What Superbowl Advertisers Teach Us

(This previously – and somewhat dated – article is still relevant on this Superbowl Sunday.)

Sixty-nine commercial spots ran during this year’s Superbowl. Each thirty-second commercial cost two million dollars, which means, if I did the math right, that advertisers spent 138 million dollars to convince us to buy their product during just one television program. One suspects that Pepsi, Anheuser-Bush, Cadillac and others don’t buy into the lingering myth that television content has no lasting effect on viewers.

John Paul II once noted that “Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong and are at the mercy of those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it on others.”  I am not sure who the Pope had in mind when he referred to “those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it” but I suspect he was thinking of those in the entertainment industry.

Television and the movies have a bully pulpit in almost every home in America.  So what do they teach?  For one thing, they teach that religious people are always suspect, usually odd and sometimes dangerous (unless, of course, they are clergy, which almost guarantees them to be dangerous).  A recent study conducted by the Parents Television Council found that 25% of  the time religious people are portrayed on television, it is in a negative light (22% of such portrayals are positive).  But on NBC, the network of West Wing, ER and “Must See TV”, over nine out of ten portrayals of religious people were negative.  Apparently someone at NBC is on a mission to warn America that religious people are greedy, mean and, very possibly, sexual predators.

Ah, yes, sex: another favorite topic for television.  According to an Associated Press article by Lynn Elber, television sends teenagers (and all the rest of us) mixed messages about sex.  A study by researchers at Stanford University and Lewis and Clark college found that teens receive a “highly inconsistent picture of what sexual relation are and can be.”

Elber goes on to quote from the study, which notes that TV lessons on sex are both “explicit and implicit” and “ranged from ‘Virginity is a sign that a boy is a loser’ to ‘Teens don’t need to be sexually active to be cool.”  I wonder which message plays best in the mind of a teenager.

John Ashton, Britain’s Health Protection Agency North West director, has no doubt.  He wrote that “…on film and television people jump into bed together…and there are no consequences.  It’s nonsense.”

And they are jumping into bed together more frequently than ever before.  Marcus Yoars, associate editor at “Plugged In”, writes that ABC, desperate to reverse flagging ratings, found their solution in “Desperate Housewives.”  It is a show built on “lingerie-clad seductresses, affair-driven story lines and suggestive dialogue.”  ABC added to their repertoire of sexually suggestive programs the high school drama, “Life as We Know It,” and the lewd, “Boston Legal.” I have to admit that I haven’t seen any of these shows, but I have seen the commercials, and that was enough for me.

Television further teaches us that women and girls need to be physically attractive.  Guys can be overweight and balding as long as they are funny, but girls have to be beautiful. If they are not? Then their best hope is to be the lovable but geeky friend of a beautiful girl. Not the role most women aspire to.

Of course, its only television.  It doesn’t really have an effect on us – or does it? Maybe we should ask what the marketing gurus at Anheuser-Bush think.  They just spent $66,666 per second to air six commercials during the Superbowl. I’m guessing they have an opinion

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4 Responses to What Superbowl Advertisers Teach Us

  1. Terry Powell says:

    I guess we sometimes expect the US to be a better place because of our founding ideals. However, our media continues to make it worst by pushing a “sound bite” culture. One site puts it this way: “We live in a world inundated with information, most of it cut down to the few seconds of the juicy part. We only want to listen to the part of the story that interests us; all of the rest is just white noise we don’t want to hear. We are a culture that likes the bite-sized pieces of information that are easy to swallow.” Christ-followers need to heed this and consider how they communicate with those around them. I think Timothy Tennent said it best in his charge to the 2019 graduating class of Asbury Theological Seminary: ‘Therefore, I charge you, class of 2019, to resist all the enormous pressures which will be exerted upon you to minimalize the full demands of the gospel and the cost of discipleship by the contemporary church which seems to have an endless appetite for cultural accommodation to an increasingly non-Christian culture. We have been pushed to the point that we find ourselves at every turn effectively asking the question, “What is the least one has to do to become a Christian.” That impulse must be opposed at every turn. We must resist Christian minimalism. We must resist those who want to boil the entire glorious gospel down to a single phrase, a simple emotive transaction, or some silly slogan. It is time for, you, a new generation of Christians, to envision a more robust apostolic faith, and to declare this minimalistic, reductionistic Christianity a failed project! It is wrong to try to get as many people as possible, to acknowledge as superficially as allowable, a gospel which is theologically unsustainable. We need to be reminded of the words of Søren Kierkegaard, in his Attack Upon Christendom, where he declared, “Christianity is the profoundest wound that can be inflicted upon us, calculated on the most dreadful scale to collide with everything.”’

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  2. salooper57 says:

    Terry, thanks for sharing the quote from Mr. Tennent. There is much to absorb. I think, as you imply, this is not just a Christian problem. Americans must become more careful thinkers – and Christians (of all people) should lead the way!

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  3. Terry Powell says:

    Yes, Shayne, 2018 statistics show that 50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level and two-thirds of America’s children living in poverty have no books at home. Our society pushes audio and video over reading and illiteracy is increasing. Along with it people are losing the ability to think critically. When I mention critically assessing our use of video in the Church, some fellow Christians think I’m anti-evangelistic. But, we Christ-followers need to engage our culture on this. “If you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.” The same principle applies to making disciples.

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  4. salooper57 says:

    These statistics are frightening and sad.

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