A recent novel called Truth in Advertising takes place over a few frantic weeks leading up to a Super Bowl. It’s about an ad agency executive who’s scrambling to finish a spot that will run during the big game. The book captures a specific flavor of self-loathing that runs rampant in the ad industry. And it humanizes the faceless creatives who pump all this stuff out: Our hero deals with a pretentious director, a wishy-washy client, and some difficult on-screen talent, but he also faces crises involving a dying parent and a confusing love life.
So, let us not forget (on this national holiday dedicated to advertising) that these Super Bowl ads, good and bad, are crafted by real human beings. People who have hopes and fears very much like our own—but also have $3.8 million to spend on 30 seconds of airtime.
Budweiser introduces a new, higher-alcohol beer called Black Crown. We are told this is “our kind of beer.” Who are we? We are “the loud, the savvy, the famous.” And, judging by the people shown in this spot, we are also the young, the slender, and the fedora’d. We apparently love to hang out in rooms full of flaming candelabras. This is what an ad taxonomist would term “associated user imagery”—the ad is less about the product’s attributes and more about signaling the niche of people that the product is meant for. In this case, that niche is a little bit upscale and a little bit downtown. (The spot was at least a refreshing change for the night’s opening slot, which in years past has often featured Bud Light ads with punchlines that depend on animal flatulence and groin contusions.)