Ad Sense: Super Bowl Ads Tap into the Mood of the Country



During his last State of the Union Address, Barack Obama told the country we had turned the page. Turned the page from a decade of turmoil and war, economic calamity, impending doom of global warming and the threat of terrorists entering businesses and gunning down cartoonists. America was back and Obama was the one to bring us back! Wages are rising. The middle class is growing and everyone loves their mandated healthcare! It’s a new morning in America. Through Obama’s election we have finally made a transformational cultural shift from cynicism to optimism. Birds are singing, rainbows appear at will and unicorns are running wild and free across the great plains which Obama has also preserved and saved!

So why does everyone still feel like shit?

Ad agencies know the key to selling a successful product is by not just tapping into the wallet of a consumer, but their soul as well. Their purpose is to harness the most basic bonds of human emotion of a consumer, to make them believe they aren’t just buying into a product, but buying into an idea, or a lifestyle, or hope.  Good ad agencies are able to exploit the mood of individuals, or in some cases, an entire country, reaching into our consciousness, mood and most experiences. More often than not, design and advertising is a product of the culture at hand, and not the other way around. A successful ad will not shift a cultural narrative, but relate to and reflect it:

Mad Men: The Carousel from ray3c on Vimeo.

 No platform gives companies and agencies hired by them a bigger showcase than the Super Bowl. It’s the most watched event of the year drawing a worldwide audience for reasons that outnumber the playing of the actual game. Companies pay millions in blood and brand name to sell their product and their message to millions who will talk about what ads they remembered for weeks to come. These being the ‘Hope and Change’ years of Pepsi style political sloganeering invading pop culture, the country should be standing around water-coolers laughing over how optimistic and great things are. But we’re not.

The days of innocent youth gazing at Cindy Crawford in Daisy Dukes as she gulps an ice cold Pepsi are over.

Super Bowl viewers were hit with ads of American Revolutionaries loving taxes (TurboTax), the apocalypse (Mophie), looming puppy death at the jaws of wolves (Budweiser), abandoned fathers and near death experiences (Nissan), an NBC show about slapping other peoples kids, Scientology, and in what is being called the darkest Super Bowl ad of all time, courtesy of Nationwide Insurance, dead kids drowning in bath tubs and being crushed to death by flat screen televisions before having a chance to grow up and experience life.

Nevermind other politically driven ads featuring Sarah Silverman with a basement delivery clinic, which is about as believable as Kermit Gosnell running a day care center. Or Always Maxi Pads shaming men to a national audience via the Twitter hashtag #LikeAGirl. If Always truly wanted to make a brave ad they would have used the hashtag #LikeAMan and portrayed a nervous guy buying maxi pads. That takes real courage.

But, deservedly so, it was Nationwide’s dead Sixth Sense kid ad that stole the spotlight, and sucked any joy Super Bowl viewers were trying to salvage from watching two hated teams in the first place. After viewing the ad again post game, I had to hunt down Sarah Maclachlan’s ASPCA abused dog ad just to cheer me up so I could sleep.

It was that bad.

dead kid tweet

After an enormous social media backlash that saw “Nationwide Kid” appropriately turned into a meme, Nationwide, who are better known for their light-hearted Peyton Manning jingle humming ads, scrambled to release a statement explaining their thought process, which was produced by New York City agency Ogilvy & Mather.

“The intention of the ad was actually not to sell insurance. ” stated chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius. “It was to raise awareness of a cause that we’ve been championing for decades at Nationwide, which is to keep kids safe from preventable accidental injuries.” Ogilvy President Adam Tucker took to Twitter unapologetically standing up for Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” campaign and his firm’s work, seemingly unaware that Nationwide had violated a sacred rule of great advertising:

If you have to offer an explanation to your thinking, then it’s not a great ad and your agency has failed – miserably.

Adweek among others panned the ad as one of the biggest buzzkills in Super Bowl history. Nationwide’s only defense was the public relations equivalent of Pee Wee Herman tumbling off his bike onto a neighbors lawn and saying “I meant to do that!” This is problematic on several levels. An insurance company shelling out millions with an expressed goal of not selling their product but rather to start a conversation, an all-too-familiar concept. On top of that, the company willingly admits they set out to ruin your Super Bowl party, or time spent with your family trying to relax and watch the harmless spectacle of the event. Another recent familiar phenomenon.

Compare Nationwide’s dead kid who will never fly, sail or get married Super Bowl spot with All State Insurance’s Mayhem campaign. Both have identical messages, to protect your family and your valuables. Yet Mayhem is able to express these concerns with relatable humor & exaggeration. Not by telling you your kids are going to fucking die unless you buy their product.

Raising awareness of sensitive topics such as death is a hard sell with traditional celebrations. People expect to have fun, celebrate, not be hurt, get upset, or end up depressed and wanting to hang themselves. Also Nationwide did not take into account young children or parents of lost children watching the game which wouldn’t be a public relations disaster if you know, every young pre-teen in America wasn’t tuned in to see their favorite Pop star at halftime. If the philosophical goal of your company or ideology is to scare the living hell out of people into buying it, it’s probably not a very sound philosophy and more likely not a very good company.

The modern left’s ideology is one big Nationwide ad. Submit to our practices or your kids will die. Only our mandated health insurance will treat your Bain cancer or protect you from global warming.

The reason and logic behind why all these companies thought they could sell their products better by appealing to our sense of cynicism and fears, rather than our collective sense as Americans of hope and optimism is because they know this is where our culture is at the moment. Despite the self congratulatory rhetoric this President reverberates from the bully pulpit, there aren’t rainbows appearing at will, or Unicorns roaming the plains. The Middle class is not growing and ISIS is not on the run. We feel as though we are governed by crisis at every turn and with the constant notion of impending doom. We are angry, we are exhausted and we have no reprieve from the invasions of social justice into our every day lives. More importantly, we are meant to believe we have no way of stopping it.

If the world constantly feels like it’s spinning off its axis for the past five years, it’s because it is.

The majority of Super Bowl ads were depressing because we as a country are depressed. If there are political undertones in maxi pads and smart phones it’s because our culture has been radically politicized. Any brief moment we seek to shelter ourselves we are faced with a progressive outrage mob screaming in our faces and demanding submission. Watching football no longer means rooting for your favorite team, betting a few bucks and laughing at a chimpanzee trying to work a fax machine.  It means having conversations about domestic violence and shaming racist Redskins fans only after we just watched Barack Obama talk about whatever was on TV the past week.

This is the result of integrating radicalized progressivism into pop culture. We almost instinctively reflect the values of the leaders we elect and advertisers reflect us. If our President is taking selfies with Hollywood celebrities, we as a culture imitate and follow suit. If our leaders encourage social activism while standing behind mythical slogans born out of their past as organizers, it’s a green light to block traffic and barge into restaurants. And if our culture is built on a foundation of constant progressive disruption, nothing will be considered safe, not even a leisurely family activity like sitting down and watching a football game.

Is it any wonder that Scientology is beginning to look like a viable option to people?

We are sold on the promise of hope and change and yet we are reminded in our daily activities of a world falling into chaos. This White House continuously bludgeons us over how great things are, and that we just need to change our attitudes about it, like solving our problems by drinking a bottle of Coca Cola. But turning that frown upside down doesn’t bring back the doctor or pediatrician your family lost. Paying for a cheeseburger at McDonald’s with a hug doesn’t prevent the rise of radical Islam and a President telling us to simply turn the page doesn’t erase the lowest workforce in 38 years, which was Super Bowl XII.

Big problems, real problems, are purposely ignored so the focus falls on the imaginary microaggression of  tampon shaming.

In 1984, Apple premiered a Super Bowl commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, showing a bleak, depressing, dark and hopeless apocalyptic future. A crowd of mindless drones nods along to a single minded authoritarian on a large monitor, barking slogans at them. A strong, athletic woman appears, charges down a long corridor with a sledgehammer, winds up, and heaves it into the giant screen, shattering it and all preconceived notions of the limits we as a people can accomplish.

That’s what “throwing like a girl” used to mean to us.



–  SM   –


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  1. Anang Reply

    From the memoirs of Sebastian Haffner one of the most depressing quotes I’ve ever read. He was a lawyer during the interwar years of Germany and one day attended the Spring Carnival:
    “All at once I had a strange, dizzy feeling. I felt as though I was inescapably imprisoned with all these young people in a giant ship that was rolling and pitching. We were dancing on its lowest, narrowest deck, while on the bridge it was being decided to flood that deck and drown every last one of us.”

  2. Chip Reply

    Nicely done. I would only add that it’s not merely a reflection of the mood of the country, but of the hubris of people who believe they possess the power to “change” the country. They can always be counted on to invade anything positive and inject it with misery.

  3. RR Reply

    As time goes on, the leftist propaganda becomes ever more strident and overt. Advertising is perhaps the most effective vector, and increasingly the most transparent.  The Narrative is maintained so tightly that those in creative control of the advertising industry must be comprised of a very small number of people.

    How is the heavy-handed insertion of leftist politics into every sphere of our lives not even noticed by the vast majority of Americans?

  4. 0302 Reply

    “Because at Nationwide, we don’t have shareholders.”  Which means that share holders must be per se bad, which means that corporations must be per se bad.  Which is also an oddly familiar tone.

  5. Alec Rawls Reply

    Super Bowl ads try to DICTATE the mood of the country, from the minds of the idiotic leftists who dominate all of our media industries. 

  6. who cares Reply

    Am I one of the few that thinks this is a big to-do about nothing…. speaking of the “mood of the country”… which seems to LOVE to make big to-dos about nothing.     Jesus, get over it.  

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