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February 5, 2018

Super Bowl LII Ads Cleverly Exploit Fake News

Scene from Amazon Alexa Super Bowl LCII ad.

In their Super Bowl ad review, the New York Times said that “this year, companies focused more on humor and nostalgia,” whereas last year’s ads were more political in nature. I don’t blame them for being blinded by the humor, but I beg to differ.

Three of the best ads this year–for Tide, the Australia Travel Bureau, and Amazon’s Alexa–were not just stellar for being funny.  They stood out for ingeniously leveraging the fake news controversy, and making light of an America having trouble knowing what (or who) to believe anymore.

Never underestimate the ingenuity of advertisers to exploit fear, greed, or domestic politics. Leveraging a balkanized Washington, an ideologically fractured mediascape, and a White House averse to facts and at war with reality, the message of these three ads was: you can’t trust what you see or hear – and you especially can’t trust how that information is packaged or delivered.

Brilliantly infectious in its misdirection, Tourism Australia touted their country with a fake movie trailer.

The strategy of the Tide spot is hilariously undermining. Restarting over and over, the commercial shows you a few moments of a thoroughly familiar product or brand format, and then disrupts it, admonishing us not to trust what the brief, familiar narrative appears to be. Each time, the ad upsets the vignette to highlight the actor’s clean clothes, adding the refrain: “No, it’s a Tide ad.”

The Alexa ad also posed a disruptive scenario. The set-up is that the device’s trusty voice has taken sick, and is suddenly replaced by unreliable personas. (Notice in the screenshot above how the ad literally includes a fake news scene.)

These spots are so bathed in humor, the bait-and-switch can’t help but take the edge off the manipulation of truth and the “down-is-up.” (I give the Amazon ad extra credit for casting Jeff Bezos, perhaps the biggest disruptor in the world, as himself, and for the fact that the Amazon stable also prominently includes the Washington Post. Maybe democracy dies in taking yourself too seriously?)

If you were following the Super Bowl ad mania, you also know that Chrysler was excoriated for its Dodge Ram ad, pairing an excerpt of a MLK speech (one which ridicules commercialism, by the way) with a tribute to do-gooders.

The Dodge Ram ad was a disaster for being exploitive and tone deaf. However, it was also an outrage for exemplifying what the other three ads made brilliant light of. Failing to appreciate today’s hypersensitivity to mumbo-jumbo, the ad put itself forward as Exhibit A.

— Michael Shaw

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