Ethics Alarms SPECIAL REPORT! Oxymoron Ethics: The Super Bowl Ads

super bowl ads

All Super Bowl commercials are unethical by definition: they aid, abet, reward and perpetuate the gruesome and deadly culture of pro football. I’ve written about that enough lately, however, so when I woke up with a leg cramp this morning at 4:46 AM, I decided to go online and watch the Super Bowl ads. Here is what I discovered:

1. Most Ethical Ad: Pampers

Yet another pro-birth ad during the Super Bowl! This one is especially well done, and for once babies aren’t used as mere adorable props to sell a product unrelated to babies. The spot shows a sonogram of a baby giving her first “hello” with a heartbeat playing in the background, and progresses to show the family’s “firsts” together, from ” first tears of joy” to “first first word.” The ad was especially welcome as a rebuttal to last week’s jaw-droppingly callous and absurd characterization of the abortion issue by MSNBC’s resident radical. Melissa Harris-Perry. She asked a guest,

“Are you at all distressed in the ways that I am about the idea that there is a separate interest between an individual and something that is happening in her body that cannot at that moment exist outside of her body? So, the idea, for example, that I would need a court’s permission for cancer treatment or the court’s permission for a surgery that would remove my hand. Like, if it’s my body, I guess I can’t understand why the state would have to give me permission.”

“Something that is happening” that “cannot exist outside her body”?  This is called “desperately stretching for a deceptive euphemism that avoids the central issue.” The Pampers ad focuses on that issue: more than one human life is involved here. Last year, Harris-Perry said,

“When does life begin? I submit the answer depends an awful lot on the feeling of the parents. A powerful feeling — but not science.”

That’s right: it’s a life if the parents think it is, otherwise it’s just like a tumor or a hand. I suspect that future generations will look back on such bizarre and intellectually dishonest arguments by the pro-abortion groups the way we regard the claims of slavery defenders who claimed that black’s weren’t really human. They will wonder how they managed to prevail in public opinion and policy so long using such obvious and vile nonsense.

One way they managed to prevail is that journalists went out of their way to avoid publicizing the aspect of the controversy that make abortion advocates squirm. For example, I reviewed six online ratings of the Super Bowl ads, and not one of them mentioned the Pampers spot, though commentary, ratings and videos of almost all the others were covered. Fascinating.

2. The Cognitive Dissonance Scale Reigned Supreme

It always does, but this was quite an endorsement of Dr. Festinger’s scale. The idea is that you associate your product with something or someone the intended market feels positively about, and without them even knowing it, the positive feelings are substantially transferred to the product for no other reason than the association. It’s diabolical, really, but it works. The most blatant example is the Budweiser ad:

What does a lost puppy have to do with drinking beer? Maybe the idiot who lost the puppy was drunk. It’s shameless, but everybody loves puppies, happy endings and those Clydesdales.

Then there was Toyota, honoring Amy Purdy, the courageous young woman and athlete who has triumphed over losing both legs to a flesh-eating virus:

She has nothing at all to do with automobiles, as far as I can see. I guess she drives one. The studies say this works, and it’s a form of mind-control. It helps if you know what is being done to you. Fight it!

T-Mobile, however, doesn’t seem to get the concept, and needs a cognitive dissonance refresher course:

You see, Dr. Festinger explained that if we  associate something with a person or thing we feel negatively about, those negative feeling will be transferred, in this case, to a product being pitched by Kim Kardashian, the main cog of the horrible family machine that does nothing productive and lives off of tabloid and supermarket magazine headlines about their illegitimate children, horrible morals, feuds, divorces and relentless corruption of the children in their midst.  Is the theory that the target demographic admires the Kardashians? I doubt it. If they are right, the Apocalypse is upon us.

3. The Great and Ethical Ad That Everyone Hated

It should come as no surprise, I guess, that on a day when Americans decide its OK to put their ethics aside and shower passion, love, time and dollars on a sport that is conspiring to cripple its player for profit, the public would resent a commercial that reminds them to care about life and not to let kids die from negligence and neglect:

All over the web and on social media, people were protesting against the ad “bringing them down.” Tough. The couple that got shot yesterday after leaving a loaded gun for their toddler to find probably resented the ad too. I’m just sorry Nationwide didn’t have an ad showing a retired NFL player in his dotage, saying, “I’ll never get to play with my grandchildren. I’ll never get to tour Europe with my wife in retirement. I’ll never write my memoirs, because My brain stopped working right in my 50s, and I killed myself.” Talk about a Super Bowl downer. Yes, reality’s a bitch, fans. Good for Nationwide.

4. Muddled Ethics

What is Nissan’s point here?

It is a car manufacturer, right? The father neglects his son to drive cars. Well, the ad made me feel guilty for all the time I couldn’t spend with my son, time I’ll never have back. Is that the ad’s objective? Does dad in the spot make up for it all with a hug? Harry Chapin’s background song is about a self-absorbed father getting his just reward, and Chapin died in an automobile accident, too. No lesson, no coherent message.

5. Anti-Male Bigotry is Funny

I will not be using T-Mobile. Ever.

In this otherwise clever ad, Sarah Silverman makes a typical Sarah Silverman joke that I would laugh at in a club. On national TV, it’s inappropriate and ugly:

Thank you, Democratic strategists, feminists, progressives, Michelle, Nancy, for making bigotry acceptible again: “Sorry, it’s a boy.”  Go to Hell. Would any ad dare end with “Sorry, it’s black” or “Sorry, it’s a girl” or “Sorry, it’s gay,” facetiously or not? This is disrespectful and unfair, suspiciously partisan, and irresponsible, whether a comic says it or Rachel Maddow.

We can celebrate women without denigrating men, like this lovely and ethical ad by Always:

6. I Dare Them To Make This Ad Using Allah…

Are any Christians offended by this ad? I bet there are. I also bet they aren’t going to threaten to kill anyone over it or hack Morphie, whatever it is, and that CNN won’t hesitate to show it. Is it unfair or disrespectful to say, objectively, which is the more ethical culture? No.

7. Most Unethical Ad: Mercedes-Benz

Cheating is so cool. Mercedes-Benz was rooting for New England.

8.  Fake Ethics Promotion, Fake Ethics Ad

Starting today, McDonalds will try to combat a year-long decline in the fast food wars by giving away free meals to random customers who agree to “Pay with Lovin.'” From now until Feb. 14, the store will allow some customers to “pay” for their orders with friendly fists bumps  and calls to loved ones. “Hey, mom? I know we haven’t talked in months, but I have a chance to get a free Big Mac.” Awwwww. Is anyone falling for this? There no such thing as a random act of kindness that get you a hamburger. This is obvious, desperate, cynical, and has as much to do with ethics, or “lovin'” as, well, the NFL.


Here’s the ad; that’s one more company I’m not patronizing any more:

9. Too Little, Too Late

Who didn’t know that there would be an anti-domestic abuse ad during the Super Bowl? I guess that makes up for there being no “protect your kids from concussions” spot, right?

Will this stop the fans who wear Ray Rice jerseys from claiming “personal” conduct by their supposed heroes is none of our business? The NFL sure hopes not.


10. The Ad That Probably Only Bothers Me: Skittles

It’s a funny ad: I especially like the dog with the over-developed right leg. But I spent too much time writing about the dishonest  “he died for carrying a bag of Skittles” narrative in the Trayvon Martin case that accompanied the hoodie and racial profiling misrepresentations in the news media and among the race hustlers. Some how a town that actually does fight over Skittles, but nicely, seems too close for comfort, and feels–to me–like coded reference. I’m sure it’s just me. I hope it’s just me.


28 thoughts on “Ethics Alarms SPECIAL REPORT! Oxymoron Ethics: The Super Bowl Ads

  1. Speaking to the Sarah Silverman ad, which is in itself dangerous, you never when she might sic her famously foul-mouthed dad on you, let me draw your attention to someone who is a lot bigger American icon than she was or ever will be (Sorry, Sarah, this guy’s stuff will still be on tv long after you’ve gone the way of the Great Auk). We laugh at this guy’s writings when a girl slugs a boy for no real reason, knocks him down with a scream of “YOU BLOCKHEAD!” takes away a favorite object, hits a ball at a boy that sends his clothes flying and follows it up with an insult, responds to a statement that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” by hurling them at a boy, oh, and let’s not forget the hilarious yearly tricking the boy into running up and trying to kick a football only so she can pull it away at the last minute and have him land flat on his back in pain. Yet you never see the roles reversed, except once or twice by accident.

    The man I’m referring to is, of course, Charles Schultz, may he rest in peace, who kept this country laughing for forty years and change (although the laughter started to die down in the last few years when he went a bit on autopilot and started reusing ideas) with the antics of a self-proclaimed fussbudget, a blanket-carrying intellectual, a girl who could outrun and outhit all the boys, a beagle with the imagination of Walter Mitty, and of course, life’s lovable loser Charlie Brown. Schultz was questioned once about this, and said openly that it’s funny when a girl hits a boy, but it’s not funny when a boy hits a girl, and I think we all kind of took him at his word. In fact he took it a step farther and wrote a whole special about summer camp where the boys failed miserably at everything while the girls made them look like fools at every turn, and we duly laughed. He also said that failure was funny but success wasn’t, and that’s why we all kept laughing when ol’ Chuck’s grades were low, the little red-haired girl was unachievable, his team always lost by crushing margins, and every project he undertook either failed outright or even when he succeeded he failed.

    Of course Peanuts is just one very small part of pop culture, but I use it here to show how a culture has grown up in which it’s acceptable to denigrate men and boys, but not the other way around. When a general atmosphere has come into being in which it’s expected that boys will get into trouble, struggle, fail tests, and generally have problems while girls will be six degrees of awesome simply because they are girls, a joke in which an attending physician tells a couple that they are sorry their child is one of those boys who’s going to struggle instead of a girl who’s going to have an easy, pink-sneakered walk through life, is to be expected.

    • Is “it’s to be expected” a variation on one of the current rationalizations, or a separate one I need to add?

      Interesting comparison. But:

      1. Peanuts was about kids, and these kids showed no sexism at all, that I can detect.
      2. The most rational and talented characters were boys (Linus and Schoader) until Schultz added Peppermint Patty (and exiled the original Patty) to appeal to feminists. And PP wasn’t funny.
      3. Charlie Brown was still the protagonist, and the hero.
      4. Lucy was a bitch.

      I just don’t see how anyone can say that strip denigrated boys.

      • “It’s to be expected” seems to be a little bit of 41 + a little bit of 8.

        Possibly even a little “Victims distortion” where all of society is the victim and we’re being told – “Well what did you expect would happen?”

      • Responding in good faith, probably a subset of 1A, Ethics Surrender, or We Can’t Stop it, except that in this case I’m referring to a situation or a mindset that was allowed to grow up gradually and now has or is perceived to have worked its way into society and is difficult to go against, although it may be wrong.

        Mmmm, there were bits and pieces of sexism here and there, like the strip in which Violet repeatedly “nyahhs” Linus, he tells her if she does that one more time he’ll slug her, and she responds he can’t do that because she’s a girl so there. He threatens to throw a rock at her, and Charlie Brown tells him he can do that nor throw a tennis ball nor a Ping-Pong ball since she’s a girl.. In frustration Linus draws back his fist and asks “how about I slug YOU?”

        Arguably Linus was the most intelligent character and Schroeder the most talented (piano prodigy). However, Linus was also a hapless goof and a bit of a neurotic (believing in things no one else did, falling in love with a teacher etc.) and Schroeder existed mainly for Lucy to annoy. Yup, PP was added to appeal to feminists, but the original Patty, who was basically a straight woman was no big loss, and she really wasn’t all that funny, although it was a little amusing that she fundamentally misunderstood what Snoopy was.

        Charlie Brown was still the protagonist, true, but his story seemed to be limited to “it’s not about how many times life knocks you down as long as you get up one more time.”

        Amen, Lucy was a grade-A bitch and a karma Houdini (writers slang for someone who does bad things and gets away with them). Yet Charlie Brown was dumb enough to let her fool him every. single. year. with the football.

    • Good analysis of Charlie Brown, the reincarnated Greek Comedy or is it Tragedy…?

      But as Schultz put it: the failure is funny, so we laugh at Charlie Brown because we can put our own failures into perspective and not take life so seriously.

      But that didn’t grow up into what we now have…

      Now, we viciously laugh at a portrayed man’s failure because he’s a man and men are lug headed oafs that only deserve to fail. We aren’t finding comedy in the situation, we are just being outright mean on the basis that he’s a man, and men need to be laughed at.

      The scenes look the same on the surface. But they are vastly different.

      • Haha, yes, overanalyzing pop culture can verge on self-parody, for which I apologize. I see your point, BUT, might it be fair to say that laughing at some poor guy who constantly fails is a step on the path to laughing at some guy precisely because he fails and he deserves to?

  2. It’s nothing to do with the commercials, but I wonder what you thought of Bruce Irvin’s excuse for fighting at the end of the game. He said he was sticking up for his friend. I’m not so sure. It looked like his fighting was egregious enough that they didn’t even bother calling the offsetting penalties against Gronk for fighting back.

    This might not be actually how it went down, but I’m just wondering if you had a thought on that.

  3. I guess it doesn’t help to say at this point that the “DeflateGate” investigation has turned up nothing, and that calling the Patriots cheaters is just bias. Those envious of their success will just repeat the Big Lie until it is accepted by people who aren’t following it closely.

    • The investigation turned up the fact that the Pats’ balls were deflated, and the Colts’ were not. That’s not nothing: that’s persuasive proof that someone on the team cheated. The investigation into the art heist at the Gardiner Museum hasn’t revealed who took the paintings, but it did establish that the paintings are gone. Sure, maybe they walked away…but probably not.

      • The investigation has now turned up that only one of the balls was slightly deflated, and there isn’t a shred of evidence they were mishandled by anyone on the Patriots. That’s a far cry from persuasive proof.

        • Only one of the 12 balls was slightly deflated? I presume you are talking about this report:

          Of the 11 deflated footballs used in the New England Patriots’ win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship, only one was well below the legal limit of 12.5 PSI. That one ball was a full two pounds under while the other 10 were just a tick below, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. That news counters previous reports that said officials found 11 of 12 balls deflated by two pounds of pressure or more.Additionally, Rapoport reported the locker room attendant under investigation by the NFL may be “a man described as elderly.” The elderly man reportedly took two bags of 12 footballs into the restroom near the referees’ room in Gillette Stadium. He stayed in the room for 98 seconds before exiting and taking the balls to the field. There is video evidence of the man entering and exiting the bathroom, but there are no reports whether there is video inside the restroom.

          1. The report is by one guy, connected with the NFL, and it contradicts the NFL’s own report.
          2. One ball was substantially under-inflated, and the others were a bit underinflated…in other words, pretty close to the opposite of what you wrote.
          3. Why are you so invested in ignoring this?
          4. Uh, since a Patriots employee was responsible for the balls at all times, there is a damn sight more than a “shred” of evidence.

          • 1. So when you agree with the NFL, they’re correct, when you disagree, they’re wrong?
            2. Slightly, substantially…I suppose you’re going to call it whatever you want to call it.
            3. I’m not ignoring anything. I want correct information, not the fantasies of the biased, to dominate the narrative.
            4. Sending the ball bay to deflate one football would be a half-assed way of “cheating”. This whole affair is a cockamamie attempt to smear the reputation of some successful people. But if they repeat the lie over and over that it was cheating, it might stick. I know you’re not inclined to like the NFL much as it is, and I understand your reasons, but just because part of the culture may be toxic doesn’t mean that every bad thing you can believe about it is true.

            • Oh, balderdash…

              1. This latest isn’t the NFL, it’s one guy connected with the NFL. The NFL hasn’t revised its original statement.
              2. What? You said ONE football was deflated at all, and only slightly. The new report was that one was deflated by two pounds, which is not slight, and the other 11 were also deflated below the limit, but not by much. (But illegal is illegal.) You completely misrepresented the report.
              3. Your ethical response is “Oops. Sorry.”
              4. What fantasies? The balls were illegal. They were in the team’s charge. Using deflated balls is cheating.
              5.You’re beyond help. The balls are deflated, and someone’s responsible. This is a team with a history of cheating, in a league with a history of cover-ups.
              6. Don’t you dare accuse me of bias: I would be n the same place no matter what I though of the NFL. Read what I’ve written about baseball’s cheaters, and baseball is a lifetime passion.

  4. That’s what bothered you with the Skittles ad?

    Let’s be Pharisees, it’s way more fun –

    The Skittles ad openly supports changing the rules for competition resolution just because someone else is less able to compete according to the rules.

    The “Usual Way” to resolve conflicts is fair, because everyone knows the rules and everyone has prepared for that situation. Some people obviously have better abilities and some have to work harder at it.

    Except, along comes the left-handed person, who is apparently the only left handed person not to get the memo that she needs to practice for right handed arm wrestling.

    Apparently, with the gasp, the crowd acknowledges that she gets an exception and will win the competition on the exception because they have to compete left handed to accommodate her, who hasn’t felt the need to work harder just because she wasn’t born a right handed person.

    Yet I guarantee all the other left handed people have been training as righties all these years.

  5. … everybody loves puppies, happy endings and those Clydesdales

    No. I for one rather liked a T-shirt I saw once that had the caption “happiness is a warm puppy” beneath a cartoon of a smiling, bulging snake.

      • No, you wouldn’t. Any snake that could eat a Clydesdale could eat you.

        And they do come big enough for that. I once saw an internet report of an escaped Burmese python in Florida that had eaten an alligator. It had died from over-distension, so the photograph showed the alligator bursting out of its belly, but it had already eaten it by then. It could easily have swallowed a draught horse the way such snakes swallow deer, by letting the legs fold along the body as it went.

        But that is a digression; those particular button pressing things of yours just don’t press my buttons, just as I find South Asian children below a certain age aesthetically repulsive (it’s not a racist thing – I find the adults pleasing to look upon, and I find African children pleasing while the adults aren’t, and I find Hollywood’s modern white female leads unattractive, all creepy-crawly bones and teeth that make you want to stamp on them like the South Asian children). Now if you had only listed kittens or elephants…

        • “I find South Asian children below a certain age aesthetically repulsive (it’s not a racist thing –”

          मैं एक सुंदर बच्चा हूँ

          • Google translates that as “I have a beautiful baby”. But that is always in the eye of the beholder, and I was careful to describe my own, personal aesthetic response.

            Also, that’s highly selective editing of yours, rendering the analogue of “some of my best friends are … but …”. What you cut is the part where I showed that my responses cut across racial distinctions. I find the gauntness repulsive, whether in white actresses or young South Asian children (African adults merely do not resonate with me – they are not pleasing, but not actually displeasing). On the other hand, African children and South Asian adults and older children do press my hard wired buttons that register small and rounded favourably, other things being equal (puppies defeat this with their oozing, but kittens don’t do that if healthy), so none of this is racial. As I am aware this is all hard wired, and I do have an informed conscience, hopefully I do not degenerate into misbehaviour – which I might if I went into denial.

            • 1) I think you’ve been looking at (too many) Save the Children publicity photos. 2) ‘Racial’ was your word, not mine. 3) What on earth is an oozing puppy?

  6. “Your total for that McChicken sandwich is…call your mother and tell her you love her.”
    “Go on, take out that phone…”
    “My mother died of heart disease 3 weeks ago. She loved McDonald’s…”
    “Oh…I’m sorry…look, they made me say that-”
    “Curse you McDonald’s! Curse you forever!”
    [runs out of store]
    “I can help whoever’s next.”

      • The immediate thing that popped into my head was, “I had better avoid McDonald’s for a while…” Some people in line for McNuggets just want to get in and out of there without attracting a lot of attention.

        Or there could be a bit of this…

        “Your total will be…give your daughter a hug. Go on, hug her!”
        “That’s my sister.”

        “For this chicken biscuit, tell me about what you love about your Mom…”
        “Well, she married my Dad 3 weeks ago, conned him into not signing a prenup, and has promised to make my life a living hell…”

        Minimum wage employees cannot be properly trained for the kind of problems this promotion is going to cause…awaiting the horror stories.

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