Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Ads

The hype for the Super Bowl ads is about as overblown these days as the hype for the game itself, but all the attention does do one thing to warm a rhetorician's cold, cold heart: it prompts people to do some textual analysis of if/how/why persuasion works in particular cases.

Overall, I have to say I was underwhelmed by the ads this year.  Of course, just as the game itself often has trouble living up to the two-weeks' worth of hype, the ads themselves now have a hard time following through on the buildup.   There were a few interesting ones.  The Budweiser horse and the calf ad was adorable, and the Google-your-way-to-love-in-Paris ad was charming and interesting as a way of telling a meaninguful and involving story in a 30-second spot. 

As with the past, there was a lot of violence in the ads, although not quite so much as there were a couple of years ago, when it seemed like every commercial had something horrible happening to someone for "comedic" effect.  The most surprising to me this year was the controversial Tim Tebow ad, which featured Tebow tackling his mother at full throttle.  (Hey Mom, thanks for carrying me to term!  Enjoy this herniated disk!)  

Beyond the slightly-reduced-but-still-prevalent trope of infliciting pain as humor, the other thing that jumped out at me was the amount of ads featuring fears of/fantasy responses to emasculation.  From a guy kicking his wife out of his car to avoid having to give up his precious new tires to Jim Nance providing commentary on the "spineless" guy shopping with his wife, there was lot of the woman-as-castrating-bitch them in the ads.  It showed up often enough and in such a wide array of ads that it emerged as a clear theme for this year's commercials.    Not that such a theme is either new or terribly surprising given the venue, but it was oddly prevalent in the ads this year.

Any chance we can get some transcendence?  Yep, courtesy of Letterman, Leno, and Oprah.  This was, far and away, the spot of the night for me.  Not only was it A) funny, and B) surprising, but given the nature of the ads surrounding it, the Letterman spot stood out as an ad that used comedy to undercut and defang actual conflict.  I've only been following the Letterman/Leno saga sporadically, but it had gotten fairly pointed and nasty, with Letterman doing unflattering imitations of Leno and Leno cracking jokes about Letterman's private life ("You know how you get David Letterman to ignore you? Marry him!").    To see these two hanging out on the couch with Oprah in a spot promoting Letterman's show was priceless and showed a level of maturity (despite the fact that Letterman and Leno were feigning childishness in the ad) that (dare I say?) raised the level of popular discourse.

Or at least gave me something to laugh at other than a henpecked husband or a fifty-year-old woman being blindsided by her son. 


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