Did you notice anything strange about the Super Bowl commercials this year? When they were not trying to be funny or clever, they were incredibly heavy on sentimental Americana themes. This year’s ads marked a noticeable trend toward aggressively patriotic bordering on jingoistic commercials.
Perhaps the most egregious example was Chrysler’s annual epic ode to Detroit. Music legend Bob Dylan rambled on for two minutes over flashing images of Americana, at one point asking the nation, “Is there anything more American than America?” Not exactly the layered, esoteric lyricism that made Dylan the icon that he is today.
Beyond being hokey, these multi-million dollar patriotism parades are insulting to our intelligence. What does it say about us that we clamor for commercials made by corporations that cynically appeal to our sense of nationalism with half-baked catchphrases?
Coca-Cola’s marquee commercial drew a nasty response for featuring a multilingual version of “America the Beautiful.” Critics angered by the commercial (did you know people get angry at commercials?) were peeved at hearing the song sung in languages other than English.
A valid criticism of this commercial, however, would be its positioning of Coca-Cola as a global force for good. In reality, The Coca-Cola Company’s business dealings in Latin American countries are rife with corruption and violence.
Panamerican Beverages, Coca-Cola’s largest bottling company in Latin America, is alleged to have ordered the assassination of union leaders in Colombia. This bottling company was 25 percent owned by Coca-Cola until 2003 after scrutiny of the bottling plant’s treatment of union organizers heightened. A 2004 independent investigation found 179 human rights violations, including nine murders, at the Colombian bottling plant.
Clearly that is what works in moving products, though. Americans love to see their country congratulated, even for things it does not deserve to be congratulated for and in ways that are simplistic to the point of self-parody.
And what better medium for this type of self-honoring than commercials? They are long enough to elicit laughter or genuine emotion but too short for anyone to really think about in the moment. By the time one is over, the next has already begun. Preying upon America’s sense of patriotism to sell cars and soda is cheap and lazy advertising.
There is no right way to make a commercial because the motive is always helplessly transparent. Some try harder than others to hide it, but ultimately every commercial is a means to an end – an investment with the hope of a return. But even in a corporate environment wherein profits are king, some things should be off limits.