watched the best of the best commercials play out with more scrutiny than the game itself. This was, as cliché would have it, the Superbowl of advertising. If you were lucky enough to make an ad that ran (and will probably only run that one time), more people saw your one commercial than anything else you’ve ever made. Your whole career has lead up to this one piece of work.
Better not f it up.
So when it was time to bring your A-game and make your big ad for the big game, what did you do? You choked worse than Russell Wilson on the goal line. You chose to use the same half-naked, and in one case fully naked women you’ve always used. Really, Carl’s Jr? Are you serious, Game of War? Come on, guys. Sure, people may want to see naked women. But that’s what the internet is for. This was your big opportunity to show people something in a new way. You had everyone’s attention. You could have gone beyond this week’s water cooler conversation and trending topics and actually shift culture. At the very least, you could’ve made something that was benign enough to forget after it’s over. But your display of misogyny guised as entertainment is embarrassing.
It’s as if you managed to score a meeting with the President and you chose to ask him about his favorite sandwich. Sure, it’s provocative. Maybe for a moment. But it’s hardly using the influence you could have had. Not only that, it’s incredibly harmful. (I’ll come back to that point in a minute.)
There’s a big difference between being provocative and being progressive. It’s the progressive advertising that is original, creates change, and the ads and brands we’re still talking about, years later.
“But that sounds so hard…”
It is hard. And it’s also our job. As advertisers, we create culture. It is our job to convince people to do things differently and think differently. We’re supposed to show people that there is something better, something bigger, and to see the world in a new way. We have that power, and we have that responsibility. It’s hard, but it’s being done well. There’s a growing trend of brands wanting to be progressive and change how we see the world. And slowly, slowly, it’s working.
Look at how Dove is shifting our perception of beauty and fatherhood. Or how Coca-Cola is attacking bullying or Always is taking on gender definitions. Even McDonald’s makes a genuine attempt at valuing love and family over money. Budweiser isn’t touting how fun it is to get drunk, they’re promoting friendship and making us think about loyalty. This year showed us that being progressive is powerful. A power that comes from pushing away from what the world has and moving to what it needs. Even 30 seconds at a time.
So let me cut to the chase already. The Superbowl was and is the biggest stage for some of the most high-impact, wide-reaching messages in popular media. And you’ve chosen to promote a message that women should be ogled and groped. With every YouTube view, Facebook share, and article about your “risque” or “banned commercial,” you’re causing harm. You’re instilling a message that a woman’s body is a prop. An object used to sell not only a burger or a piece of clothing, but a culture where degrading and objectifying women is celebrated. Where’s the progress in that? By supporting that idea with millions of dollars of creative development, production, and media, you’re also saying that your brand, your agency, and you as an individual are ok with that.
You’re better than that.
The world needs us to be more progressive. The world needs better from us. It’s not just about Super Bowl Sunday. Every day, we go into work and want to make something great. We want to be proud of the work we do and believe that our jobs are meaningful.
Lucky for us, we can create meaning by helping to shape the world. Yes, that’s lofty and optimistic. But let’s take a step back for a second. Our job is to create culture. We’re making the things that people talk about, follow, share, buy and buy into. Let’s be mindful of the responsibility that we have. The culture we make helps shape the world.
It doesn’t matter if you’re running an agency, the writer or art director, planner, head of bizdev, an account exec or even an intern. If you are part of a creative presentation–sitting in the back or presenting–you have the power and responsibility to speak up. Your next brief is the opportunity. Change the way people think and how things are done. Challenge your focus groups and creative directors and clients. Be truly progressive. And push for better. The world needs it.
Let’s go write the future that the world needs, and we all can help shape the world.
30 seconds at a time.