Is Advertising Anti-Social

The Super Bowl has always been known as the pinnacle of American advertising. The guaranteed eyeballs have afforded marketers the kind of mass market reach that they can only dream of, now that exploded choice has fragmented our media attention forever.

That kind of reach has meant almost limitless budgets: $8 million was the going rate in 2014 with the likes of Kia, Coke and Microsoft shelling out that amount for the privilege.

That’s not the most expensive though- that award goes to Chrysler’s 2011 spot, which was credited with turning around the sales fortunes of the brand and revitalizing the Detroit brand along with it. Interestingly, the main commercial seems to have no links to social media, and still has garnered a healthy 17 million views.

From this years’ crop, Unilever’s Dove Men+Care is an interesting case. Dove has been masters at striking the central chord of modern gender politics. Their “Real Beauty” campaign for women resonated with women around the world, and created real buzz in its time. This time they have turned their attention to men, depicting the strength of fatherhood.

Now, had Dove told women that their real strength lay in being good mothers, there would have been all hell to pay. But such is the state of manhood at this point: it is so crowded with paternal images that range from the bungling to deadbeat, that this has been largely well received. I say “largely” because just under three million odd views on YouTube in the greater scheme of things is not really that much any more (504 million for Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” just to put things in perspective).

The ad also sends people onto a hashtag – inviting men to share their own stories of #realstrength. A few do, a few more repost the ad, but it’s not exactly created a movement in consciousness.

Maybe we will have to give it time. I have my doubts though. Firstly, social traction happens in minutes – and dies almost as quickly (#illridewithyou anyone?) With the weight of the Super Bowl, you’d have expected more. The hand off to social at the end of the advert is clumsy, and reveals the commercial truth spoiling the sentiment entirely. And maybe the reason it feels so clumsy, is that underneath it all, we know nothing has really changed about the brand, and so it feels, well, like an ad.

These days, even with concentrated Superbowl eyeballs, the social traction of advertising has to be based on more than just a sentiment, however lovely. It has to be based on a truth. The Chrysler ad was genuinely signaling transformation- a new product, a new spirit and admission of the truth from which both of those things had come. Without those things, you may be able to buy people’s attention, but unless you earn it at a more fundamental level, it’s unlikely that you will keep it very long