My latest Tablet column is here. It’s about the huge tonal differences between the ads shown during the Olympics and those shown during the Super Bowl. The Olympics is seen as a girlie event, and the Super Bowl is viewed as super-peenular. Yet the demographic data we have about who watches both these events (flawed and incomplete though this data is, I say with a loving and respectful nod to my media-measurement researcher husband who can explain at length why Nielsen’s systems are a moronathon) indicate that the two audiences are not crazy-dissimilar, and wow, that sentence is just barely clinging to coherence by the tips of its fingernails! Good thing no one is paying me to write this!
Um, so anyway, my point is that this year’s Olympics advertising: good! This year’s Super Bowl ads: cringe-inducingly vile!
I theorized at the end of the Tablet piece about why that might be. KJ Dell’Antonia at Slate, who kindly linked to the Tablet piece, has a different take. She makes the interesting point that each sporting event offers a different sort of wish fulfillment, and the advertising speaks to it: “The fantasy of football is, for men—and for men only, unlike Olympic sports—one of the road not taken, an irresponsible life of tackling on the field and debauchery off,” she writes. “The fantasy of the Olympics…is that somehow, that could be any of us up there (which is the only possible explanation for the popularity of curling)—and now, in four years or eight or 12—our kids could be the ones thanking us in a Visa ad.” Hm.
To take this a step further, I suppose that because Olympics are associated with values like global cooperation (Visa’s “Go World” slogan taps into that), generosity and a lack of jingoism, ads featuring pure aggression and vaj-hatin’ meat-headedness would feel tone-deaf. The Olympics are supposed to be noble. But again, given the sameness of the two events’ audiences (and the lack of effectiveness of the Super Bowl ads, which I pointed out, thanks to Jezebel’s number crunching), it’s unclear why advertisers felt the need to portray men and women and their respective roles in the world so differently AT ALL. Dudes. Come on.
As an aside: I think my fave ad is the Dan Jansen one. It’s not just the wonderful narrative; it’s that Morgan Freeman can sell me anything. (My other fave voice-over salesdude: Jeff Bridges.) Yummy, yummy slightly scratchy baritones.