Monday, February 2, 2015

Regarding Super Bowl XLIX's Depressing Commercials

I try to keep this space on the positive side and I like to treat it as a place to record things that make me happy, but as a former Advertising major and an aspiring Student Affairs Professional, I had to take the time on this snow day to address some of the thoughts I had and the reactions I saw in regard to the line up of the Super Bowl's "depressing" commercials. I definitely wasn't planning on writing this post (I tend to schedule out topics in advance) but there are just some things that I needed to say that I had trouble verbalizing in the moment last night. I'll get back to my regularly scheduled excitement and happiness with my post tomorrow. This is going to be a text-heavy post, so go ahead and click "Read more" if you'd like to continue.

(Trigger warning: domestic violence, death)

First off, these advertisements were of course in no way meant to solve the issues they are addressing with one 60 second spot during the Super Bowl. They are meant to start a conversation, and they did just that. There are obviously individuals out there that are not going to totally understand why these topics were being addressed during the Super Bowl, and I saw many tweets and Facebook posts noting that these ads were "killing the mood" and were "missing the point" of the event. It is important to remember that the Super Bowl is the most watched event in the United States every year (we would spend multiple classes each year studying this when I was in the Communication program during undergrad). Companies pay millions of dollars to get ad time during the game.

Personally, I'm impressed that a few companies and organizations chose to use that ad time to send a message that is bigger than their products in order to address issues that are pressing in our country right now, and spark further dialog among viewers. Like I said, these ads aren't meant to educate the viewers in 60 seconds, but these ads will be discussed for the better part of the week among friends, families, colleagues, and even in classrooms, and those who partake in those conversations have an opportunity to learn why these ads were so important.

Three ads in particular really jumped out to me as the ones that sparked controversy both on social media and, from the stories I've heard from friends, among Super Bowl viewing parties as well: the Nationwide "Childhood Death" commercial, the Always "#LikeAGirl" campaign, and the Domestic Violence PSA.

Nationwide - "Childhood Death"

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty appalled by this ad when I first saw it during the game. I tweeted about it and retweeted the snarky comments of others regarding this ad that I thought were hilarious. Exhibit A:

*blocked out names in case people didn't want their Twitter handles out there

The reason why I thought these tweets were so funny is because it showed that Nationwide did exactly what it wanted to do - shock the audience. This is a shock advertisement - an ad that is unpleasant to watch and something that will get people talking (think about the Truth campaign that features ads combating tobacco use). I wanted to start off with this ad for this post so those of you who may not have heard about shock advertising could understand it moving forward. It's essential to be smart when looking at advertisements and understanding their intentions behind what they are conveying. 

Unfortunately, this ad wasn't a PSA and was more of a scare tactic for consumers a la "your kid might die accidentally so buy our insurance" which I thought was in a little bit in poor taste, but realizing that the ad served it's purpose of shocking the audience is important to remember when you're watching commercials or viewing ads in other forms.

Always - "#LikeAGirl" Campaign

This ad itself was just okay (it isn't anything I would consider ground breaking), but the reactions that I saw in regards to this ad were a little bit sickening. Here were some things I noticed:
  • "You only say 'you throw like a girl' when you're insulting other guys, not when you're insulting women!"
  • "Oh it's a MAXI PAD commercial? Well now I don't know if I can get behind this!"
  • "That commercial was OBVIOUSLY made by a bunch of women."
  • The attempt to get #LikeABoy trending to counter this campaign.
And other derogatory comments and jokes with girls or women at the butt of them. 

There have been several movements lately by various companies that are trying to encourage young girls and women to have more confidence and self-esteem, which is wonderful! This ad notes that a young girl's confidence tends to plummet during puberty. The ad doesn't really blame anything except the term "like a girl" being used negatively and that being an accepted norm (obviously not the only factor in the loss of self-esteem, but it certainly doesn't help), but so many people interpreted it as an attack against men or boys, when in reality it's a societal issue. 

If you notice, they bring two women, a man, and a young boy to show how they interpret throwing, fighting, and running "like a girl" and ALL of them, including the women, made a joke about it. This shows that in our society, among both men and women, doing things "like a girl" is usually interpreted as a joke. The young girls however, interpret doing things "like a girl" as trying as hard as you can and not giving up. What this commercial is trying to do is encourage a societal change is continue the impression in young girls' minds that doing thing "like a girl" isn't a joke (because it's not) and continue to have their confidence shine throughout their lifetime, not just when they're young.

Now of course, this ad may have been scripted with the actors on camera being told what to do in order to make a point, or these people could be just off the street and giving their honest answers to the producers. We wouldn't know unless we were there. But the message that this ad is sending is nothing but positive and encouraging, and it breaks my heart that people were offended by this.

To respond to my bullet points earlier:
  • Using a demographic in a negative connotation is offensive to that demographic no matter who the insult is directed at. (i.e. Saying "that's so gay" when you mean "that's so stupid" is offensive to the LGBT community because you're basically equating homosexuality to stupidity.) When you're referring to a man who has a strange running form or has trouble throwing a ball and saying "you throw/run like a girl", you're not only emasculating him, but you're basically saying all girls are terrible and incompetent when it comes to physical activity. So yes, you're insulting women when you use that term. Gender is not a punchline.
  • Of course Always is going to sponsor a campaign like this. Their consumers are women. Why would it be a surprise that a company that sells products to mainly women would be in support of this? Why does it matter that the company sponsoring this campaign sells feminine products? At this point, what other company would make an effort to support a campaign like this that didn't sell products mainly consumed by women?
  • I did a bit of research and the Director of this commercial is, in fact, a woman. Her name is Lauren Greenfield. Again, why does it matter that a woman created this? Of course a woman is going to help create a campaign that supports women and young girls. Show me a male Director who does the same and I will shake his hand.
  • I see no problem in starting a #LikeABoy campaign as well. Young girls aren't the only ones who go through confidence issues and also need support of society. Young boys are often at the butt of "like a girl" jokes, and that makes them think that doing things like girls is a bad thing, which can cause a lot of confusion and emotional damage. HOWEVER, this attempt to get #LikeABoy trending was to discredit the #LikeAGirl campaign and attempt to take a stand against it. The need to take a stand against a positive message is beyond me.
There are still lots of thoughts surrounding this campaign and the reactions surrounding it but I'll leave it at that for now. I'm still processing. - Domestic Violence PSA

With the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals that were being address over the summer and the way the NFL handled them, it was inevitable that there would be a PSA regarding domestic violence during the SuperBowl. ran ads throughout the season featuring celebrities and noting how hard it can be to talk about domestic violence and sexual assault. They made us all uncomfortable, they made us want to change the channel, but they stuck out to us (again, serving their purpose). This ad was based on a true story that went viral on Reddit - a woman who was being assaulted at home and in a effort to save herself, called 911 and pretended to order a pizza so the other individual in the room wouldn't realize that the police would be on their way. An extremely risky but extremely brave decision on her part. 

Some reactions that I read regarding this ad were:
  • "BOOM! Now the domestic violence issue is CURED!"
  • "Oh I guess some people need a commercial to realize they shouldn't hit women!"
Obviously, like I said at the beginning of this post, these commercials aren't meant to completely educate someone. They're not going to solve an issue in 60 seconds. They're going to spark a conversation and the exchange of ideas, opinions, and knowledge on the topic, which honestly some people might need. Not everyone grows up in a happy, loving home with relatives or peers that teach them right from wrong. There are individuals out there who may have grown up in violent households and they may think of abuse as the only solution to some situations. Again, this ad alone isn't going to teach them what domestic violence is and how to prevent it in their own lives, but the conversations that grow from the ad just might.


Yes, these ads were uncomfortable. Yes, they may have "ruined the mood". But they served their purpose - they got us talking. The alternative to that would be to stay silent and not discuss these issues which would allow them to go without change. I'm still trying to process all of the comments that I read and heard last night and I'll probably be processing them for a while, but these initial thoughts were something I just needed to get off my chest.

Let me know what you thought about these ads in the comments or via Twitter. 
I'd love to continue the conversation!

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