I grew up watching Super Bowl commercials that worked within the stereotype of them being created for laughter. They were essentially rodeo clowns.
Their highest aim was to make you laugh until the game resumed. The Super Bowl commercials this year, though, seemed to go in another direction. A lot of companies went for the heart rather than the cheap gag. To be honest, this bothers me, and one commercial in particular was absolutely galling.
We see an elegy to the American dream: firefighters, construction workers, teachers, soldiers and mothers doing the dirty work of life — the type of work that sustains a family, a neighborhood, a community and a nation. The focus is not on the heroes, but on their noble steeds, Ram trucks, which we see sporadically throughout the commercial. “If you wanna be recognized, wonderful,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaches in the background. “If you wanna be great, wonderful! But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” The commercial closes with King saying the only thing needed to be a great servant is “a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” The screen fades, and the words “Built to Serve” with the Ram logo appear innocently on the screen.
What would King say to that? Such powerful words, crafted and spoken with the singular passion of a prophet, used to disguise a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Ram didn’t use King’s sermon to sell trucks but to make you think it's more than that — to make you think that it's not just a profit-hungry company.
What they did was facetious. How can you take a King sermon and use it for public relations with a clear conscience? And yet I saw other companies attempting a similar thing: to make themselves out to be thoughtful, enriching, serious organizations generated not by money but by love and ethics. T-Mobile, Hyundai and Toyota had commercials with a message beyond why we should buy their product.
Of course, companies like Tide, Doritos and Amazon went for the big laughs, and, for the most part, they succeeded. And I’m sure that serious ads have been a part of the Super Bowl experience just as much as the silly ones. Regardless, I personally think companies should stick with being funny because that’s the highest form of transparency a company can share with us.
When we watch a funny commercial, both we and the company are aware that at the bottom of the ad a product is being advertised. Let’s face it — every company wants your money, and any interaction we have with a company centers around that premise.
Companies have the power to be forces for change, but they aren’t nonprofits. They’re structured primarily to make money and grow; altruism is a secondary consideration and is only taken seriously when acting in such a way will sell more products. Companies like Doritos know that we know this and just try to make us laugh. They know that any message untethered from promoting their product will be cheapened and debased because, in reality, any greater message is not that great.
Capitalism feeds off money, but human beings need more than that to thrive. We need love, moral guidance, relationships, purpose, etc. — things that Ram cannot, at the end of the day, sell us in a commercial.
Scott Stinson is a UF English junior. His columns focus on popular culture.