We watch... so you don't have to.

The Super Bowl of Commercials

I don't understand. Every year, the Super Bowl shows up and site after site (sometimes including this site) reviews the commercials. It's gotten so that there's an excessively hip contingent that watches the game just for the commercials.

Now, maybe it's just me, but that seems like the mark of a consumerist culture run amok. And while I'm normally in favor of things running amok, I still have trouble understanding what's happening here. Commercials are basically carnival hucksters screaming at you, trying to get you to buy Preparation H, and Kleenex, and Schwab Investments. They're on the midway, but they're not why you came to the carnival. They're something you're supposed to hurry past on your way to the cotton candy stand and the disappointing fun house.

The big selling point for the commercials -- which are themselves supposed to be selling points for something else -- is that the advertisers spend millions of dollars to make special "Super Bowl Commercials." The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of commercials! People in the advertising business still talk in reverent, hushed tones about the Apple's 1984 Macintosh ad, which only aired once, if you don't count the thousands of "World's Best Commercials" shows that have shown it since. For some advertisers, the Super Bowl is the start of the season; it's when they debut their new talking lizards that they'll be shoving down the throat of the viewing public for the next year.

And at any other time than the Super Bowl, the viewing public seems resentful. Commercials are the time when you can walk away from your TV, secure in the knowledge that Ross and Rachel won't be getting back together for at least the next two minutes. But for four hours a year, families gather together in front of the flickering box, anxious to see how they'll be bilked out of their money.

If people are so desperate to see advertising, can't they watch infomercials? And it's not like anyone's sitting there saying "Boy! I'm right on the edge of buying myself some Bud Light. I wonder what they'll show me to seal the deal!" Most of the "special" ads are for places like FedEx. Since when does FedEx need to advertise? Everybody knows about Federal Express, and everybody uses Federal Express. What they're really telling us is "We've got so much money, we can spend millions of dollars creating unnecessary advertising that's only tangentially related to our product! Ha ha ha! Kneel! Kneel before Zod!"

And now, because we live in a futuristic dystopia, it's possible to watch the ads without having all that inconvenient football in the way. Adcritic.com has made all the ads available over the Internet. I don't blame them; they saw a need and they filled it. It's not their fault. But there's certainly something wrong with a society that uses a billion-dollar information superhighway requiring thousands of dollars of computing power to use, and the neatest use to which we can put it is by purposely watching sales pitches for even more products. Products, I might add, that we'll almost certainly put to even more silly purposes.

You think I'm exaggerating the danger, don't you? Well, perhaps you've never seen superbowl-ads.com. It's devoted to following "the latest information on those wonderful Super Bowl commercials". They have polls, news, reviews, and history. Ah yes, the rich history of the Super Bowl Commercial. I expect we all remember where we were when we saw our first Super Bowl commercial.

Speaking of which, people are nostalgic for the Super Bowl commercials of their youth. They remember a golden age, when the corn was high, children respected their elders, and the Bud Bowl was on television. Now it's relegated to the Internet, along with some "Internet-exclusive Whassup?! commercials that you haven't seen." I believe that if there are still people eager to see new situations in which people can say "Whassup?! then that is clear evidence that quite enough Budweiser has been sold.

And the final straw is that the commercials are terrible. There's nothing wrong with having a funny little skit, but when your big payoff is that what you sell is "managing the complexities of the digital economy," well, I have to think that someone spent a few million dollars unwisely. And almost all of the commercials are like that: a little clever, but not, you know, actually selling anything.

Except for that "Tomb Raider" ad. That was really cool.


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