Earlier tonight Mike Tomlin became both the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl and the second African American coach to do it, as his Pittsburgh Steelers bulled their way past the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, a postseason classic. A game for the history books, in more ways than one.
But if you came for the game, you stayed for the Super Bowl ad parade, that cavalcade of commercials that are their own statement of the times. And if you wanted a sign of how bad the economy is, you didn’t have to look any further than those commercials. If downsizing and belt-tightening are the necessary chic, and they are, the Super Bowl ads of 2009 reflected the new austerity in ways that were both in-your-face and barely even there.
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Two ads were their own commentaries of the cost of everything and the need to economize on everything — like paying for commercials. The cost of a 30-second NBC spot during the Super Bowl was reportedly $3 million, the latest in a spiraling price of advertising for one of the more coveted placement opportunities of the year. So two companies got inventive, making ads so short you could barely freeze the TiVo around them.
Ivar’s, a Washington state-based chain of seafood restaurants, aired an ad shown regionally in the Pacific Northwest — an ad that was literally one half-second long. What’s one-sixtieth of $3 million? Whatever it is, it’s probably manageable, given the state of the economy.
Miller High Life, a company with presumably deeper pockets, ponied up for an ad that was maybe two seconds long. The burly, plain-spoken brother who’s been a fixture in the beer company’s current ad campaign, gets off two words. “High Life!” Cut. That’s a wrap. And a fraction of $3 million.
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Other companies ran ads that reinforced the spirit of common burden, a sense of “we’re all in this together.” Hyundai refloated its new ad campaign that offers to repossess your vehicle without penalty or impact to your credit report, should you “lose your income.” (Nothing said about the possibility that you might need that vehicle to find another job.)
And the Denny’s restaurant chain announced (in an ad with a voice that sounds a lot like Burt Reynolds) that on Tuesday, Feb. 3, the entire restaurant chain will give a free Grand Slam breakfast — two pancakes, two eggs, bacon and sausage — to everyone in America. “Seriously.” Is this an update of the breadlines of the Great Depression? We hope it’s just a gesture that matches the urgency of right now: You may not be able to find a job in USA 2009, you may be one the verge of losing your income, but for one day at least, somebody’s got your back for breakfast.
If a life of bread and circuses is a little short on bread these days, thank the circus for telling us in its inventive ways how bad it is. The other arena, in Washington, is the next main attraction in the national attention span. As President Obama’s stimulus package fights its way down the field, we’re waiting on the sidelines, taxpayers and homeowners hoping to be more than spectators in our own defeat — and dreading, each in our own ways, what might come next.
Image credit: Super Bowl XLIII logo: National Football League (fair use criterion).