Every year, over 100 million people tune in to the Super Bowl on the same channel at the same time — but for very different reasons. There are those who have religiously followed the two teams all season. There are those who bet a little too much on the coin flip and are watching because their financial security depends on it. And then there are those whom I often identify with: the ones really only watching for the commercials.
The Super Bowl is not just about football anymore — it has evolved into an annual cultural event. Its significance extends into many aspects of our society, certainly far beyond the impact of any other football game. So why not use Super Bowl commercials as a metric for where our society stands right now? If this football game has the power to affect politics and the economy, surely the ads that run between the plays must have some cultural meaning. After all, ads are used to sell a product, so companies have to appeal to what they think has cultural relevance. Commercials, therefore, are actually an accurate indicator of what our society currently values.
This Super Bowl, some companies definitely got it right. Indeed, there were some ads that actually led to a rise in stock prices for those respective companies, such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Microsoft. Though some argue that the economic effects of ads are not necessarily caused by the audience’s response to the ad (and are more likely just due to corporate exposure), there is an undeniable correlation between a good commercial and an economic boost. So let’s take a look at these successful companies and see what exactly their ads say about the world today.
- Pepsi: “More Than OK” Perhaps Steve Carell, Cardi B and Lil Jon will never find themselves on set together again, but for 30 seconds, Pepsi showed the world what happens when they do. The corporation’s stock rose by 0.8 percent after this ad was televised.
The ad is certainly light-hearted and uncontroversial (which is definitely intentional to avoid another Kendall Jenner-esque fiasco), but that doesn’t mean it lacks substance. The opening line is a customer asking for a Coke, which is Pepsi’s nod to the well-known soda industry rivalry. Pepsi’s appeal to its underdog status definitely has a deeper cultural context, namely that people find self-deprecating humor funny. We want big corporations to poke a little bit of fun at their flaws — it’s humanizing. This commercial seems to resonate with America’s current cultural tone: with all of today’s societal challenges, the goal is really just to do better than mediocre.
Coca-Cola: “A Coke is a Coke” The other side of the rivalry, Coca-Cola, went a different route: animation. As opposed to Pepsi, Coke focused on their message rather than the theatrics of celebrity cameos. As a result, its stock saw a 1.1 percent increase. The message was pretty overt: a bottle of Coca-Cola was supposed to be the great unifier in a world of difference. What does it tell us? There is a market for inclusion. In a world where everything seems to be polarized, people eat it up when a corporation tells us that we’re not as different as we think. We may take it as a concern that a soda company feels the need to spend their Super Bowl time offering this reminder. This is not to say that Coca-Cola is suddenly a humanitarian organization simply because they spent their ad money on unifying our nation. However, the fact that our demand for unity is being filled by the soda industry rather than our society’s leaders sends a message in itself.
Bud Light: Game of Thrones Crossover Perhaps the most viral ad of the entire Super Bowl was the crossover between Bud Light and “Game of Thrones.” The stock of the company that owns Bud Light, Anheuser-Busch InBev, rose by 0.74 percent after the ad aired.
Maybe I shouldn’t try to extract any meaning from this commercial beyond the fact that people like beer and watching death scenes — and Anheuser-Busch InBev knows it. There is, however, a deeper meaning here: people want to be shocked. We see it in almost every arena of society — shock sells. People were pleasantly surprised to see their favorite show in what was supposed to be a beer ad, and that turned the commercial into mania. Shock is harmless in a commercial like this one, but it is necessary to be aware of our susceptibility to it — just because something breaks from the status quo doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good thing.
- Microsoft: “We All Win” And then there was Microsoft. Its ad shamelessly appealed to emotion by showing how the Xbox adaptive controller is allowing children with special needs to use technology. After the commercial was broadcast, Microsoft’s stock climbed by 2.9 percent. The uplifting message characterizes Microsoft as a company looking out for society’s well-being. It makes us forget about the toxic corporate culture associated with many of the company’s peers and reminds us of the extraordinary power of technological innovation. Honestly, it got me — I was teary eyed by the end. So what does it say about society right now? Maybe it’s cliché, but it serves to help us remember that in light of all the obstacles, there is still progress — slowly but surely, we’re getting there.