Seen from France, the Super Bowl is the portrait of a triumphant America that stuffs itself with chicken wings and nachos, wallowing in front of the TV. With 1.3 billion chicken wings, 52 million cases of beer and 47,000 tons of guacamole devoured in less than three hours, the Super Bowl is an extraordinary day when the country consumes almost as much food as at Thanksgiving.
But, of course, there’s a sport in the middle of it all. A four-hour mega-show, where tension and drama hold a whole country in suspense. An XXL match in which the players are helmeted warriors that fight each other in intense hand-to-hand combat until they drop from exhaustion. A huge match, where everything is bigger, stronger and faster. Here, there is no escape. You either stand, or you go out on a stretcher. America needs mythical heroes, so every year we replay the Trojan War or the Battle of Thermopylae to the riffs of the Rolling Stones in crowded arenas and coliseums, rebranded by some of the biggest commercial brands on the planet. Victory is celebrated by rolling over your opponent, and the glory of America is celebrated against the backdrop of advertising screen jingles.
But make no mistake about it: with 160 million television viewers, the Super Bowl is, above all, a highly profitable business where the world’s leading brands are present.
So, bienvenue to the cockpit of the modern consumer society and, indeed, to the showcase of global communication. Pepsi versus Coca-Cola, Apple versus IBM, Ford versus Chrysler: The founding symbols of America are fighting each other with interspersed advertising films. And at $5.6 million for 30 seconds of airtime, you better not miss your target.
Generally speaking, creative quality is on display. From Apple’s “1984” to Volkswagen’s “The Force” to Budweiser’s “Wassup” to Fedex’s “Caveman,” great films are part of the Super Bowl show. And the advertising world is riveted by this other game where everything is dissected, analyzed and picked apart. We talk about it in agency corridors, it creates debates at the coffee machine, and even if it’s not the most stimulating year, the Super Bowl is always an opportunity for passionate discussion. The great Super Bowl films foreshadow the creative advertising trends to come, and any creative worthy of their name can’t skip them under any circumstances.
From our perspective in Europe, the Super Bowl is the opposite of our football’s Champions League final. With the Super Bowl, we don’t really watch the game, but we wouldn’t miss the advertising for the world. Whereas in the Champions League final, we don’t miss a minute of the game, and we use the commercial breaks to go to the bathroom.
In the end, the brand competition has superseded the sports match, and advertising stars have overtaken the stars of American football. This is the triumphant world of entertainment and a victory for consumer society. This is nothing new. Two thousand years ago, the Romans had already understood it with panem circenses—bread and circuses—and the people were happy. With the Super Bowl, we’re not far off. So much so that we will never forget that 1984 was the year of Macintosh. But this year, who will win the Super Bowl?