Corporate America’s reflection of consumer habits and attitudes
As Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi prepare to leave their modern home, DeGeneres asks Alexa, Amazon’s smart-speaker and virtual assistant, to lower the temperature of the thermostat. Before exiting, DeGeneres thoughtfully asks, “What do you think people did before Alexa?”. Following this question is a Victorian-era scene where a homeowner asks her maid, Alessa, to lower the temperature two degrees and in response, throws a burning log outside a window. In another scene, a queen demands that her jester, Alexine, tell her a joke as he nervously scrambles to conjure something up to the queen’s liking as gawking onlookers observe.
Amazon’s product ad promotes Alexa and challenges viewers to imagine a time when Alexa didn’t exist, insinuating that it must’ve been cumbersome to fulfill actions like sending a message or requesting a song in a different time period. The ad trivializes any scenario in which Alexa doesn’t exist, concluding that Alexa makes our lives easier simply because it serves and answers to an owner’s whims as fast as it can. Out of the 62 ads that were displayed during the Super Bowl, Amazon’s ad was ranked the seventh-best by USA Today and currently has about 62 million views on YouTube.
The Super Bowl ads usually follow this trend, whether a brand is trying to introduce something new or to reintroduce something back into the sphere of the consumer market. Bruce Vanderbergh, a professor in advertising and public relations at Michigan State University, considers the football game to be a strong display of “corporate America” as it showcases profuse ads and product placements throughout the whole game. As a professional that is familiar with the advertising industry and a longtime viewer of the Super Bowl, Vanderbergh believes that instead of the ads influencing a viewer’s consumer habits, it showcases a snapshot of the current societal and economic situation.
“A lot of people think that ads lead people to buy things or to think about things, but a lot of people within the [advertising] business actually think that advertisements actually reflect what is going on rather than it leads,” Vanderbergh said. “So I think in terms of reflection, the little kid with the dyed hair playing for the NFL who was running through the streets and into the field reflects diversity. There are also more women empowerment ads, in the past we’ve seen Dove soap do some of those.”
In terms of content and production, Vanderbergh believes that the quality was good this year, as it reflects the economy of the country. When an ad has celebrities like Chris Evans, John Krasinski and a complex concept, the advertisers already have a lot to pay for on top of paying over $5.6 million for a 30-second time slot. When advertisers develop ad ideas and concepts, they tend to stay away from political statements to avoid choosing one side over another.
“They don’t want to fight the current in the river, they want to flow with the river as much as they possibly can,” Vanderbergh said. “Some of the political ads were controversial and people don’t even like having them in the Super Bowl or they feel people shouldn’t be doing that at all.”
Another viewer of the Super Bowl, Thomas Pfisterer, a freelance multimedia designer, mentioned that the NFL’s “Next 100” ad really resonated with him.
“They were showcasing a young kid that presumably did not come from a wealthy background… what really impressed me was how they showcased this kid’s journey and then brought him out into the field,” Pfisterer said. “That really made an impression and it must’ve been challenging to pull off.”
According to a Marketing Week article published in 2016, minority groups only make up 19 percent of those represented within ads. Although minority visibility within advertisements has increased over time, the misrepresentations and stereotypes that are found within ads are widespread. One example would be that African-Americans are regularly seen within sports ads, stereotyping them to that specific market rather than giving them a wider opportunity. This is an advertiser’s ploy to appeal to a larger audience instead of representing minorities accurately.
The Loretta Google ad highlights one use of the most popular search engine and how one can utilize it to make notes and retain information. Josh Lauer, an associate professor in the Office of Communication at the University of New Hampshire, said that “Google will mine those memories for targeted advertising, so it’s deceptive in the sense that the ads suggest that Google and other big companies like this are benign, but are involved in trying to collect information or present themselves as something that is good, uncontroversial and beneficial for Americans without any background criticism.”
“It’s the biggest advertising event of the year… especially now the country is so polarized politically, it’s risky for a company to stick its neck out advocating for any particular view or getting behind any controversial issue,” Lauer said. “Advertisers want views to feel comfortable and happy and not conflicted or anxious or upset and it’s obvious that a commercial is designed to make people feel good… encouraging advertisers to present a unified and depoliticized version of America which really isn’t the case today but it’s difficult for advertisers to speak to everyone and not pick sides when it’s during a time when the country is very divided.”
The primary purpose of the ads showcased at the Super Bowl isn’t to convince you to run out and purchase a product. According to Vanderbergh, it’s so that when “you’re in the market or in the position to buy the product you remember that particular brand.” They often proliferate their products or brand image during the Super Bowl in particular because of a sponsor’s desire to “jump on the bandwagon because they want to be associated with good public relations and exposure through their association with the Super Bowl.”
This year’s Super Bowl LIV, which is now the eleventh most-watched TV show ever has turned into a showcase for advertising and consumer capitalism. Ads themselves have become a spectacle of the Super Bowl, with some of the viewers just as interested in the ads as they are into America’s most popular sporting event of the year. If they have become so popular, both advertisers have to try their best not only to appeal to the larger masses but to accurately depict minorities within these mass media representations despite the political polarization of the country.
Julia Batista is a sophomore IMC major who changes the channel when commercials come on. They can be reached at email@example.com.
Art by Art Editor, Adam Dee.