The Super Bowl is a prime example of how brands use media to influence our hearts and minds.
Budweiser steals our heart with it's cute lost puppy on the brink of death being saved by a band of heroic horses at the last minute, or makes us "beer connoisseurs" scoff when they take a stab at the "craft" brewing industry.
Toyota wrenched a tear from our eye when a father drops his daughter off at the airport to start her journey in the military.
Of course, you know Nationwide really wrecked our Super Bowl mood when they decided to play "the number one cause of childhood deaths is preventable accidents" card so let's #makesafehappen.
Brands pay millions of dollars to hold your eyeballs captive for a few seconds during the big game hoping their message will stick and you will be convinced to purchase their product in the future.
The brand places its products in these pivotal moments, but in reality has very little to do with the cause for the actual emotion that is occurring, except Microsoft.
Microsoft actually does provide the technology that makes that little boy's prosthetic legs work. It actually does fund initiatives to get kids on "technology buses," which help women live their dreams.
What about the others?
Her father would have cried when he dropped her off to fly into a dangerous career whether or not he was driving a Toyota. I didn't see the puppy, horses, or puppy's owner drinking any Budweiser. Nationwide certainly can't "pay off" your kids with an insurance policy if they die from a preventable accident.
In Nationwide's defense, they did release a statement about the intent of the ad after much criticism from the Internet. "The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance. We want to build awareness of an issue that is near and dear to all of us -- the safety and well-being of our children." I'm all about brands starting important conversations that build awareness so I'd say this one is a worthy one.
What does this mean for us as consumers though? Are we a slave to these brands because they understand how to tell a story that causes an empathetic or humorous reaction in a matter of a minute? Or is it the other way around, they are slaves to us because we ultimately decide whether or not to buy their products?
It's a two way street
We definitely have the power. We are the ones making the choice to buy these products, which is their ultimate goal - at least for most. In order to get us to do that they create an association between their product and a certain emotion, value, or idea.
Of course, they'd like us to be totally unaware that this association is happening, which would make the tactic more effective. For example, the emphasis of advertisements for toothpaste in the 1920s and 30s shifted from "brush your teeth for good health" to "brush your teeth to be attractive and get a man," and it worked! It's still happening today, but I think people are catching on to the idea. Many of these ads are now more of a form of entertainment rather than an attempt to subconsciously brainwash us into buying a product.
One thing that I think many of us are still unaware of, though, is the push to buy more stuff. New car ads prompt us to consider whether its time for us to buy a new car. Scantily clad Victoria's Secret models encourage us women to take a stab a being sexy by buying lingerie. Skittles, Doritos, go see new movies, and so on encourage us to buy more stuff.
Where's the good stuff
One day I'd like to see a Super Bowl ad that encourages us to go clean up around our rivers, buy electric cars, or invest in solar energy. We need ads that promote better, not more; healthy, not candy. Sustainability, reduction, and reuse, not buy because it's the "latest hot thing".
It's unfortunate that the money game wins again. The mega prices for a spot like that make it unlikely that these causes will ever be on the "big list." Luckily, we can practice the Small Act of spreading the word about these good ideas on our own and not fall prey to the manipulative tactics behind these ads.