Last Thursday evening, Paul Constant and I attended Chalk Talk: Super Bowl Ad Replay 2013, wherein a bunch of Seattle advertising professionals come together to eat, drink, and merrily critique this year's batch of Super Bowl ads. I jumped at the chance to go, because I'm obsessed with commercials, primarily because TV commercials are among the most densely considered and aggressively manipulated stretches of film viewable today, and I was curious to see for myself the level of heady sociological strategizing that goes into, say, an ad for Totino's Pizza Rolls. (Also, I hadn't seen any of this year's Super Bowl ads, and figured I should.)
I got my wish. As one attendee told me, "Ad people are all people who should be psychologists, but they drank too much in college." But the discussion was less sociological and more about mapping the new terrain. A primary concern was the second screen—the smartphone or tablet or laptop people fiddle with while watching TV/movies—and forging a more direct line between what's shown on the first screen and how people behave on their second screens. The ultimate ideal seems to be a TV commercial that inspires viewers to immediately visit the product's website. This was attempted by Coke, with its "vote for your favorite cinematic character who's ever raced through a desert!" ad.
Arab-Americans blasted the ad as racist, but I was equally put out by the inclusion of the showgirls. The premise of the ad is clear: Here are the various characters you've seen racing across a desert in the movies, all racing against each other! You've got your Mad Max bikers and your Sergio Leone cowboys and your Lawrence of Arabia-ish camel riders (who might've gone over better if they'd looked like Peter O'Toole instead of villains from an Indiana Jones movie). And then there are...showgirls. The "showgirls" famous for venturing across a desert come from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and they were drag queens. Did Coke want to avoid including drag queens in their race? Would including drag queens have stifled the potential action? (Have we reached the point where, say, sending a bus of drag queens careening over a cliff would invite possible charges of anti-gay sentiment?) Whatever the case, as it is, the ad is dumb and impossible to care about, and the cokechase.com site is sad.
I should also mention that prior to the discussion of the Super Bowl ads, I was asked to play beer pong against a pregnant woman who made her friends do her drinking and who clobbered me, forcing me to chug the equivalent of three microbrews within ten minutes of my arrival. Tellingly, my tipsiness did not up my susceptibility to advertising, beyond making me think this Oreo ad was really funny.