Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl Ads

I’m the sort of person who likes to watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. However, my enjoyment of advertising is not limited to that occasion, on which it has acquired a reputation for tremendous entertainment value. I find advertising terribly interesting, and I derive a lot of enjoyment from analyzing it – what I think works and what I think doesn’t, and moreover what I think the persons responsible for the advertisement are saying about their target audience and society at large.

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl last night, as I don’t have television, and haven’t for quite some time. I did, however, take a look at a handful of the commercials online today. Of those that I viewed, I found the spots for Groupon and Living Social to be the best, both on point of humor and evident effectiveness. That was remarkable to me, because these are the newest companies represented, and indeed the newest kinds of companies in the current market. Concordantly, it seemed to me that they both produced commercials very specifically geared to a new generation of consumer.

Whereas the other spots that I sampled seemed fairly ordinary and non-adventurous with their content, the Groupon and Living Social ads seemed to be taking chances that might have alienated certain viewers, but likely not those that could be expected to utilize their services. The Groupon ads both made use of the same premise, masquerading as public service announcements for several seconds before effectively disregarding the plight of the whales and the Tibetan people in order to laud a deal related to each of them that the spokesperson had acquired through Groupon. The campaign runs the risk of being accused of insensitivity, but I think it adeptly walks that line without crossing it. The gamble at play here is, I think, an understanding about the social character of highly modern consumers, and I think the Groupon ads do a good job of identifying their target audience as the sort that would be likely to take an interest in social and environmental issues, but not in a humorless way. I take the makers of these spots to be assuming that the persons they are seeking to reach do not take themselves too seriously, and can laugh over their own causes, that they will both give those causes their attention and set them aside when it’s not an immediate concern, in order to take a nice whale-watching trip, or have a Tibetan meal. It may in fact be a jaded perspective, or it may be a livable and realistic one, but in any event, I agree with the implicit claim that it’s characteristic of the current generation.

Living Social goes another route, and puts itself at risk of being accused not of a deficiency of sensitivity, but of an excess of it. They present a burly, reclusive man at the start of the thirty second spot, and show him discovering Living Social and being exposed to a wealth of new activities and products, which change his appearance until, in the final reveal, he approaches a classy bar dressed as a woman. I imagine that there must be some amount of tenuousness when the idea has been presented to portray transvestitism positively during the nation’s most-watched sporting event. But anything with such a large audience is likely to have a diverse set of viewers, and Living Social did a fine job of zeroing in on those of them that would be likely to use their service, namely young, urban, open-minded consumers. The ad strikes me as a skillful act of selective alienation, with the makers of it recognizing at the outset that they were not going to reach everybody, and so making an ad that would be appealing only to the emergent market that their similarly nascent business is trying to tap. It is probably the case that only people who are okay with alternative lifestyles are likely to utilize Living Social.

I think it is interesting that the youngest companies have done some of the best jobs at trying to appeal to the youngest consumers. They do not have entrenched models for their advertising, and they may well have hired young firms to craft the commercials for them. It makes good sense that what is new in the marketplace of goods and services would mesh best with what is new in the marketplace of social ideas.

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