One of the turning points in the history of American advertising was the creation of the "infomercial." Some bright pitchmen decided to do away with those annoying 30-second commercial breaks and make a commercial that is the show and a show that is the commercial. Who knew that you could be annoying for 30 minutes and people would watch?
The hyper pitchmen of the infomercial went on to give us miracle car refinishing products, get rich real estate schemes and amazing chicken roasters. "Just set it and forget it."
The Super Bowl is now headed in the same direction as the infomercial. All advertising, all the time.
The phenomenon of the blockbuster Super Bowl commercial began with the famous Apple computer "1984" ad in which PC users were portrayed as indoctrinated subjects of a totalitarian government. It was disturbing and visually stunning. It broke rules and was a breakthrough for the launch of the Apple McIntosh. That commercial is part of the foundation on which the Apple empire was built. And so it is for advertising as well.
Ever since, advertisers have been trying to re-capture the magic of that Apple ad, and some have succeeded. We've seen croaking frogs, galloping horses, flashy cars and lots of good-looking busty women. It's been a big success for Budweiser beer, Doritos chips, even M&Ms candy.
Since 1984 and "1984" the commercial, Super Bowl advertisers have sought to become the talk of the water cooler the next day. They build anticipation not only for new products but for the cleverest little mini-movies and dramas of advertising. Forget about that one-handed catch at the end of the game, did you see how sexy that Go Daddy website commercial was?
Morning news hosts and newspaper reporters end up reviewing the commercials as if they were movies or a Broadway opening. It's all free exposure for the advertisers
But the problem with Super Bowl ads is that they are enormously expensive to make and to air. Thirty seconds of airtime costs $3.8 million. Many are seen only once. Air it, and forget it.
This year the advertisers decided there's no reason to wait. Many of the commercials have been released on the Internet. You don't have to wait to watch Kate Upton tease some teenage boys washing a car, you can see it now on the Internet.
CBS, which has the Super Bowl this year, aired a one-hour special about the Super Bowl ads. A reporter did a "behind the scenes report" on the making of a Super Bowl commercial. Reporters have become advertisers for the advertisements.
The Super Bowl is no longer a football game. It's an eyeball magnet for advertising. Ad Age reports that last year 48 minutes of the Super Bowl was commercials and network promos. That is 12 minutes short of actual playing time.
We are almost at the point at which the irritating 30-second breaks in the Super Bowl broadcast will be the game itself.