Super Bowl LVI featured a close, hard-fought game, some officiating controversies to spice up discussions of the result, and a halftime show that some generations, at least, argue was the best of all time. But forget those ancillary items for a minute, and let’s focus on the important things: what about the commercials?
Traditionally, the Super Bowl is when Madison Avenue rolls out its best, and often funniest, stuff, and the vast viewing audience watches the game expecting to get a laugh or two during the breaks in the action. The commercials also typically give us a peek into what’s going on in American society at the time. Usually the prevailing zeitgeist involves drinking beer, Coke, or Pepsi, eating fast food, driving a car, working in an office, and some kind of leisure activity. The best Super Bowl commercials, from the Mean Joe Greene and kid Coke commercial to the Larry Bird-Michael Jordan game of “horse” to the hard-charging office linebacker, are the memorable stuff of TV legend.
So what does this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials tell us about modern America? Evidently it’s a land of cryptocurrency, electric car charging stations, and electronic gizmos in your house. And, sadly, it’s not a very funny place, either. I may have missed one during a bathroom break, but I can’t remember any commercial that actually provoked a laugh, or even a mild chuckle, and many didn’t even try.
In my view the absolute nadir was reached with the commercial that consisted entirely of a floating QR code on the TV screen. I expect that some ad types would argue that the QR code spot was the edgy stuff of marketing genius, specifically designed to appeal to the young people who always have their phones at hand, ready to scan, and to make the commercial an interactive effort. For many of us who despise the sprouting of QR codes everywhere, though, it was nothing but a soulless irritant. Is this really what Super Bowl ads have come to and what the future holds for those of us who remember Spuds Mackenzie?
Maybe, as we (hopefully) near the end of a pandemic, it’s too much to expect some legitimately funny stuff during Super Bowl commercial breaks, but it also seems that right now is when we could use a laugh the most. The Super Bowl ads didn’t deliver.