Advertisers have a tough gig. Most people consider them to be the scourge of the entertainment industry, ranking somewhere in between porn directors and the bottom of a snake’s belly. But I’ll bet that if we walked a day in these poor souls’ imported Italian loafers, we’d see that they have it quite rough. For one thing, everybody hates commercials. Oh sure, we love funny and entertaining commercials, but few of us sit through a commercial break without flipping through the channels to see what crazy shenanigans Kathy Griffin is getting into this time. This is why advertisers LOVE the Super Bowl.
Photo: Stuck in Customs
Each Sunday in February, the biggest event of the year hits our televisions, played out on screens across the world. Billions tune in to see the most important football game in the history of the world, that is, until next February. Families come together, snack food aisles are cleared in supermarkets, as the nation sits down to enjoy the highest-rated television program of the year. What company worth their stock could pass up this opportunity to tell us all about their great new products? Of course, it comes at a hefty price; More than two and a half million dollars for thirty seconds of airtime, with this figure rising each year. But hey, this is just the perfect opportunity to go all out, creating a stellar piece of art that will have everybody talking about your product tomorrow at work.
The commercials in the Super Bowl have become almost as big an event as the game itself. Some people even watch the game just to see the commercials. On any other day, a sane person would ignore the shameless attempts to to take their money, but on this holy day, fans everywhere actually sit around mesmerized as they watch Clydesdales carry beer into town, or polar bears taking the pause that refreshes. Two and a half million dollars suddenly seems like a pretty sweet deal, when you know that middle-management schleps will stand around the non-proverbial water cooler talking about how amazing that Tabasco ad was. This kind of word of mouth is priceless. The internet, magazines, and television news programs actually devote time to discussing the best and funniest commercials of each Super Bowl. It is the gift that keeps on giving.
Perhaps on monday, you may go to the grocery store. You’ll see a two-liter of Coke for sale, but then see Pepsi next to it and be tickled when you remember their clever commercial featuring the Top-40 starlet. You’ll then pick up a bag of Tostitos. Guess what? You’ve just made Pepsi money again, since they own Frito-lay, which owns Tostitos. Maybe you’ll drive the kids home, and one will say that they want Taco Bell for dinner. The other one will argue and say they want KFC. Finally you’ll all settle on Pizza Hut. No problem! Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC are all owned by Pepsi-Co.
You may be thinking, “So what? If its a good product, it’ll sell, regardless of advertising”. I’d like to agree with you, but it is just a little more perverted than that. You see, every career field has its hero. Pyschiatrists can claim Freud as the grandaddy of patricide and mother-rape. Carmakers and generally all assembly-line workesrs can thank Henry Ford for their livelihood. But advertisers have the more dubious disctinction of claiming propaganda artists as their mentors. You may be surprised at the parallels between marketing and the art of propaganda. Both have their place in the world, though they have entirely different agendas. Regardless, they both are used as a means to convince people to see their way of thinking.
Experts on history will tell you that every major revolution in this world was not brought about by scientific minds and clear-cut reasoning that steadily gained power. Revolutions came about through hysteria, and excitement, and devotion. This is to say that, to win over the masses, you don’t lay out the facts and calmly inform them how things are going to be. If you are a dictator, or any kind of propagandist, you find the key to the people’s hearts. Reason gets you nowhere. Manipulation is the name of the game.
When dictators give the powerful speeches they’re known for, they tend to repeat certain words. Words like ruthless, force, and smash. When they use these cute little buzzwords, they accompany them with similar gestures. They might yell, or pound their fists. Any actor can tell you that strong emotions are contagious. A true propaganda artist keeps his or her fanbase on the edge of their seat. They’ll scream with him, they’ll feel the passion that he throws out there. The point of the matter is that, whether you want to take over the world, or sell your lightbulbs, you appeal to the heart, not the head. This is propaganda, folks.
Advertisers aren’t exactly evil, though some would disagree. They just want your money, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary. They do abandon reason and fact in order to get you to open your wallet, though, and they have no problem with manipulating and misleading you. A basic tenet of propaganda is to find something we all share. Be it a desire or a fear, if it is a common and universal feeling, then you’re halfway there. Then you find a way to make this feeling relate to your product, so that people will relate this feeling to you. Here’s a good example.
When you see an orange juice ad, do they ever tell you how delicious it is? What about milk? Do they show a bunch of people sitting around enjoying the great taste of milk? More than likely, they’ll be telling you that orange juice has vitamin C which can ward off diseases, or that milk is rich in calcium and vitamin D, which saves your bones as you age. They’re not selling a tasty drink, they’re selling a product that will keep you healthy. We all are afraid of disease and death.
Photo: Matthew Field
We’re not exactly in need of a new beverage. When you see a commercial for deodorant, they’re not selling you something that is good for hygiene. You’re being shown a product that smells so good that the opposite sex will want to instantly jump your bones. When you see an ad for a liquor or beer company, are you seeing lonely, overweight and unhealthy men and women putting a poisonous substance in their body before getting into a fight; or are you seeing beautiful men and women playing on a beach or possibly watching the ball game together, enjoying another great day with no chance of a hangover?
Maybe it is a stretch to compare advertisers and marketing executives to ruthless dictators but, in a perfect world, it should be more than just a stretch.