Commercials and musical performances have become more consequential than what happens during the game.
Two years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals were the worst team in the NFL.
Their laughably dismal record was the stuff of sports comedy legend. The team suffered from a perpetual losing streak rivaled by few NFL sports team franchises.
Perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs could have rivaled it…at least until the team ended its losing streak in 2020. Rookie Quarterback Patrick Mahomes led his team to Super Bowl glory.
It was the first time the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in over four decades.
The Chiefs, still led by Quarterback Pat Mahomes and coached by NFL veteran Andy Reid, performed well in 2022 and 2021 as well. In 2021, the team fell just short, losing brutally at the Super Bowl.
This year, the KC Chiefs made it through the playoffs, ending the season in a very respectable position just shy of the biggest football game of the year.
While the same cannot be said for another famously losing franchise in NFL history- the Detroit Lions- the Cincinnati Bengals appear to be getting their Cinderella’s chance at the ball this year.
The transformation of the Chiefs began with the acquisition of Mahomes- a great reminder of what a difference the right draft pick can make.
For the Bengals, the story of their two year transformation from worst team in the NFL to Super Bowl contender started when they drafted first-round pick Joe Burrow in 2020.
What Mahomes did for the Chiefs, Burrow hopes to do for Cincinnati today. Judging by his appearance for the big game, which caused quite a stir, Burrow appears to be feeling rather confident about his chances.
The drama is one of the reasons so many fans love football. Every team has a record, a roster, and hundreds of people analyzing the games from every conceivable angle from kinesiology to crowd engagement.
They still have to play the games.
Sports fans know, as do all athletes and former athletes everywhere, that during a game anything can happen. Already this season, NFL fans have been shocked by the last-minute, overtime loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers leading the Green Bay Packers…followed by the last-minute, overtime loss of quarterback Pat Mahomes leading the Chiefs.
As much as everyone is looking forward to the Super Bowl game, the dramatic moments, and the amazing feats of athleticism and skill, in recent years all the on-field action has been often over-shadowed by off-field drama.
Once upon a time, the Super Bowl was an enjoyable, yearly non-holiday in which to get together with friends, eat junk food and watch overpaid athletes play football for fun and profit.
In 2022, millions are tuning in, not to watch the game itself, but to be there when the latest national controversy flares to life.
Two of the most popular aspects of the game not pertaining to the actual game have long been the half-time show and the commercials. Both of these things were once about as controversial as a paperclip. Unfortunately, all that has changed in our hyper-polarized society.
The half-time show, thankfully, is mostly back in vogue with America’s cultural gatekeepers. The left still yearns for Colin Kaepernick with an intensity not compensatory with his talent on the football field. Football franchises and sports fans have been less interested in the controversy-courting former quarterback.
For the NFL, hiring Jay-Z to manage half-time entertainment- for a staggering mint- was a major power move. In so doing, they deftly side-stepped Colin Kaepernick and the left’s attempts to pressure the league into hiring him.
Before Jay-Z, Super Bowl organizers were lucky to get Maroon 5 to perform at half time. This year, legends Mary J. Blige and Snoop Dogg are slated to perform along with several other major stars.
While progressives groused when Jay-Z first accepted the gig- and many still are- attempts to cancel the seminal rapper and billionaire went nowhere near the end zone.
Luckily, Jay-Z is too big to cancel.
As far as the commercials, they have become much less about entertainment, or even selling a product, and much more about making a splash in the culture wars.
One Million Moms, the political pressure group which once tried to cancel JC Penny’s for hiring Ellen Degeneres as their spokesperson long before cancelling was cool, has been replaced by The Twitter Brigade on the left.
Oddly enough, both groups often want to cancel the same people including Ellen Degeneres and J.K. Rowling. Their reasons are often strangely similar, too; like two sides of the same coin. They are the exact same reasons those old book-burners in Ancient Greece used to execute Socrates: Blasphemy and corruption of the youth.
Using the soup of this cultural melee, advertisers have been playing a clever new game.
A new marketing gambit called “Virtue Signaling” is all the rage in corporate America. Convincing consumers that buying a product will make them a good person- and even better, make them seem like a good person- is, admittedly, a genius advertising strategy.
This year, companies who exploit low-wage workers in emerging nations, pollute the environment at will, flood landfills with single-use plastics and perpetuate the wealth gap will compete with one another to see who can make the most controversial commercial.
In our politically opposed society, pitting one side against the other is painfully easy. An ad is designed to provoke one group into a response condemning it and the other group into defending it.
It’s simple cause and effect.
“Can you believe it?” and “Did you see that?” conversations will be taking place everywhere tomorrow, around water coolers, in break rooms and on Slack channels. To know what everyone will be talking about at work, we must watch today- not the Super Bowl itself- but the commercials.
What will the commercials be like this year? Which advertiser will go the farthest to alienate and/or thrill one half of the population or other?
The bar has been set awfully high. Penzy’s Spices held a “Republicans Are Racist” sale this year on Martin Luther King Day.
If Gillette- or its parent company Proctor & Gamble- or Ben & Jerry’s- or its parent company Unilever- really want to make a splash this year, they might have to go a great deal further than a generic toxic masculinity ad or a blanket condemnation of the State of Israel.
Advertiser is as advertiser does, and modern day marketeers have made quite a habit of pushing the envelope to sell products, then pushing it some more and then still more.
The nature of this particular Frankenstein’s monster is go further and further every time in order to get out ahead of the rest. Like the legendary monster, advertiser virtue signaling may haunt us forever.
Even to the ends of Super Bowl Sunday and back.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)