As the audience for the Super Bowl has grown over the years, so has the price tag for in-game advertising. With the higher prices, comes increased pressure on advertisers to outdo one another for memorability and influence. The result is that the "line" is pushed further and further every year. Advertisers want to have the commercial that is THE topic of discussion on social media and around the water cooler on Monday. Consequently, a polarization has occurred. We have created two Americas: a noble, inspired America and a sophomoric, risque America. Sunday night's latest installment of commercials seemed to have brought us to a new crossroads for both audiences and advertisers: will we point to the noble or race to the bottom?
The Original Commercial Arms Race
Possibly the most memorable commercial for many in our generation was the 1984 ad by Apple. It's an iconic commercial much like Coca-Cola's Mean Joe Green spot, Budweiser's Frogs, and McDonalds' Jordan vs. Bird. Everyone knows those commercials. But a funny thing happened along the way. Our once creative commercials devolved into sultry, uncreative attempts at shock and awe advertising.
Pepsi was one of the originators of this sex-sells strategy for Super Bowl commercials. Madonna's Like a Prayer ad in 1989 was the first to really garner national attention for its risque content.
They followed that up with the less-explicit-yet-still-sexualized Cindy Crawford ad in 1992. Even though ads were toned down some in the later 1990s, a precedent had been set and the DotCom boom in the early 2000s helped take things to a new low.
Sex Sells Website Addresses
While they are not solely responsible, GoDaddy is now the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to commercials that both objectify women and use sex to sell completely unrelated products. The website registrar began Super Bowl advertising in 2005 and has been on a downward spiral ever since.
This year's Kiss ad with Bar Rafaeli was just the latest example of how low the bar has fallen. What is discouraging is that ads like the Tim Tebow's Mom one from 2010 are the ones which draw criticism while sexualized filth like Go Daddy's ads not only don't draw much mainstream criticism, they actually are quite effective in selling their "product." GoDaddy saw more new sales and new customers as a result of this year's ad than any of their previous Super Bowl ads.
An Encouraging Trend
But there is hope. A "remnant" of wholesomeness is lurking. It's been there all along, yet it has never contrasted so much as it did Sunday night.
The Farmer ad from Chrysler was a runaway hit with much of America. Will it sell more Ram trucks? Maybe. Did it remind us of what America-- and our commercials-- could be? Definitely.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As trite as it may seem, we truly have become two Americas. We saw this clearly in November. Though it was presented differently Sunday night, there were red state ads and blue state ads. There is a clear delineation and polarization of values in our country. And advertisers know this.
Until GoDaddy isn't the #1 domain registrar on the planet and Calvin Klein isn't one of the most iconic brands in fashion, nothing will change.
Ad execs know they can keep pushing the envelope and moving the line because half of the country is with them. The ad execs are not to blame. Their job is to make their clients successful. And they are succeeding.
Because they are more in touch with their America than we are with ours.
Immorality is easy an easy target for marketers. It's a known commodity to us all-- even the most Christlike among us. We know our depravity. And we know what appeals to that. So do advertisers.
We live in a post-Christian culture. The Nones are rising. We are fighting an uphill battle against culture. It's a battle that has waged since the garden. And one that will not end until His return. It is a valiant battle and one we must fight.
We must connect with culture while not compromising our message. Why did the Farmer ad connect with so many? Because it offered hope. Honesty. Diligence. Tradition. Values.
But those values are becoming less valued. However a remnant remains. We are that remnant. We must point to the noble. To inspiration. To wholesomeness. And ultimately to the gospel.
Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications.