GELFAND: Lackluster Super Bowl Ads Pushed Attention Back Toward the Field

I never thought I would say this, but the Super Bowl commercials were so awful this year that I wound up watching the game instead.

It’s a good thing that the game was so terrific, because we usually have the ads to fall back on. And, as I noted in last year’s annual review of the Super Bowl spots, I almost always respect the commercials. They tell me where I’ve been and where I’m going. The advertising industry knows what I’m thinking before I’m even thinking.

Indeed, for most of my life, the commercials have been aimed squarely at me. I might be spurned by industry, jilted by women and ostracized by my neighbors, but TV commercials get me. And because I’m a Baby Boomer —  one of 75 million who repopulated our country, courtesy of the raging mob of concupiscent WWII veterans — the message has changed in concert with my own shifting needs.

Once I was a member of the Pepsi Generation; now I’m a member of the Hep-C generation.

Yes, unbridled hedonism is gone. The commercials tell me that — and also that where once I anticipated piles of cash, I can now look forward to…piles. Scary, but there is also comforting advice. The makers of Trulicity tell me I should not take their nostrum if I am allergic to Trulicity. Sage counsel. Because the drug is for people with Type-2 diabetes, I may need it one day; after all, I am incessantly being told who has the meat and I am inundated with commercials for cheeseburgers, tacos, pizzas with weiner-infused crust and other delicacies that are advertised as commodities rather than actual food. When people are simply trying to achieve the most calories per penny, hard times may be on the horizon.

As a card-carrying liberal, I take these spots as an affirmation of my cornerstone anxiety — namely, that while the wealthy might be listening to hip-hop as they steer their Lexus through the fast lane, I had better stick with my 20-year-old Honda Accord and keep my meager savings in T-bills. (I would be listening to hip-hop, just to stay relevant, but the radio died, along with my 401K, during the Great Recession.)

Take, for example, the Black Panther-themed Lexus commercial. I watched this spot for just a few seconds before I realized that my friends in the advertising community no longer feel my pain.

I kind of thought that this year’s ads might allude in some way to the #MeToo movement. Or the country’s increasing divisiveness. Or at least be funny. Uh, no. Instead, the ad agencies continued their love affair with the hip-hop culture. So we saw or heard lots of rappers, but not all that much actual rap. Because once you dive into the lyrics, the feel-good stuff starts to diminish, along with the women referenced in so many jams.

About that Lexus commercial: it puzzled me. Did it promote the coming Black Panther movie?

Or was it a car commercial?

OK, it was both.


I still don’t know. Anyway, the actors were black, the Panther is, of course, black, and the music was hip-hop, featuring the rap duo Run The Jewels. And I’m thinking, here’s a Lexus spot aimed at black people. Yes, I know that hip-hop long ago crossed racial lines — just like Run The Jewels, consisting of one black and one white guy.

Now, I like to think that I’m comfortable in my white skin, but the Super Bowl commercials — once so comforting — are telling me that I am no longer relevant. Yes, it’s true that a decade or two ago, during a long weekend in Indianapolis, I attended an all-white performance of Porgy And Bess.  And that if you turn me over and look at the fine print on my foot, you will see that I have lived past my cultural expiration date.

So the Lexus ad confuses me. Like, is a Lexus now an emblem of ethnic luxury, kind of what the Cadillac once was to my Jewish brethren?

But then I realized that this wasn’t it at all — because TV spots aren’t that linear anymore.

Families of four no longer sit grinning at the breakfast table.  And the hip-hop music that seemed to permeate about half the Super Bowl commercials wasn’t there to appeal to black folks. No, it was there to appeal to incredibly un-hip guys like myself — white guys who are insecure in our un-hipness and, far from moving past stereotypes, will buy stuff that black folks dig in the belief that we will then look pretty cool ourselves. I know a guy who, when he turned 60, started smoking Kool cigarettes. Maybe it was because it gave him confidence, but he actually started to date younger women.

Unfortunately, he never dated them for long because he kept coughing up blue phlegm during sex.

(As it turns out, the car most favored by black consumers — I read this on — is the Honda Accord. So it seems that I’m already sort of hip.)

Now, I no longer know where I was going with those observations, but it occurs to me that as TV spots have become increasingly hip, the humor has gone missing. Consider the commercial for Groupon. It’s a spot featuring the wealthy Bad Guy — he doesn’t do business with local retailers — vs. the Good Guys, one of whom is about to kick a football as the Bad Guy emerges from his mansion. This I like. A guy is about to get kicked in the nuts. Guy humor. Better yet, the victim is a billionaire. A rare class-war victory for we leftists. The kick is deadly, heading right for the Rich Guy’s jewels.

But, for some reason, the football hits the dude in his mid-section. What the hell? Is Groupon afraid of insulting the wealthy? Or perhaps the ad was censored?

Or not. Because here we go with the Febreze commercial, aimed not at the midsection but something 180 degrees away. Yes, an ad for weary wipers, foul flatulators, and, of course, their loved ones — if any. The oft-repeated tagline: “My bleep don’t stink.”

More, uh, humor.

Which brings us to the epic Amazon commercial. At 90 seconds, it’s a bit extravagant, considering 30-second spots were going for about $5 million. I doubt Jeff Bezos paid $15 million for the airtime, however. True, he could afford it. In fact, he could have paid for all $500 million worth of commercials with pocket change. Not that he paid retail.

The rich never do.

Even if you didn’t watch the game, by now you’ve seen the Alexa-loses-her voice ad, with its over-the-top performances by the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Rebel Wilson and Cardi B.

What would a Super Bowl ad be without at least one rapper?

If nothing else, the spot pretty much summed up all 49 minutes of Super Bowl commercials: it had smut, with a bathtub-immersed Wilson saying “It’s hot in the bussshhhh;” limp comedy, with the truculent Ramsay degrading a feckless cook; and, of course, the rapper, Cardi B, somehow not uttering any of the Big Three words (ni**a, ho and bitch).

Not even a mention of opioids.

And there was Bezos, starring in the commercial like nothing so much as a mountebank peddling pillows or miracle water. And while I might be channeling my inherent fear and distrust of the richest man ever — worth more than twice as much as the Koch Brothers — it seems to me that the real actors were going all slapstick on us, the better to make Bezos look like the true professional.

You could argue that the Amazon spot at least was memorable. That at least we’re going to remember that it was an Amazon commercial. Except that Amazon doesn’t exactly need brand identity. Nor does it need to make us feel good about the company.

No, all Amazon has to do is bulldoze the competition.

Nor do I feel all that great about insurance companies or Big Beer, so at least I wanted to give the two “Stand By” ads credit for trying. First, there was MassMutual’s “Stand By You” spot, a kitschy two-minute piece depicting random acts of kindness. By no means am I now convinced that any insurance company will stand by me, but, hey, nice try. The “Stand By Me” spot, on the other hand, featured Budweiser distributing beer to cities hit by natural disasters. I looked forward to this ad if for no other reason than to savor Ben E. King’s eponymous hit from the 1960s.

Instead, however, the ad featured a cover sung by a white woman from Wisconsin. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a crank, but if I ever have another beer, it won’t be a Budweiser.

If this was an example of racial insensitivity, however, it paled (pun intended) compared to the Ram truck commercial which used a Martin Luther King Jr. speech to suggest that the Ram folks were Christ-like in their service to customers. It’s not every day that a TV commercial is condemned in a New York Times editorial, but Ram trucks made it happen.

In fact, I had to watch the commercial a few more times, just to remind myself that someone had a worse day than Cris Collinsworth and Justin Timberlake.

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