the super bowl’s crash culture

pinch me when it’s over

Marsha Brady: oh, my nose!!!!!!!

If Super Bowl ads reflect the zeitgeist, Americans (at the moment) enjoy watching people beat the crap out of other people, especially innocents, like babies, dogs, teenage girls, etc. The Super Bowl commercials this year were particularly violent with babies being thrown against plate glass windows, luring dogs to run into plate glass windows, Roseanne Barr being smashed in the face with a giant swinging log, a man being punched in the crotch, and a psycho-wife hitting her husband upside the head and then pelting a young runner in the face with a can of Pepsi. The topper was a montage ad that featured the iconic scene of Marsha Brady getting hit in the face with a football (which broke her nose).

Snickers ad: Roseanne Barr getting "logged"?

The visceral reaction to all these slap-stick (physical comedy, really?) violent ads was/is: startle, cringe, shudder, flinch. Everyone at the Super Bowl party I was at had the same reaction to the ads: “ouch!” We all jumped in our skins. That’s because neuroscience says we humans have a “mirror response” to images, where our brains “feel” what we watch. Our brains experience what our eyes watch, and thus “hurt” vicariously.  It wakes us up, like being pinched.

Homeaway.com ad: lifelike test baby thrown against plate glass window.

Is it merely a Madison Avenue attention-getting technique, intended to cut through the clutter? To be remembered (to aid recall) by arousing our emotions? Are we as a society that numb? Or, is it reflecting America’s pent-up frustrations with the economy, politics, life in general?  Or, are we supposed to sigh in relief and think “phew, thank goodness that wasn’t me” when we see someone else get pummeled (like the relief we feel watching from the outside the train wreck lives of Jersey Shore)?

The ad guys who grew up watching cartoons like this are now making Super Bowl ads.

I think these ads are the result of misguided ad guys who’ve come to believe that ads with “elements of surprise” are memorable. All the advertising research of late, including neuroscience books, are touting that we humans like surprises… and surprise endings. Surprises tickle in our lizard brains the part of the brain that’s aroused as we try to making sense of surprises, puzzles, novelty and incongruities.  As with anything in life, there are smart ways to do this and there are stupid, base was to do this, such as a surprise ending where the character gets spattered. Remember Road Runner?

Pepsi Max ad: teenage runner knocked out with Pepsi can.

WATCH THIS AD: EXAMPLE of NON-VIOLENT SURPRISE ENDING

In last nights Super Bowl ad lineup the Volkswagen Passat ad, “The Force,” was an example of a clever (non-violent, and ironically non-forceful) surprise ending.  According to TiVo it was the #4 most liked ad last night… following Snicker’s and Pepsi’s uber-violent ads (#1 and #3 respectively).  I wonder if anyone at Tivo bothered to correlate the ad ranking to Red States and Blue States?

Doritos ad: bulldog smashing into glass door and flattening the jerk who egged the bulldog to charge the door.

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