What They Want Us to Believe: We Tackle the Super Bowl Commercials Head On

We sort through the stuff in between the game and get down to reality.

Every year, we watch the Super Bowl for the football, talking through the whole thing, yelling at the television, marveling audibly at the half-time spectacle, and then shushing one another to a hushed silence during the commercials. It’s a time that, for better or worse, both reflects and influences the attitude and mood of the general public. It takes our culture’s temperature, and it writes a prescription for what ails us. Here, have some Taco Bell and call us in the morning. Drive this car and then see how you feel. Hmm, you look pale. You need some Axe Body Spray.

None of these commercials are telling the whole truth, but some of them are telling some truth. Others are just outright lies. We thought we’d sort through the nonsense and get down to reality.

Ram Trucks: “God Made a Farmer”

I think I must be the only person in America who did not like the Dodge Truck “Farmer” commercial. Kevin DeYoung of The Gospel Coalition has already declared it “the best Super Bowl ad.” Admittedly, since I did not watch the Super Bowl, it may very well have been the best ad, but if that is the case, I can only surmise that it was a rough year for commercials.

On the nit-picky side of it, God actually made a farmer on the sixth day. That was Adam’s job from the beginning. But what really got me was the over-the-top description of how tough, rugged, and gritty one must be in order to farm. It’s hard work, I know. I’m getting a small farm started myself. In that regard, the commercial was aimed at me. So as a beginning farmer, I felt the farming hype was melodramatic.

But then the kicker. After all this work to put farmers on a pedestal, Dodge kicked the pedestal down by dedicating the commercial “to the farmer in all of us.” Really? To the farmer in all of us? How would a commercial about soldiers go over if someone said, “They fight for us, bleed for us, and die for us. Pull long months away from family in places we only dream of in nightmares.” Then said, “To the special forces trooper in all of us.”

Surely Doritos did something better than this, right? And be honest, did people go gah-gah over this because of flannel shirts and pictures of a family praying on television? —Brad Williams

Taco Bell: “Viva Young”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvxZcULxfKw

It’s no wonder Taco Bell feels the need to equate living life to the fullest with living recklessly. Their food isn’t exactly known for the way it nourishes our body – it is, when all is said and done, a generally destructive product. Don’t get me wrong. It can be delicious in certain contexts. But who among us has eaten at that place and felt that the meal has nourished us? Eating at Taco Bell is a careless, or carefree act—not a careful one.

So an advertisement that juxtaposes two extreme life philosophies seems like the best move: careful living is boring, mundane, like being trapped in a retirement home. To “Live Mas” is to throw caution to the wind: trespass in others pools, drive wrecklessly, break the law, eat Taco Bell. It’s a welcome change of pace. Living more is about quality of life, not quantity, says Taco Bell. It’s the YOLO philosophy pushed to the extreme. Screw Ecclesiastes, says Taco Bell: there is no time for everything. We’ve only time for living, and if you’re not in danger of dying, you’re not living at all. —Richard Clark

GoDaddy: “Perfect Match” and “Bigidea.co”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-3j4-4N3Ng

For many years, Godaddy has drawn much controversy for their juvenile use of sexual objectification to their benefit. In 2005, they started their reign of terror with an ad featuring WWE star Nikki Capelli and the US Congress. Weird? Yes. And it began their tendency towards creating buzz. Godaddy is buying in fully to the concept of “Buzz Marketing,” using popularity and buzz to attract attention rather than the actual value of product. They’ve been doing it for the past eight years.

But here’s the thing: Their tendency toward the crude and unbelievable has become mundane and expected. That’s become apparent in their ad “Perfect Match,” where they have model Bar Rafael make out with uber-geek Walter for 15 incredibly long seconds. This reeks of a desperation for attention and buzz. It reminds me more of a five year old attempting to draw attention to the dead snake on the road then anything creative. The entire ad relies on an impulsive reaction of disgust. Thankfully, Godaddy has potentially taken a turn with their ad “Bigidea.co,” which plays to the entrepreneurial spirit, and has little-to-no sexuality to be found, making it something of a breath of fresh air among the other ads. If only it hadn’t been Godaddy’s offering in the first place, I might have liked it more. —Christopher Hutton

Tide: “Miracle Stain”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoOfBVraMNw

Our search for evidence of the transcendent is well documented throughout history. From the Shroud of Turin to the image of Mary on toast, the human heart longs for connection to the divine. This desire was the basis for Tide’s Super Bowl commercial “Miracle Stain,” in which a football fanatic slops salsa on his jersey and sees the image of Joe Montana. The jersey is enshrined, drawing the masses to pay homage to the miracle at the newly developed Montanaland… until the jersey gets laundered with Tide, thereby removing every trace of the stain—and the divine.

Isn’t that what makes the religious suspect to the non-religious? Some may see a parallel between the football fanatic and Christians. Perhaps some people think that Christian faith is no more substantial than a salsa stain. But are other pursuits, such as football or power or good deeds, any different? This humorous, clever TV spot speaks to our heart’s tendency to turn our passions into near-religious devotion. But not all faith objects are made equal. Some are easily washed away; others stand the test of time, and eternity. —Erin Straza

Old Spice: “Poker Face”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iV28ZEJOZfQ

I have for years now been a fan of Old Spice’s commercials; from Isaiah Mustapha in “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” the recent “Believe in your Smellf” campaign, or the absurdities of Terry Crews or Greg Jennings, they all have shared a common thread of deliberate irrationality. This year’s “Poker Face” Super Bowl entry, while not as maniacally clever as past ads, still carries forth in that tradition. Designed to advance their “Hawkridge” line, it features the narration of German poker player with a royal flush who folds to his apparently American competitor, intimidated by the latter’s manly demeanor and armada of screeching hawks. The commercial ends with the slogan, “Answer the smell of the wild.”

What has always appealed to me about recent Old Spice commercials is the way in which they have given up even trying to make sense. “Poker Face,” on the one hand, has the elements you would expect in an advertisement for a men’s product. The product, it seems, has made the American poker player confident and silent; he is sophisticated enough to look great in a suit, yet wild enough to be flanked by actual birds of prey. It would be offensive were it not so deliberately exaggerated: Old Spice knows its product will not accomplish these things for you, and it knows that you know this as well. It is as though the marketing campaign, recognizing the limitations of a 30- to 45-second ad spot, has given up even trying to make a rational case for its line. Instead, Old Spice commercials now represent a string of hyperbolic non sequiturs. They serve the function of familiarizing an audience with the product, but nothing more. And, paradoxically, it is precisely this wholesale abandonment of even the pretext of logic that makes them so appealing. Will such ads cause me to buy Old Spice? Perhaps not. But as meta-commercials that intentionally subvert the conventions of the market into which they enter, I can at least appreciate them. —Geoffrey Reiter

Coca-Cola: “Cameras”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceTBF1Hik5I

“Let’s look at the world a little differently,” ends one of the Super Bowl adverts from Coca-Cola, turning something intended to deter nefarious activities and apprehend criminals into glimpses of God’s goodness found in all human beings. Coke unhinges our perception of security cameras as recorders of sinful behavior or as loops of the mundane, and instead show us moments of goodness, happiness, giving, sacrifice, love and grace.

In the midst of a multitude of Super Bowl ads drawing us toward selfish desires, this little gem let viewers reflect (if even for the briefest of moments) on the common good bestowed on all of us by a gracious God. Yes, the world is utterly depraved, but what a wonderful reminder that God’s law is written on all our hearts, restraining sin so that each one of us can participate in that which is good, true, and beautiful. Coke’s commercial offers us a glimpse of common grace captured on film, in a place where we expected sin. —Matthew Linder

2 Broke Girls: “2 Broke Girls Spectacular”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVNh6dyV3fM

It was only a matter of time before a commercial was played that would make my husband turn his head. Then came the “2 Broke Girls Spectacular” commercial, and oh how I wish it hadn’t. Two girls appear to be at a diner, but what is communicated about the show is not much more than that. The girls prance around seductively, mixing up sweet things, and sampling those eats. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” plays in the background, with several men (fellow cast members?) gawking at them. The commercial reaches a high point as the girls pole dance, stop, and ask each other what this is “for.” Their response? “The Super Bowl.” The music kicks back on, the dance continues and the commercial ends.

They had it so right. They were doing it for the Super Bowl. If it were an average commercial seeking to advertise a new show, would it have been necessary for the two girls to seductively pull open their diner attire? Doubtful. Of course it needs to have such a sexiness. The Super Bowl unashamedly targets women as objects of desire. At best, the 2 Broke Girls commercial is a prime example of our culture’s obsession with the objectified female body and the Super Bowl’s yearly and inevitable showcase of overtly sexual commercials. —Jewel Evans

Audi: “Prom”

Audi’s high school prom ad was perhaps one of the most effective commercials of this year’s Super Bowl. It was also one of the most troubling.

The story goes like this: A young man’s parents feel sorry for his having to go to prom by himself, so his father lets him drive his new Audi. The young man speeds to prom in style and makes a beeline to the prettiest girl at the dance. He pulls her to himself and passionately kisses her. A cool jock punches his lights out and the girl looks at him longingly as he leaves. He then drives home with a black eye, brimming with confidence.

The message is simple: a cool car will give you confidence to do things you never would have done. It’s disturbing because it puts forth the lie that our possessions can make us better people and because it reinforces the notion that all we need to get what we want is a little boldness.

In the midst of a slew of commercials that cheapen masculinity, this Audi ad tells young men that women are out there just waiting to be conquered by those with the confidence to do it. It’s a far cry from the self sacrificial manhood the Bible calls us to exercise. —Drew Dixon

Hyundai: “Team”

The best commercials share common qualities with the best artistic expressions on the screen or page: memorable characters, interesting storylines, and the ability to create resonance with viewers and readers. Hyundai’s “Team” commercial illustrates this idea perfectly. In the extended 45-second version, a boy is bullied by a group of other boys who snatch his football and sneer at him to “come back when you have a team.” The bullied boy shrugs it off, runs home, then drives around town with his co-conspirator mom. With a honk of their (non-minivan, seven-seater) Hyundai Santa Fe, one by one he rallies his plucky team of iron-pumping, bear-wrestling, prepubescent heroes to join him in waging football war on the perpetrators.

The process of seeing such immediate and unhesitant responses from his friends reminded me of the immediacy we see in the gospel of Mark, when Jesus calls his first disciples and they instantly leave behind what they are doing to follow him. For we mere mortals, the idea that we could conjure up such unquestioning, unequivocal support and devotion with just a honk and a knowing glance is both preposterous and yet oh-so-attractive. Who wouldn’t want a posse of toughness to have our backs when life throws obstacles in our path, bullies or otherwise? Whether we’re kids or adults, we may find the quest for complete acceptance from a tribe of our own an elusive one. Thankfully, “Team” comes equipped with a replay button. - Helen Lee

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • Pingback: From my part of CaPC’s Super Bowl ad analysis: “Some people think Christian faith is no more substantial than a salsa stain.” «

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  • Joshua

    Out of this list, I really dug the Taco Bell’s. It was one of the few times where a commercial didn’t feel like it was making its product more than what it was: comfort food for night owls. Making the party animals senior citizens was a humorous touch that worked.

    Also, you weren’t the only one that didn’t reverence the Dodge RAM/Farmer commercial. I agree that it was overly melodramatic to the point of my eyes rolling by the time it was done. It got lauded to almost worshipful proportions online, and that turned me off even more.

    Although highly irreverent, I admit that a part of me smirked when Funny or Die made a parody of it, mentioning the darker sides of farming like genetically-engineered crops, pesticides, government subsidized corn, etc. Sometimes a reality-check helps.

    So no disrespect to authentic farmers or Dodge RAM, but I dismissed the commercial.

  • Joshua

    Oops, I meant “I really dug Taco Bell’s ad.”


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