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God Bless Amereeka!

Posted on February 7, 2011 and read 1,948 times

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alain1 God Bless Amereeka!Alain Groenendaal
CEO and President
Wing

Mom, apple pie and the Super Bowl. You can’t get much more American than that. Over the last 45 years it has come to rival the 4th of July as the national holiday that everyone celebrates and certainly talks about when you get back to work. After all, it’s natural: what other day of the year combines those quintessential American values – competition and commerce—quite like the Super Bowl?

Yet over those same 45 years, demographically America has changed pretty dramatically. According to the 2010 Census minorities now make up one out of every four people in the country, and more than one out of two in many of our biggest cities. Latina mothers give birth to more than 33% of all babies born each year in the US. Just in Dallas, home to this year’s Super Bowl, minorities are now the majority, making up over 50% of the county’s population.

So as I sat down this year to watch the final contest of what everyone else in the world calls “American football” (to differentiate it from just plain “football”, which we call soccer), I was curious to see how if at all the experience reflects this new face of America.

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Americana was the theme of a lot of the campaigns. The NFL got it best with the “American Family” spot celebrating their fans as demonstrated across TV culture from the 70s until today, capped with Sofia Vergara saying “It’s my favorite day in Amereeka”. (Nice touch, given that Hispanics are the NFL’s fastest growing audience segment). But associating the extra torque of Grand Cherokee to the vision of the founding fathers – really? And equating the history of the Steelers and Packers with “The Journeys” of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the firefighters of 9/11? I found that vaguely offensive: Michael Douglas should have known better. Jack in the Box’s “All American Combo” at least had the good sense to poke fun at some of these American traditions (like jury duty and spring break in Cancun).

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There was plenty of “AT&T commercial” color coding (a little white here, a little black there, a sprinkling of Latinos and Asians). A good – actually bad – example was the HTC spot. I had to look twice to know it wasn’t an old one for AT&T: same generic casting; worse yet, same generic idea. I had the same reaction to the Ford Focus Rally spots: why exactly should I care to follow on line these very attractive, vaguely ethnically diverse, not very interesting people?

Many racial “no-go” places remain. Kudos to Sealy for finally recognizing what else happens on their mattresses: close up after close up of couples in implied post coital contentment. While there was a presumably mixed Latino / Asian-ish couple, white couples were white, and black couples were black. I guess only in TV spots are mixed race couples still somehow “controversial”.

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I had to laugh at the Pepsi Max “Love Hurts” spot. For 30 seconds our hero was hounded by his girlfriend/wife to make sure he didn’t stuff his face with calories. But would I have laughed if the couple had been white and the girl who got hit by the can at the end was black or latina instead of white? (And in fact, would anybody have laughed if the man had been physically abusing his girlfriend / wife for overeating, rather than the other way around?)

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(On a tangent: what was it with all the animated rappers – Eminem for Brisk, Black Eyed Peas for…what were those spots for? What is Chatter.com? – I never did find out.)

A couple of spots in particular brought home how humor can either create a cultural divide that polarizes, or a universal smile that unites. Exhibit A: Teleflora’s “Help me Faith” and its sophomoric Valentine’s Day gift “you have a great rack” joke: witless, expected, and what a waste of Faith Hill. Exhibit B: Chevy Cruze’s sweet, “Status” spot to dramatize its Facebook status update voice feature. Everybody could put him or herself in that guy’s shoes (and GM hopes, in his car as well).

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By far the most diverse (and best) part of the evening’s entertainment was…well the entertainment itself. While I love Lea Michele, her little reeds were no match for Christina “Ah-guee-leh-rah”’s mega pipes -even if she did flub the lines. And the Black Eyed Peas rainbow coalition was truly a class act, sharing the spotlight with old school and new, a medley of their hits with Aerosmith and Dirty Dancing’s “ Time of My Life” thrown in, showing that when you mix it up, the best time is had by all.

So in the end, while Super Bowl advertising doesn’t much reflect the reality of today’s America, it still definitely reflects many of our racial and cultural bugaboos.

Alain Groenendaal is the President and CEO of Wing, a New York based agency specializing in multicultural advertising. Alain joined Wing from la comunidad, the Miami based creative shop, where he was the General Manager. Before that he built his career at Leo Burnett, where he worked in several different offices and roles, most recently as Senior VP – Regional Strategy and Business Development in the Latin America headquarters.






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