Last week was the Super Bowl. The Patriots triumphed over the Falcons, in a surprise comeback late in the game. White savior and Trump aficionado Tom Brady wins again. Fireworks. Applause. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
The biggest sporting event in America is a massive television event, with not only the game drawing in crowds, but the halftime show with Lady Gaga, and of course, the ads.
No longer are the ads just a necessary interlude between the meat of the entertainment; for many, they’re the main course. The second suggestion on Google for Super Bowl is “Super Bowl Ads”. That’s right, people are actively searching out advertising to watch of their own volition for entertainment.
Ever aspect of the Super Bowl is filled with advertising and sponsorship. The half time show, where Lady Gaga’s performance was scrutinized for any semblance of political affiliation, message, or value? Oh, you’re referring to the Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl LI Halftime Show (feat. Lady Gaga). We don’t have advertising to support the performance of Lady Gaga; Lady Gaga is there to perform advertising.
The day after the game, people filled their office buildings and classrooms, and discussed above all else, the advertising. Why? Because it’s easy. It’s the most digestible part. It appeals to the lowest common denominator. Maybe you don’t like sports, or Gaga’s brand of pop, but you do like capitalism.
People talked about the ads they thought were controversial. People chastised the companies that played it too safe. People scoured the halftime show for a message, resorting to assuming Lady Gaga’s political agenda based on her performance of a 1940s folk song. But as Leah Finnegan said better than I could, the message was nothing more complex than buy Pepsi.
So what’s wrong with this? Advertising is pervasive, what’s the harm in enjoying it?
Advertising is a scourge. Advertising is constant violence layered on the American public. Advertising is so prevalent that you don’t see the harm in it.
Companies only care about one thing: profit. Don’t fool yourself thinking otherwise. They will sell to you with any and all means available to them. In the hyper-politicized world, consumers (that’s us) are looking for some sense of message, some social justice, the sense of progress they expected from the previous administration carried over to the surely liberal multimillion CEOs. The old strategies don’t work anymore. Don Draper faces a changing world. Sex doesn’t sell anymore; activism does.
Think I’m wrong? Go look. It’s not hard. Load any website, go anywhere outside. Find an ad. No longer do you see beautiful young people living perfect lives at the hands of a product. You see beautiful young people making a difference while drinking Starbucks.
Do you think Coca-Cola, or Google, or Apple care about some greater sense of purpose? Fuck no. Not unless there’s money involved. Thankfully for them, we’ve showed there is.
Delete Uber! They don’t care about you. The taxi drivers of New York went on strike for an hour, so Uber turned off surge pricing. Strike breaking? Hardly. Uber doesn't care. The outrage was an overreaction of their poorly designed algorithm. It removes any incentive for a driver to go out there, slows the time it takes to get a car, but reduces the rate a consumer would pay. The story ran anyways.
Lyft immediately capitalized on the issue, making a $1 million fund for the ACLU. Did they suddenly have a change of heart and decide it was the right time to support progress? Fuck no. They saw the brilliant marketing strategy for what is was, and decided to profit.
$1 million is chump-change for a company that has saved $126 million by classifying its workers as independent contractors, depriving them of proper wages or health care. But they care. Uber spent $3 million on a legal defense fund to help with its drivers immigration issues. They’re just as guilty.
Corporations are not people. They certainly are not your friends. They go where the wind blows, will follow the money to your grave, all in pursuit of all-mighty profit. Their aims may align with yours. They might use their influence for good. But do no forget. If the Trump administration offered more shareholder value they would turn their backs on you faster than you could blink.
Don’t be fooled. Do not adapt. The companies are your enemies. Do not forget. It shouldn’t be too hard; the advertising is everywhere.