When Seattle kicks off next Sunday against Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, 100 plus million Americans are anticipated to be tuning in. They aren’t necessarily tuning in to watch the action on the field. According to a 2010 study from Neilson, 51% of them will be there primarily to see the commercials; not the game.
The Super Bowl ads have been as big, or bigger, than the game for a couple of decades. It was in 1980 that a replay of Pittsburgh’s “Mean” Joe Greene offering his jersey to a kid for his Coca Cola set the standard. Now courses are taught using Super Bowl commercials and television shows have aired with only the commercials as their content. Nothing legal can be quite so entertaining in under 60 seconds.
The youth-directed ads for Obamacare seen over the past 3-4 months are plainly inspired by the Super Bowl ad pioneers. Adam Levine is using his sexiest-man-alive swag to encourage enrollment. An Obama impersonator (I think. He’s really good) croons in a lyrically enhanced version of Drop it Like It’s Hot. There’s the college son whose parents tell him they have “something really important to talk to him about” when he arrives for the holidays. On the drive, his mind envisions parental horrors but he’s then pleasantly surprised to learn they only wanted to tell him to sign up for health insurance.
In 2000, before the Dot-Com bubble, Super Bowl XXXIV featured ads from over 15 e-commerce companies. Many of those companies would soon succumb to market exuberance but lessons were learned. When Budweiser runs an ad that shows horses playing football for 58 seconds and then a bottle of beer for two it doesn’t matter; everyone knows Budweiser Beer. However, when a Dot-Com company ran an entertaining but non-informative ad in 2000 people laughed and had no idea what they were laughing at, giving them an insight into dementia perhaps, but creating no compulsion to buy.
The underlying premise to an Obamacare ad targeted at young people is that the audience is so shallow and devoid of contemplative thought that if you make them LOL or tap their foot they’ll rush to a website to post-hypnotically click on “Proceed to Checkout”. Unfortunately for Obamacare’s Mad Men young people have proven to be marginally smarter than suggested by focus groups.
Every American, regardless of age, knows the dreaded phrase “eat your peas”. It has become a metaphor for telling someone to do something that is good for them but not pleasant. Imagine if after having told you to eat your peas, mom had said “comma and you owe me $5 for them”. Now you’d have been asked to pay for something you found unpleasant. That would be tough to market even with an unclothed Adam Levine.