Robert Knight

The guy with the cheesy grin who crashes his car while gazing at the girl with the Doritos bag during the first quarter of the Super Bowl is a crowd pleaser. It’s fun, sweet and romantic. It ranked high on many lists of the best Super Bowl commercials.

The other Doritos ad, featuring a supermarket checkout girl getting “hot” while ringing up a guy’s different-flavor Doritos bags, is funny until it goes over the top. The clerk yells “Giddyup” and then arises, disheveled and asking for a “cleanup.” Ick.

The two spots starkly illustrate our cultural divide. The first is a tribute to romantic love and is done in good taste. Some former Liberty University students made it for $12.79 (the cost of four bags of Doritos). The second is about sex, and, like much of our pop culture, doesn’t know where to draw the line.

Another tasteless ad was for Mars, Inc., and it probably cost a lot more than $12.79. Made by TBWA/Chiat, the spot shows two mechanics locking lips after devouring a Snickers bar from either end. Then they pull off huge patches of chest hair in a bid to restore male honor. It was a horrible rip-off of a funny scene from the film Planes, Trains & Automobiles, in which Steve Martin wakes in an inadvertent embrace with John Candy and they leap up, horrified, and begin strutting about, talking Bears football.

What possessed Mars to do it? Do they really think people will hunger for a Snickers bar after watching two men gobble their way to a kiss? Did they agree to the ad after viewing sales figures reaped at candy counters during showings of Brokeback Mountain? Candy lovers who especially favor Three Musketeers bars are praying that Mars won’t target their treat next year during Super Bowl XLII.

Let’s move from gut reaction to brain science. In a segment entitled “Your Brain on Super Bowl Ads,” Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s medical editor, showcased UCLA brain scientists who scanned people’s noggins while watching Super Bowl ads. They measured brain reactions that indicated “yearning, appreciation and a sense of connection.”

The Snickers ad caused “anxiety.” They left it at that. But here’s how Dr. Snyderman described reactions to the romantic Doritos ad:

“The brain really lit up. The test subjects loved it and the parts that lit up were empathy, identification, yearning, wanting to get at that product.”

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.