The game within the game
The first Super Bowl I remember watching was the 1977 matchup of the Minnesota Vikings vs. the Oakland Raiders.
We went over to some friends’ house, ate lots of snack foods and actually watched the game – or at least I know I did.
It seemed kind of weird, because my parents never really showed much interest in watching sporting events on TV. We had our hometown Atlanta Falcons which laid a 4-10 egg that season, so the dirty birds didn’t even sniff the playoffs, so the rest of my family decided to root for the Vikings because they liked quarterback Fran Tarkenton because he grew up in Georgia and went to UGA.
But not me – I pulled for the Raiders, the original bad boys of the NFL, and their bomb-slinging QB Ken “The Snake” Stabler.
All I remember of the game is that the Raiders crushed the Purple People Eaters (32-14), and it seemed like every time Oakland scored, they’d throw the ball into the stands and get penalized – I’d never seen that type of audacity on the playing field before.
I’d have to say watching that Super Bowl when I was six-years-old got me into the NFL and the following season the Falcons became respectable led by a stingy defense dubbed “The Grits Blitz” and by the 1978 season when the team secured its first post-season berth and first ever playoff win, I was gung-ho.
But back to Super Bowl XI – it was also the year of the classic “Xerox Monks” commercial which went on to win every major award in the advertising industry.
The cost of a 30 second ad spot during that Super Bowl – 36 years ago – was $125,000; Fast forward to Sunday’s Super Bowl pitting the Baltimore Ravens vs. the San Francisco 49ers, and the cost of advertising spots during the game reportedly top out at $4 million.
I’ve found some of the commercials amusing through the years, some puzzling and plenty I haven’t seen as I’d go for beer or bathroom breaks. I’d figured out long ago that the NFL tried to engage non-sports fans by offering an over-the-top Super Bowl halftime show, something my wife is usually more interested in than the game.
But I’ll have to admit that it twisted my noggin quite a bit when I heard people talking about watching the Super Bowl only to see the commercials.
Watching the game expressly for the commercials is, to me, about as dumb as going to Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery and ordering a Bud Light in a bottle.
Now, I can understand it from an advertising and marketing professional’s viewpoint, to gauge the industry, or garner ideas, and I can understand tuning in the commercials if you’re actually paying attention to the game, but I don’t watch any type of programming specifically for the commercials.
Anyhow, just because something isn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t warrant further study, illumination and exploration, so we dispatched correspondent Andrew Davis to get to the bottom of the burgeoning pop culture phenomenon surrounding Super Bowl advertising and commercials – and his report – a primer if you will before Sunday’s big game – or games within the game – is this week’s cover story.
It’s such a phenomenon that the University of South Carolina offers a course specifically on Super Bowl advertising and several Web sites track their effectiveness and likability, etc. Davis’ report also looks at the cultural impact of these gabbed-about spots, the controversies, and how they're leaked in advance online, etc.- and what it means for the local CBS affiliate, WBTW, which is broadcasting the game, and how the chatter has exploded since the advent of social media.
We also take a look at some of the most memorable Super Bowl ads in recent history, and talk with local advertising executives to get their takes, and the USC professor who teaches the course on Super Bowl advertising.
Don’t touch that dial!
Kent Kimes, Editor