Monday, February 14, 2011

Nipplegate gave us bad Super Bowl halftime shows. Now Tibetgate will give us bad Super Bowl ads.

In a previous post on Groupon's Super Bowl ads, I observed that people hated Groupon because they perceived that Groupon did not share their values.

Geoff Livingston (H/T @tacanderson) has a different take. Livingston has observed that people hated Groupon because they perceived that Groupon did, in a different sense, share their values.

...[T]he United States as a country gives nonprofits a lot of lip service, but when push comes to shove, we fail to change. Consider all of the talk about environmentalism, yet America still consumes more than any country in the world. We fail to act, and though we emote, our collective actions as a society are demonstrative of a deeper apathy.

Groupon thrust our hypocrisy into our faces, and we responded with wrath. We eat Tibetan food, instead of taking action for Tibet, or a Brazilian wax instead of helping the rain forest, or a ticket to a water amusement park instead of helping to save the whales. Think about it. We talk mindfulness while we walk vain consumption.

So instead of perceiving that Groupon trivialized what we do, Groupon instead exposed what we DON'T do. Heck, I don't even own a Livestrong bracelet; I personally can't claim to have done anything meaningful.

But the Groupon ads have had a potentially far-reaching effect. As the hubbub continued, Andrew Mason made a decision.

We hate that we offended people, and we’re very sorry that we did – it’s the last thing we wanted. We’ve listened to your feedback, and since we don’t see the point in continuing to anger people, we’re pulling the ads (a few may run again tomorrow – pulling ads immediately is sometimes impossible). We will run something less polarizing instead. We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through.

But the ramifications didn't end there.

Very early in my blogging career, I offered some comments on another Super Bowl. Here's part of what I wrote on February 1, 2004:

Then there was the ending to the halftime show. CNN reported the incident; here are some excerpts:

The network quickly cut away from the shot, and did not mention the incident on the air.

Actually, they did. Either Gumbel or Simms made a comment about expecting a "raw, naked" third quarter.

Joe Browne of the NFL was quoted as saying:

"It's unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime."

Of course, this means that the NFL will turn to Don King. Or perhaps the Children's Television Workshop. Or Arnold Shapiro.

As to why this happened, I will go with the following possible explanations until reality corrects me:

Justin was firing another salvo in the Britney-Justin war, trying to upstage Britney's kiss on Madonna and her weekend wedding.

Janet was trying to get Michael to become interested in adult women.

Well, Michael is no longer with us, but Joe Browne's words certainly became true. In an attempt to make sure that the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake incident would never ever ever happen again, the Super Bowl instituted a change in its halftime programming. As Wikipedia notes, Super Bowl fans were greeted the following year with a performance by Paul McCartney. Apparently NFL officials were not worried about what would happen if McCartney's nipple were exposed. The next year, the Super Bowl presented the Rolling Stones. This was fine for forty-somethings like me, but how would the vast majority of the audience react? Of course, this situtation couldn't last long, so the NFL went all modern the next year and brought out 1980s star Prince. He was followed in subsequent years by Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and the Who. Classic radio loved it. In fact, it was only this year that the NFL dared to have a halftime performance with artists from THIS millennium - the Black Eyed Peas.

But the counter-reaction to Nipplegate indicates what is going to happen in that lucrative world of Super Bowl advertising. Because even so-called sophisticated people couldn't understand or couldn't accept the humor in the Groupon ad, advertising agencies and businesses will strive to avoid "the Groupon mistake" by going for simple ads that appeal to the lowest common denominator. No one wants to be Tibetted, you know.

So, if we have a Super Bowl in 2012, and if you are disappointed that all of the high-priced Super Bowl ads feature cute kittens and people doing wacky things, you only have yourself to blame.
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