We’ve come a long way since burping frogs and “whazzup” defined Super Bowl advertisements, and thus, American culture. In today’s market, a Super Bowl spot costs $5 million for a one-off, and corporations have ever-evolving technology to identify, target and destroy niche demographics with the products, services and lifestyles that speak directly to them. This year, a team that prizes cheating and both blessed and received blessings from Donald Trump faced off against a city that has never won a Super Bowl, but commands music, slang and fashion tastes of the nation. In a cruel twist of fate, the latter team led by 25 points late in the third quarter of the game, only to blow it to the former.
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Advanced metrics, which have failed the world throughout the past year once again laid their dirty mathematical curses on the Falcons. But the ads, as usual were sublime! In such an important moment in global history, how would our favorite brands react? Look no further:
1) Squarespace John Malkovich
Squarespace took a risk here, putting John Malkovich at the helm of an ad seen by millions of people too young to know who he is. The next generation of domain desirers might need a more relevant hero, but this commentary on the infinite loop of identity assumption, frustration and Internet impersonation was hypnotic and charming regardless of context (like having seen “Being John Malkovich).
In the commercial, Malkovich is apparently prepping a clothing line, and has decided to finally get a website to sell it on. Too bad JohnMalkovich.com is taken. When his assistant tells him it’s been snatched, Malkovich says:
“There’s a film about me being me.”
“Isn’t it a movie about other people being inside you?” she asks.
“Sure, why not,” he says.
Everything is interpretable, except domain ownership is definite. Squarespace can help.
What is identity? How can we be sure of it? Rather than dwelling on these existential issues, Malkovich starts cursing at the Internet, which was softened during the Super Bowl. We’ve all been there before, brutally slammed against the reality of our own technological inferiority, or inability to get our way in the face of a crushing technocracy. It’s equal parts relatable, charming, hilarious and for some, a nostalgic callback to a much more tender time in our nation’s history, when post-modern, meta pop art like “Being John Malkovich” could capture our collective imagination.
2) World of Tanks
World of Tanks, a free-to-play game for PC, Playstation and XBOX, unleashed two extremely short commercials during the Super Bowl. WoT is an extension of a gaming model developed for mobile that is being applied to console gaming, and eventually will likely be introduced into all facets of human life and entertainment. In this model, called freemium, the game lures in what it hopes will be a massive audience with the promise that the game is free, and in this case, a multiplayer online experience that will compensate for limited real world social interaction. Once they have the players hooked, they can pay for premium features, like new tanks, special weapons, tank decorations, perhaps even limited edition depleted uranium to celebrate the worst tank crimes against humanity in our nation’s recent history.
Both of WoT’s shorts lampoon reality television, which is craven and corny in comparison to the pleasure of destroying enemies with digital tanks. In “Real Awful Moms,” the rich housewife television trend is skewered. First the awful moms start a fight of their own in a momentary scene ripped from the networks, seconds before a tank crashes through a wall to the screams of the hated housewives. The next short takes on the home makeover reality sphere. Less people can afford to own homes, or apartments, and the value of property will no longer rise forever. Soon many of us will be living in shipping containers, repurposed bathtubs, plastic playhouses, and the like. In “Teensy House Buyers,” a couple looks to purchase an adorable small home, before a tank crushes it. In both cases we’re reminded, “In a world of tanks, tanks rule!” The commercials benefit from a morsel of something vaguely familiar and annoying, before the displeasure of it is destroyed under the tracks of an awesome tank, and the invitation to play with them, nominally for free.
3) Avocados From Mexico
Rather than directly address the brazen public effort by the American government to attack Mexican people, this commercial hints at how Americans might be hit, in the form of a tasty, trendy fruit! In the ad, a cabal reminiscent of “Eyes Wide Shut” gathers to discuss the need to be more vigilant in keeping conspiracies from the public, only to be distracted by a gluttonous guacamole frenzy. The real culprits of deflated footballs, alien secrets, faked moon landings are revealed to be bumbling dummies that can’t help but livestream their greatest secrets. The ad taps into why Americans love conspiracies: they distract from actually confronting the open banality of suffering. Plus, while real problems are layered, conspiracies offer repeatable, digestible anecdotes that seemingly explain why things are so awful.
Anti-immigrant hatred is racing across the West, manifesting in policy that presupposes we’re better off separate from each other, because jobs and resources are devoured in a zero-sum global ecosystem. But what of the resources we get in large part from importation? This commercial doesn’t have to say it, but it’s clear: the Illuminati will be wolfing down avocados long after the normies have run out. The greatest trick the globalists ever pulled was convincing the world they were nationalists. Instead of questioning why the people don’t own the means of avocados, we’re left to battle against each other and our own interests to get our hands on what remains of them. Sad!
4) Stranger Things 2
2016’s most popular Netflix creation is coming back with a fervency demanded by advanced consumer viewing metrics. What it lacked in substance, the first season made up for in obsessive mood collection from youth adventures like “E.T.” and “Stand By Me.” These stories are so popular because they let the viewer picture battle with government bureaucracies, supernatural phenomenon, bloodthirsty greasers or whomever as a means to self-realizing, escapism. Stranger Things also rests on a deep wish/fear of the American consumer: our inner thoughts, no matter how dangerous, will be manifested in reality.
In this season, we’ll be treated to classic 80’s TV advertisements, including an Eggo commercial starring Fred Savage’s big brother from “The Wonder Years.” Outside, a dark storm is brewing, which will require the kids to dress up as Ghostbusters, bike in frantic formation, and perhaps confront a giant, multi-appendaged monster. Or perhaps it’s just misunderstood? The trailer doesn’t give too much away, but demonstrates how easily the show can immerse its audience in the aesthetics of Stranger Things’ source material. The commercial for Stranger Things 2 promises the recreation of a pre-Internet world where indoor fantasy is immediately converted into external odyssey, even as millions of Americans sat inside watching a game in tandem.
5) Nintendo Switch
First things first, when you wake up in the morning, you grab your phone. But what if instead you grabbed your Nintendo console, that seamlessly integrates between mobile and more traditional gaming? The Switch suggests that users will always be able to game individually, wherever they may travel, and at any moment can share those experiences with any other user, through mobile integration, tablet or television. Even the controllers are designed to break into smaller, handheld tools with new uses.
Nintendo, more than any of its competitors, has positioned itself as a lifestyle brand as much as a company that makes entertainment systems. This where grandfathers build relationships with their grandsons, games that prize utility and interactivity over graphics quality. The Switch isn’t for gamers, it’s for humans.
Most telling in the commercial are all the social settings its users engage with, rather that are facilitated by Nintendo itself. From impromptu gaming at the office or school auditorium, to enjoying a digital duel in a sun drenched park, you can have it all. The one through line throughout the commercial shows a Zelda player that renters the fantasy world from bed, switches to a little bit of TV screen time, only to take on a cumbersome, obtrusive journey into the real world, to a laundromat. Despite that drudgery, what does he find? An opportunity to interact with a person, via Nintendo Switch.
Noted military/law enforcement propagandist, Mark Wahlberg enabler and disaster fetishist Peter Berg (“Deepwater Horizon,” “Lone Survivor,” “Patriots Day) was tapped by Hyundai to break the glass ceiling of Super Bowl commercial creation. Berg could cement himself in the annals of American heroics, if he could create a commercial filmed, edited and distributed during the night of the Super Bowl itself. Why would Hyundai constrain an auteur like Berg? To show the troops watching the Super Bowl, and because it would take the sacrifice and precision of a true operator.
The commercial begins with an aerial shot of an American military base in Poland. We’re reminded that as Americans, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the Super Bowl if it weren’t for troops in Poland protecting our way of life from…the resurgent Russians perhaps? The rising specter of anti-imperialism which questions our global military presence? That’s not important. What matters are the sacrifices of our troops, who have been removed from their families, and our divine way of life, which their service makes possible.
The troops in Poland are allowed to watch the Super Bowl (what better way to keep them connected to what they fight for), but Hyundai removes three of them from its screening. Why? To place them in pods where 360-degree cameras and screens allow them to experience the Super Bowl while videochatting with their families. In the big scheme of things, Hyundai cars don’t matter. It’s what they can give back to those who have given the most that captures the hearts of consumers worldwide.
As xenophobic rumblings become governmental policy, corporations must do some soul-searching. What’s the best way to capitalize off these trends? Do they bow down to reactionary nationalism? Or would it be more profitable to present themselves as members of the neoliberal resistance? After all, as huge sectors of employment become increasingly scarce, open borders mean ever-plummeting labor costs. Plus, it’s easy to position capitalist strategizing as if it’s motivated by human rights impulses. Sometimes, the two can be seamlessly merged, like when we’re reminded that some of the greatest commercial accomplishments were achieved by immigrants. After all, Steve Jobs was an immigrant! And he went on to build an empire which exploits Asian workers to amass more capital than over 100 nations’ governments. Business knows no boundaries.
In this commercial, a cautious doctor asks a plucky young immigrant, “why leave Germany?” He doesn’t say he wants a better life for him or his family. “I want to brew beer,” he says, with fire in his wallet. When he arrives, he’s met with angry faces telling him he’s unwanted, but still he persists. Through rain, fire and mud, he keeps his trusty notebook close, with its business plans intact. Then, in St. Louis, he meets a man named Anheuser, and reveals himself to be Busch. The rest is ubiquitous beer mediocrity.
The ad doesn’t put much muscle into evoking a deep, emotional reaction, choosing instead to play to the American bootstrap mythos, and gently plant Budweiser’s flag on the side of multiculturalism. No one knows just how things will turn out, but for Budweiser it seems safe enough immigrants start companies, so perhaps they deserve to be considered human.
Love is grand, but Skittles are forever. In one of its Super Bowl ads, Skittles forgoes trickery, politics, emotional intrigue or innovation to offer a classic human motivation piece of advertising and direct descendent of the “it’s our product, it’s delicious” jingled past. We all want Skittles, no matter what natural conflicts exist between us. If some foolish boy (or “Candy Casanova” as Skittles’ ad copy calls him) is just going to throw unlimited Skittles into the mouths of his love, her father, her mother, her grandmother, a robber, police officer and an animatronic beaver, who will stop him? So long as he believes the next flavor orb might wake up Katie, he’ll keep pitching. Behind the silent Skittles receptacles, we see a bed littered with unclaimed candy morsels. Skittles’ is whimsically telling us it just tastes better when you catch it in your mouth.
In another Skittles’ Super Bowl ad, we’re given a slight nod to cultural exploration, without any of the pesky political relevance of other ads. Here, beloved former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch (who retired rather than sacrifice his body and mind any further than he already had) travels to Houston. Houston, Scotland that is! The Super Bowl was played in Houston, Texas, but Lynch is beginning his candy diplomat career. Don’t tell him he’s riding a Skittles bike, why that’s just a Skittles bag connected to his bike! Lynch has come to spread the gift of Skittles, American football and pure joy. Not included: Lynch playing chicken with a Scottish bus while on this adventure:
The NFL is perhaps the most conservative sport in America. They are leading the country in domestic abuse, disregard for the lives of their players, dismissal of basic human/civil rights, and imperial cheerleading. A few years ago, it got the highest ratings of any American sport. Now, the NFL is dealing with a weakened product and an exodus of viewers. Why? Pressure to make the game less violent has turned some fans off, there aren’t enough truly great teams, the game is more pass-heavy that ever but doesn’t have enough superb quarterbacks, and much more.
When it seemed football’s popularity could only go up, the NFL bureaucracy could afford to sneer at critics, players and reform. Even during this season, a narrative by league surrogates held that players protesting the National Anthem were selfish, hypocritical idiots that should know their place. In its Super Bowl ad, the NFL says we’re better off putting our differences aside and working together. It feels good, but ignores the ads targets and their creators have different goals. For example, Pat Tillman, an Arizona Cardinal’s linebacker who became an Army Ranger after 9/11, makes a cameo. Tillman was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire, but his death was originally used by the Bush administration, who lied about the circumstances of his death then used his memory to drum up support for the endless war on terrorism. Later, Tillman’s brother, penned an anti-war essay in remembrance of his brother. It also came out that Tillman thought the Iraqi War was an “imperial folly.” Nevertheless, he appears in the NFL’s commercial memorializing the common ground we share. As Tillman appears we hear, “inside these lines, we can bring out the best in each other.”
10) Kia Niro
Kia employed comedian Melissa McCarthy to exploit the apathetic consumer’s distaste for activism. While most activists confine themselves to social media posting, McCarthy is out there in the world. Also, Kia was smart enough to confine its criticisms to the environmental warriors, as opposed to the stickier world of social justice. The impulse is the same: let the viewer, who is doing absolutely nothing feel good about that in comparison to how ridiculous McCarthy looks getting involved. Plus, Kia has a solution: buy a car that you’ve been told helps the environment. This way, you can avoid being tortured within an inch of your life by whales, ice caps, trees, rhinos, or whatever cause you might be consider getting involved in. Effort is messy and dangerous, Kia’s are safe, clean, and let you do your part.
“It’s hard to be an eco warrior, but it’s easy to drive like one.” This tagline could be applied to anything Americans might consider doing outside of their personal containers, whether they be digital, physical or transportive.