Sports and Culture: What 10 Commercials Say About Us
The average ballgame contains at least 40 minutes of ads, not counting the pre- and post-game shows.
Many of these ads have achieved cultural significance, to the point where people at the water cooler talk more about the commercials than the game itself.
So here's a look at how ads for 10 different types of products reflect the audience watching it, and the American consumer culture in general.
This piece uses 10 commercials as a launchpad for my commentary on the sports-watching society.
Gatorade, which is apparently calling itself G-Series now, advertises a lot, featuring ads with everyone from Michael Jordan to Keith Jackson to Joe Mauer. It dominates the sports drink market over Powerade by 3-to-1, but, by contrast, dominates the sports drink commercial market by about 20-to-1. So why does Gatorade advertise much more than it has to?
Because in order to get the growth need to be a sustainable product, Gatorade (and its parent company Pepsi) needs to sell G-Series not only to professional athletes, but to small-time players, people who just work out from time to time and even couch potatoes.
I would venture to say that a large and growing portion of Gatorade's market is people who drink it for taste rather than its electrolyte-regenerating properties. And that brings up a main theme in sports commercials...buy our product so you'll be an athlete instead of a miserable lout.
I'll admit it...I've been watching Ken Burns' "Prohibition" on PBS instead of sports. And that makes me wonder how we went from 46 states going dry to beer commercials every other break. And that's not counting additional commercials for things like Guiness Stout (now the sponsor of ESPN's 5 ET "Around the Horn/Pardon the Interruption" hour) and Captain Morgan that have such high alcohol content they have to be predicated with "Please drink responsibly."
The best answer I can come up with for why we do is that sports audiences are predominantly red, white and blue...that is, rednecked, white trash or blue-collar, or at least people who have those roots, and revisit them every weekend. Many of those groups were opposed to prohibition, and all drink more than the average Joe to this day.
Furthermore, the trivialization of intellectualism in this commercial highlights the anti-intellectual belief by redneck America that just by making mistakes instead of book learning, they know more. Which they don't. Being able to have a beer with someone should take a backseat to them actually being competent.
The movie trailers you see during sports breaks partially say something about "the business" and partially say something about the aforementioned disproportionately "red, white and blue" audience of sports.
What it says about "the business" of making movies: That studios make most of their money from formulaic action and horror films with a lot of bad acting, worse writing and CGI of stuff blowing up, rather than films with commanding acting and writing performances that win lots and lots of Oscars, Critics' Choice Awards, etc.
What it says about the viewing audience: They aren't particularly into intellectually-stimulating or critically-acclaimed movies like The Help or 50-50 (which was advertised in dramas and game shows instead), they just want to get really scared with horror flicks or really pumped with action flicks. And I suppose that makes sense. There isn't any sports on PBS. People don't follow up the Ravens-Steelers game with Downton Abbey. You don't watch a romance flick in a bar.
By the way, as I was editing this slide, I just saw a Dr. Pepper ad that spoofs both movie trailers and "sporting man" machismo.
I have seen this Viagra commercial with the Chuck Norris-like pillar of machismo and stick-to-it-iveness during almost every commercial break of the Division Series (the other commercials, it's the Viagra manly man in the sailboat). There are similar drugs to help men get their mojo back, be it other drugs in MLB coverage or even drugs in Little League World Series coverage.
What do I think this says about people who watch baseball? That they're middle- and older-aged white men who think they have trouble in the bedroom and will pay money to fix it, as opposed to other demographics. This ad highlights an important trend in baseball-watching demographics, and American demographics in general—the graying of America.
What should I do? Should I just sell shoes? --LeBron James
To me, one of the biggest contrasts is between the prescense of Viagra on baseball ads and shoes on basketball ads. It really highlights the contrast in aspirations between whites (many of whom want to be either baseball players or have careers in something other than sports) and blacks (many of whom want to be basketball or football players).
And the first step to a kid from the projects getting to the NBA is, as Nike would allege, a new pair of sneakers. And I can't really condone it, because shoe commercials often amount to blaxploitation.. Heck, all of sports is blaxploitation...white owners and execs making buckets of money on the backs of black athletes.
On a lighter note, this (and the McDonalds' Monopoly commercial) make light of the media's continued need to blast LeBron at every point...
Fifteen minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance, but it won't save you from the quarter of an hour or so of commercials about insurance every game. This is the slide where I will segue into a knock on corporate greed.
The insurance industry is apparently highly profitable, and that's not particularly surprising considering that insurance prices have skyrocketed and the amount the average family spends on health insurance as a percent of income has gone way up.
There is intense competition between the ravenous wolves that are State Farm, Allstate, GEICO (which, FYI, is owned by Warren Buffett), Progressive and Aflac for the immense profits in the insurance industry.
Not too pleased about Bank of America either, since they raised their fees but continue to make huge ad buys.
Who'd a thunk it? Food ads on television. This one is blatantly obvious...it's catering to the 100 million obese Americans who want cheap, high-calorie, low-quality food. At 1500-plus calories for five bucks...what's not to like?
A couple of before Taco Bell did the $5 box deal, they promoted an ad for "fourthmeal" at midnight...in another words, more time to add to your increasing waistline. And of course, now they're advertising their XXL Burrito ("Blimey, why does everything in America have to be SO BIG?") and XXL Chalupas ("So big you need a closer to finish it")...which touches into American machismo and Americans' need for great big stuff; with and without food (big food, big trucks, big houses...).
FYI, Taco Bell is owned by Yum Brands, who also brought you the KFC sandwich with fried chicken instead of bread.
I toyed with that new Weight Watchers ad from the ESPN happy hour in this slot, but I settled on a Chrysler commercial instead...this one from the last Super Bowl.
A theme in this clip show has been that ads between downs, pitches and tips appeal to the "red, white and blue" of rednecks, white trash and blue collar, who disproportionately watch sports shows. It appeals to American patriotism by suggesting that it is patriotic to buy American.
It also portrays Detroit as very gritty and blue-collar, in comparison to New York City, Sin City and the proverbial Emerald City.
Oh, and it does appeal to the rap set as well...you sort of "Lose Yourself" in the moment of the commercial.
Look at this clip. Now look at your man. Now back to the clip. Now back to your man again.
Even though the hunk-a-hunk-a in this Old Spice commercial is reportedly addressing ladies, he's not. This commercial is aimed at men who need to feel more manly because they sit on the couch instead of actually playing sports.
This is one of a slew of adds that appeal to the machismo of the "sporting man" culture that requires any man, sporty or not, to exude manliness, either by wearing Old Spice or, heaven forbid, actually playing sports.
This ad also is a perfect example of the over-the-top, bombastic, ludicrous ads that are meant to appeal to less-than-mature audiences.
By the way, Old Spice is owned by Proctor and Gable, which spent more than $2 billion on advertising then anyone else. That's a lot of soap operas. I'm on a horse.
This is more a comment-by-omission slide.
Yes, I know you ocassionally see a video game ad, but it is hardly the most common ad. You also rarely see an ad for a video game that isn't about sports. Only very recently did I catch a slide of Battlefield 3 in the ESPN Happy Hour.
So what does that say about our culture? It says that most people who play video games are in the crucial 18-to-35 demographic. Now these people are less likely to watch stuff on TV and more likely to catch it on the 'net. And the ones who do have TV aren't watching sports because, well, they're too busy playing video games.
And when ads for video games are on, they...surprise, surprise...emphasize the machismo. A couple of years ago, there was this World of Warcraft ad floating around that starred the pillar of pain, Mr. T. The Battlefield 3 commercial emphasizes stuff blowing up. And who better to advertise baseball than a guy with a big beard, big tats and big muscles?
Oh, and sorry Brian, but Digital You had a better season than you did. He didn't get hurt. Although I will give Real You the edge in beardliness.