The Game of Ads

“Super Bowl advertisements have an especially cultish following in the US. There are many people who claim that they watch the game in order to see the ads as opposed to the opposite. In this way, the advertisements become a sort of attraction in and of themselves”            

I grew up in the United States. Which means that I, like many of my classmates, played American football from a young age. I have not been able to play this game since graduating from high-school because of the players and equipment it requires. This, however, can maybe shed some light on why I occasionally enjoy watching the NFL. This past month, I have spent a bit of my time indulging in the NFL Playoffs as it builds towards Super Bowl LII this coming Sunday. While watching these games, particularly the match between New England and Jacksonville which afforded New England another Super Bowl appearance, I took notice of a particularly odd advertisement. Hyundai, the South Korean car maker and NFL sponsor used a slot during the AFC championship game in order to tease an add that will run during the Super Bowl. They reference an add which ran last year wherein they used virtual reality in order to allow American soldiers to “watch” the Super Bowl with their families and aired their experience. They aired and ad for and ad.

            This left me especially puzzled and gave me occasion to question the consumerist culture which I engage with immediately upon turning on television. Being a foreign student I do not own a television and I am thus removed from the high speed, overloaded world of advertisements geared at the national audience. Even if I were a TV owner, I doubt that the ads aimed at a Belgian demographic would be all that relevant to me.

            But what does the fact that an ad for an ad surfaced in one of the more expensive ad slots of the year tell us about ourselves? What does it mean that Hyundai, being the ultra-rich corporation that they are, must have done the demographic research in order to know, with some degree of certainty, that this type of ad would be successful. That it would yield a greater turnout for their Super Bowl ad to come, and that the preposterous idea of watching an advertisement for an advertisement would not enrage and baffle the American people

            I thought about this for a long time and came to realize that it is probably a relatively uncommon reaction that I am having to the phenomenon. Ads dominate our world.  They are ubiquitous and powerful. So much so, that we often forget we are looking at them. Branding and advertisement have essentially surrounded the modern consumer. The cups we drink from, the clothes we wear, the electronics we use all have signifying marks, branding which refers back to the producer of the product.

            Super Bowl advertisements have an especially cultish following in the US. There are many people who claim that they watch the game in order to see the ads as opposed to the opposite. In this way, the advertisements become a sort of attraction in and of themselves. This point was driven home to me while watching Hyundai’s ad for an ad the other day, and the full significance of this attitude has finally become clear. If we watch television merely for the advertisements, no matter the anchor program, then the advertisements, become almost an art form in themselves. If the advertisements are an art and are primarily what we come to television for then what we primarily come to television for is to be told stories about ourselves. Since advertisements use demographic information in order to manipulate the ways we see ourselves and our lives. And If this is the case for the Super Bowl, how often is it so in everyday life? How often do we turn on the television merely to be comforted by the demographic range we are corporately pre-sorted into?

The question is, how often are ads truly the main attraction? Advertisements underwent a major shift in the post WWII years. It changed its strategy from a mere reporting of facts to a depiction of a lifestyle. Ads began to show the way one’s life would be if they were to purchase such and such product. Perhaps what televisions really selling us is this same idea. Perhaps the real reason we can turn on the tv and sit back comfortably is because we can watch an ad for a gym and think “I’m healthy, strong and sexually attractive,” or an ad for a hybrid car, “I am wealthy, an intelligent consumer, and environmentally conscious.”

These stories that ads tell us seep into our everyday life. We begin to play them out on the micro scale and internalize their messages.  Hyundai did not create this idea. They have only served to reveal what may be an overwhelming trend of advertisement being the true reason people come to television. The question I’m asking is what do we really find comfort in?

Jack Madock