What Do Super Bowl Ads Say?

Super Bowl commercials say everything about American culture. Ads tell us a ton about what's up, right now.

This year we had a chance to watch, comment on, and share Super Bowl ads more than ever before. Every 2010 Super Bowl commercial is online, on demand at NFL Fan House, Hulu Ad Zone and the appropriately titled YouTube Ad Blitz.

The aftermath is amazing. It's entertaining to watch marketers clamor to claim the #1 spot. For days after Super Bowl XLIV, the top video on Unruly Media's Viral Video Chart was Google's Parisian Love. The #1 video on NFL Fan House was Doritos: Dog Gets Revenge. Monday the #1 video on NFL Fan House was E-Trade Baby's Jealous Girlfriend. On the same list today E-Trade is no where to be found.

Who's The Best?

By many accounts this year's unlikely (since they rarely advertise at all) #1 Super Bowl commercial was Google's Parisian Love, which AdAge discredits. AdAge makes a good point that different audiences respond differently to different media, and that the Super Bowl crowd is not obsessed with the Internet - so online buzz may not be a real measure of effectiveness here.

AdAge may also miss the point that people are just paying more attention to the internet now.

Sure, the Google spot got great buzz, is ranked #1 by the go-to industry standards, and it drew tons of press and media coverage. But AdAge still asks, Just How Popular Was Google's Super Bowl Ad, Anyway? Maybe the ad was meant to woo its watchers, a crowd on the cusp of greater interest - and seed the idea of Google's incredible usability in the minds of football fans across the country.

Fox Sports did a Top 10. They even did a Worst 10. Of course, they did. One Fox Sports reader wrote back: "I'm tired of having to choose from a list... I want to vote for who I want.. It's a unfair vote.."

Iconic American Culture

Super Bowl commercials are iconic American culture. Some 2010 favorites at eSocialMediaShop, for their cultural cache are ads for Coke and FloTV:

Last week Creativity Online named the Top 20 Super Bowl Ads Ever. Historic Super Bowl commercials remind us of iconic moments immortalized by our favorite brands: Coke's 1979 "Mean" Joe Green locker room confrontation, Apple's 1984 introduction of Macintosh, and of course our friends Bud, Weis, and Er.

Apple's 1984 Macintosh ad is a mesmerizing, direct allusion (and response) to the same fears expressed towards technology in George Orwell's 1984: cultural concerns about the personal impact of technology on identity and self-control.

Coke's 1979 "Mean" Joe Greene commercial is credited as one of the best, most culturally iconic and significant commercials in all of advertising:

"By the late 1970's ... the ghetto became America's most acute social problem. American mass media was filled with panicky stroies of marauding gangs and so-called "welfare mothers." Suburban white Americans feared the imagined threat emanating from the ghetto.

Again, Coke offerred a utopian moment of healing built around a "pause that refreshes." Drinking a Coke now provided a magical salve that symbolically healed the racial divide in American society.

"The confrontation in the dark tunnel conjured up the growing nightmare of the ghetto in the collective imagination of the majority white population: the physically intimidating black man who threatened an innocent white child. But we soon learned Greene's meanness was just an affection, that he was actually a sweet guy who could show real affection for the small white kid. The ad offerred a story of racial healing for a country that couldn't contain it's racial conflict. In this way, Coke again helped the nation momentarily forget its real problems that were then devistating its cities" (Holt. How Brands Become Icons, p.25-26).

The 2010 Message

What's the Super Bowl message this year?

1) There's a recession. 2) We want to be distracted from it. 3) The internet is helping.

Several Super Bowl commercial themes continue to carry the message that we may actually prefer to be distracted from larger, more important social issues. Coke will help us weather the recession. Bud Light is poised to help us survive airplane crashes and global warming.

Even the difference between #1 spots on NFL Fan House vs. the Internet overall is telling: maybe we really prefer slap-stick distractions for Doritos to the suggested ease and implication of planning our entire lives on Google.

Thanks to social media, we can rate and evaluate Super Bowl ads in more ways now than ever. The stats and analysis will reveal about American culture what was once left more to speculation and Big Media Top 10 lists. The commercial message of Super Bowl XLIV says there's a change on the way in how we watch our ads.

We're tired of having to choose from a list. We like what we like, and we want a fair vote.