Ah, the Super Bowl. The closest thing we will ever have to a holiday celebrating capitalism and free markets. A day when the entire nation comes to a standstill to watch a bunch of large men slam into each other at high speeds for no productive purpose whatsoever. A mindless diversion that has managed to sell itself as a critical event of vast importance to millions of people around the world (many of whom aren’t even betting on the outcome).
Not a fan of football? Well, there’s no need for that to stop you from partaking in the “Super Bowl experience” of socializing and gorging on junk food. The market has created something for you too. Whether you’re a bored housewife or a self-important hipster, those who have no interest whatsoever in athletic competition can still receive some gratification from the broadcast in the form of Super Bowl commercials. Super Bowl commercials are widely acclaimed and discussed, and millions of Americans claim that the commercials are their primary, and in some cases only, reason for watching the broadcast at all.
As far as I can tell, there was no concerted effort by either the NFL or by advertising firms to create the phenomenon of Super Bowl commercials being granted some special significance in the minds of Americans. It was simply a product of natural market forces. The Super Bowl was an exceedingly popular event. As such, it could demand large premiums for advertising. As a result of having to pay so much money for an advertising spot, companies made extra efforts to produce the highest quality advertisements they possibly could. Much in the way that the owner of an expensive car is likely to care a great deal more for its appearance than the owner of a beat-up 1970s pickup truck, the purchaser of a Super Bowl advertising spot is much more likely to take great care in creating a quality advertisement than the purchaser of an advertising spot on a rerun of I Love Lucy playing on TV Land at 6 AM.
Eventually, people started to recognize this pattern. The masses appreciated the fact that the Super Bowl generally contained the highest quality advertisements – the very best that Madison Avenue has to offer. People began to anticipate these advertisements ahead of time, and discuss them afterwards. The advertisements themselves were designed to appeal to a wide audience, thus bringing in additional viewers, those who watch “just for the commercials.” And a phenomenon was born.
The delightful irony is that many of those who gladly watch the Super Bowl “for the commercials” are completely and totally antagonistic to advertising in every other possible instance. Advertising is one of the most despised industries on the planet. The range of opinions among the populace at large seems to range from considering it to be a minor annoyance of little value to a great societal evil that must be stamped out at all costs. Advertising is widely criticized as being a waste of resources. People claim that it serves only to mislead people into buying inferior products. It is often treated as a problem, which many firms have offered solutions to, which many Americans gladly accept. They change the radio station when advertisements start to play. They watch television shows on DVR, and gleefully skip past all the commercials. They install highly advanced software on their computers, designed to seek out and eliminate any and all forms of advertising that one might encounter on the Internet.
It occurs to me that there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance going on in our society when it comes to advertising. We greatly appreciate and do not hesitate to reap the benefits of advertising. Most of the television shows we watch, radio stations we listen to, and websites we visit on a regular basis depend on advertising as their primary source of revenue. Without the advertising, these products might very well cost more for us to purchase, or might not even exist at all. And one day a year, we all sit down and acknowledge that advertising can in fact be entertaining. Nobody ever thinks of changing the channel when a commercial starts to play… if the channel is currently tuned in to the Super Bowl broadcast, despite the fact that all of the traditional objections to advertising continue to apply. Nobody records the Super Bowl on DVR and then skips through all of the commercials.
For one glorious day each year, Americans forget their misguided anti-business prejudices and embrace their inner capitalist, even going as far as to shower praise and respect onto one of its greatest supposed evils, advertising. We spend loads of money, consuming junk food and watching a game that provides no material benefits to society whatsoever. We support a multi-billion dollar industry that requires an unbelievably complex and developed division of labor to even be remotely possible. Every aspect of the Super Bowl is a celebration of the wealth and prosperity that we enjoy in America today, and that we owe to brilliant minds operating in their own rational self-interest. It is a celebration of capitalism and consumerism that is truly without equal in modern society (although Christmas may come close in terms of result, much of the discussion regarding that holiday consists of griping and complaining about the commercial aspects of it).
Then, the next morning, society wakes up and forgets what it just celebrated and why it was possible. We go right back to biting the advertisers who feed us. Perhaps instead, we could learn a lesson from the success of the Super Bowl, and from its commercials, and we could appreciate all the benefits that capitalism in general, and advertising specifically, have brought us. Let’s pretend it’s the Super Bowl every day.