Sunday, February 3, 2013

This Open Letter to Superbowl Commercials

Dear Superbowl Commercials,

Thank you for giving me a reason to actually pay attention to sports once a year. I know, sports are an integral part of the American fabric; mom, apple pie, and baseball representing the crucial trifecta of family, good food, and sports. It's a part of America, and there is no non-religious day bigger in America than the Superbowl. (And depending on where you go to church, they make just as big a deal about Super-Sunday as they do Christmas and possibly Easter.) It's a big deal.

One that I really have no interest in. I can barely remember who's playing, and unless my hometown team is in the game, I really don't care all that much. (If they had made it, this would be a very different column.) However, despite the fact that I have no skin in the game, so to speak, I do feel an obligation to pay a little attention to this annual American tradition. And that's why I'm thankful for you commercials.

You commercials are the reason I want to watch the game, and I know I'm not the only one. Millions of Superbowl parties will feature moments when everyone is told to quiet down because the commercial is on. The game is usually incidental to the food, drink, and merriment, but the commercials always take center stage. We want to see what outrageous stunts the beer and chip companies have planned, and which celebrities were unable to resist the dump-trucks full of money. (Or who have gambling debts.)

These commercials are more than just entertaining ads, they can become cornerstones of our immediate pop-culture. Few commercials were as influential as the "WASSUP!" add back in 2000. The commercial went viral, back before we had a term for that. Everyone was saying it, and then everyone was sick of everyone saying it. Even now we all remember it and it's used as a metric for someone people out of the loop in pop-culture.

Other memorable moments include the classic Mean Joe Green commercial, an ad that is spoofed and referenced all over the place. The Apple 1984 ad is considered the benchmark for well-executed high-concept ads, and both The Simpsons and Futurama have produced parodies. The Darth Vader Kid became one of the most famous children in America, despite the fact we never saw his face. All these ads are forever a part of our cultural landscape.

The Superbowl is when the ads pull out all the stops. They go big or go home, and we get the big productions, the awesome comedy, the amazing short films that we don't see the rest of the year. Then we marvel not only on how much money was spent on them, but how much it cost to air them.

Of course, what I'm really waiting for are the terrible ads, the misfires, the ads that are memorable because of how badly executed they are. Sometimes the humor is in bad taste. Other times their attempt at humor is actually rubbing salt into an open wound. I can't wait to see what disasters await.

Long after I forget the game (who's playing, again?) I will remember the commercials. So thank you, commercials, for giving me something to care about during this, our greatest unofficial national holiday. May you play to great fanfare and may all your money be well spent.

Waiting to buy what you're selling,

Charles B. French

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