Tuned In

Super Bowl Advertisers: Please Don't Feel My Pain

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We’re two days away from the big game. As I’ve made abundantly clear, I’m not a big sports fan, but I’ve been hearing this one’s looking like a potential blowout, which is not great news for NBC.

It’s also the big game for American consumer marketing, and as we all know, that competition has been a blowout for months now. Stuart Elliott in the New York Times looks at the struggle among advertisers to set the right tone in this year’s Super Bowl ads. 

I understand the concern: people get touchy in bad economic times, and symbolic things like executives flying private jets to Congressional hearings set people off. Still, I think as always that marketers tend to overthink the business of “being in touch with the times” at moments of big national news or crises. (Even after 9/11, I thought the advertisers did best who went on with business as usual.) 

In this case, after all, the national crisis is directly in the advertisers’ court: it’s about people not having money, not having jobs, not buying stuff, and therefore more people losing jobs. So just go out and try to sell people stuff. Amuse us. It’s not rocket science; it’s not offensive. 

I mean, I could see certain kinds of ad being off-tone right now: I’m thinking of the ad (the advertiser name escapes me) that was deliberately shoddy and ended with a joke about having just wasted $2 million. You probably don’t want to go in that direction right now. If you’re advertising financial services, you don’t want to imply that people are making money hand over fist in the market now. Common sense. 

But on the other hand, I don’t really understand advertisers like General Motors sitting out the game as if advertising would be unseemly. I mean, if you think it’s a waste of money, fine, skip it. But placing a Super Bowl ad isn’t like giving a failed CEO a $600 million golden parachute: it’s trying to sell your product. We want our businesses to be doing that, right? 

Now, you could make the case that the whole spectacle of the Super Bowl and its ads were an example of runaway consumerism that led people into debt and caused our problems to begin with. But given that the advertisers peddling their wares this year are not renouncing capitalism anyway, I’m just hoping they’ll try to sell their stuff, amuse me, and leave it at that without trying to “capture the national mood.” 

After all, if I’m looking for Anheuser-Busch to comfort me in a time of bad news, I’ll take that comfort the same way as always—straight from the bottle, thank you.

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