Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
February 3, 2015

What War, Terror, Racial Tension, Climate Change? The Anxiety Underneath This Year's Kinder, Gentler Super Bowl Ads

So, the take away from this year’s Super Bowl ads, or this annual socio-cultural, consumer Rorschach, was all about warmer and fuzzier, more social consciousness, the empowerment of girls and, particularly, a boost for fatherhood.

I’m wondering, however, how much of the softer, lighter, funnier and friendlier focus was actually a compensatory reaction and a reflex to buffer the consuming public from the social tension and political anxiety that has formed a steady drumbeat in the media since last November crashing from ISIS panic, tele-beheadings and re-engagement in Iraq to Ferguson, police killings and widespread civil rights protests to the Charlie Hebdo attack and renewed anxiety over Islamic terrorism.

In that context, one can look at the love onslaught – driven by the gargantuan corporate investment – as a way to not deny or ignore the news and the fear factor so much as to play off of it, using humor and empowerment as this year’s Loctite glue of denial.

This can be seen in two ways. Most recognized and widely acknowledged were the ads that played to the heart and doled out the intimacy. Most significantly, there was the McDonald’s ad that decided to suspend currency and allow people to pay for their junk food with love alone.

Then, the Bud Clydesdales rescue a puppy.

Most telling, though, was one of the night’s most acclaimed ad from Dove, no less. If men are the perpetrators of war and violence, this spot reframed man as Dad, bestowing men them with a grace and nurturance equal to Mom.

This screenshot is actually from this ancillary campaign. In a more focused and disarming approach, Dove doesn’t just elevate men, but America’s warriors.

More to the point, however, were those ads that acknowledged and symbolized the chaos and antagonism out there, then pacified it through humor or some other form of undoing.

My favorite was the Grub Hub “Because Burrito” ad (which really deserved to be named “The Burrito Drone.”) In it, people are attacked by the flying burrito before they learn the lesson of ordering online.

Or, there was the Pierce Brosnan ad for Kia where he’s a secret agent and the boss gives him a kumbaya assignment in which every perceived danger (like the discovery of a rocket launcher) suddenly isn’t.

In the previous instance, a sniper turns into an owl. Or in this example, the missile battery turns into a moose. Hello, cultural denial.

The Morphie phone charger ad likened running out of batteries to the end of days and extreme global warming.

That is, till civilization is bailed out, or re-charged, by (an African-American) God. Talk about “I Have a Dream.”

For mollifying all the scary threats out there, though, nothing could top the Operation Pepsi halftime video set on, well, the USS Lexington. One YouTube commenter, Timothy Simmons, wrote:

This isn’t a salute of our military veterans, it’s using them to sell soda.  If Pepsi really wants to support the military it should send a corporate gift to the VA — and don’t publicize it!  C’mon man!

That’s right Timothy. But the point, besides consuming away, is that it’s the one place where we can all be safe.

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