Superbowl 2018: The Heart of America & Selling Y’all Soul

Posted: February 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

Steven Means, Malcolm Jenkins, Ron Brooks

For the past year, the American nightmare has captivated and traumatised us. We find ourselves horrified by what we’ve witnessed, yet are too fearful to look away. Those familiar with this blog will know I have previously posted on advertising during the American Super Bowl in order to explore capital’s attempts to colonise our caring relationships and our loving resistance. This year, despite seeking to avoid the difficulties of commenting on the current divided states of America, as the days passed and various controversies erupted over Super Bowl 2018, I couldn’t help delving back into the heart and soul of the U.S.A..

Previous readers of Revolts Now may have sadly noticed that advertising is now being imposed on this blog, because I don’t pay for the premium ‘no advertising’ version of WordPress. If you have the money you can avoid some advertising, or, of course, you can buy advertising. The spots available during the Super Bowl are by far the most expensive air time on television. In 2014, thirty seconds of advertising during the game cost four million dollars. In 2015, the cost was around five million dollars. This year the average cost was more than that. Advertisers spent a combined $534 million on ads before, during, and after the game last year. This year they spent well over half a billion. Most advertisers budget millions more to preview their Super Bowl spots on YouTube and to promote them on social media.

As I’ve pointed out before, many commodities are marketed as a way of giving or gaining love, or of showing that we care. The purchase of some product, we are told, will make us loved or demonstrate our love for others. Kevin Roberts, CEO of leading global advertising company Saatchi and Saatchi, argues that “the social fabric is spread more thinly than ever. People are looking for new, emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love”. He understands that “love is about action” and this means the corporations he works for require “meaningful” relationships that they foster by embracing consumers and communities and by “inspiring love”. This corporate strategy hopes to cultivate a close emotional connection between consumers and brands. Roberts and the companies that employ him believe that if consumers can be convinced that corporations are interested in love, and that corporations care about them, they will reciprocate and love corporations and their products.

Disaster Corporatism – We’re All in this Together

With much of the divided states of America now gripped by fear, with the fostering of hatred, bigotry and the ‘crisis of compassion’ normalised, and in the face of intensified struggles between progressive movements and radical right forces, countering the tendency towards polarisation was high on the agenda of those seeking to ‘depoliticise’ this year’s Super Bowl. One attempt during the game’s adverts, to straddle growing national fault lines, was Budweiser’s ‘Stand By You’ commercial. Set to the song “Stand by Me,” the ad focused on the company’s delivery of cans of water to people affected by recent disasters in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and California.

Responses to disaster can foster and promote ideas that ‘we’re all in this together’, and with recent catastrophes in the U.S. clearly demonstrating the callous disregard and inadequacy of various state forms, ‘disaster philanthropy’ is becoming more popular. As I’ve highlighted in a number of other posts, when tragedies befall people, the common scenario involves their friends, family, neighbours, and communities stepping in to care for them. This ‘disaster communism’ is an area of interest for those seeking to harness the power of love in order to make a buck. Corporations promoting themselves as supporting family and community ties, who are apparently socially concerned, or social justice-oriented, seek to reconfigure purchasing as a communal act, positioning consumer choice as a site of responsibility, where states promote ‘self-reliance’ and corporations seek to portray themselves as interested in, and committed to, solidarity, love, and care.

However, viewers remain sceptical of such corporate positioning, with many asking why Budweiser didn’t simply donate the cost of the commercial to disaster relief? The company declined to say how much their ‘relief program’ was worth, while social media debates about the ad centred on the price tag, and the amount it cost to provide around 2 million cans of water. The beer conglomerate which owns Budweiser aired six commercials during Super Bowl 2018, for a total of four minutes of ads worth tens of millions of dollars.

The ad has been viewed more than twenty million times on YouTube alone, and has garnered interest for using its own brewery workers rather than actors. Here we discover that these ads are not only aimed at consumers but, perhaps more importantly, at the corporation’s workforce.

According to Forbes American business magazine, ‘Stand by You’ “tugs at the heartstrings because actual employees are at its heart . . . reminding leaders that employees feel good about working at brands that do good.” According to Forbes; “The ads represent months of research, hundreds of hours of planning by marketing teams, dozens of scripts, and 14-hour days of filming. Budweiser has done its research, discovering that real stories of actual employees create stronger brand loyalty and employee engagement . . . (the) Budweiser ad for Super Bowl 2018 is an extension of a brand campaign that leverages the power of storytelling to make an emotional connection with its customers and its employees.”

“In the knowledge economy, the workplace relies heavily on trust, engagement, and goodwill,” writes Duke University behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, in his book Payoff. The importance of making everyone feel “deeply connected to the enterprise” is fundamental to building that relationship, he says. Ariely argues that leaders who infuse their companies with purpose and meaning see a remarkable boost in work quality, morale, productivity, and profits. Meanwhile, the editors of the Australian Institute of Management publication, Love @ Work, propose “serious conversations about love and humanity” to galvanise management and workers by encouraging them “to love their work, love their co-workers and love themselves”. Management experts discuss love as “a leadership tool” which can “strengthen the corporate heart, build profits and create social good”, highlighting the importance of workers’ growing “love affair with their jobs”, and how bosses can “seduce their employees to give their hearts and minds to the office”.

“A Heart full of Grace. . . Soul Generated by Love”

Continuing the theme of companies, people, and products, serving a corporatised America, and in a year when racial politics have been at the heart of so many social struggles, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideas on community service rang out on televisions across America during Super Bowl LII — in an ad to sell pickup trucks.

The speech used in this Ram ‘Built to Serve’ advertisement was made 50 years ago to the day of the Super Bowl, near the end of King’s life, when he was focused more clearly on the need to confront militarism and capitalism. Although you wouldn’t know it from the Ram ad, his ‘Drum Major Instinct’ sermon was, in part, an examination of the power of advertising. Decrying the ‘instinct’ to put yourself ahead of other people, to ‘lead the parade’, King’s message urges us to recognise this ‘instinct’, harness it for the power of good, to let go of materialism, and our need to feel superior  to others. That King’s words were used in an advertisement for pickup trucks, during an orgy of capitalist self-promotion, marking the end of an NFL season in which racial protest was a key element, is yet another ironic cherry on the top of a year of mind-boggling shit.

Despite his faults and failings, Martin Luther King sought to serve the oppressed. While doing so, he described the campaigns for civil rights as a powerful form of love, “the tough and resolute love that refused bitterness and hatred but stood firmly against every shred of injustice.” Joining a widespread outcry over the use of his words in the ‘Built to Serve’ advertisement, and responding to this monstrous mocking of a man, and a vision, many consider part of the true soul of America, a recut version of the Ram commercial quickly deployed other sections of the ‘Drum Major Instinct’ sermon to deliver an alternative message.

Depoliticise This!

While attempts to ‘depoliticise’ this year’s Super Bowl were always going to fail, little media coverage was given to those protesting throughout the venue city of Minneapolis, against the militarisation and hyper-commercialism of the Super Bowl, which included brave people blocking the light rail to the stadium, because on ‘game day’ it was ‘public transportation’ reserved only for those with Super Bowl tickets. However, soon after the game ended, wide-ranging political debates erupted over white privilege and the minimal policing of the ‘riotous’ winning team’s celebrating supporters.

Media attention was also soon focused on the refusal of key Philadelphia Eagles players to visit the White House as the winners traditionally do. Eagle’s wide receiver Torrey Smith, who raised his fist on the field to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed his disapproval of Trump’s war against players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism. Smith told the media; “You see Donald Trump tweet something … We have those conversations in the locker room, just like everyone else does in the workplace. We’re very informed about what goes on, and we’re trying to continue to educate ourselves.” Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who skipped the White House visit  in 2017 when he played for last year’s champions, also won’t be attending. Eagle’s safety Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his fist during the National Anthem with Smith, has also been an outspoken critic of Trump, and is a founder of the Players Coalition a group of NFL players committed to fighting racial injustice. Asked after their Super Bowl win if he had something to say to Trump, Jenkins replied; “I don’t have a message for the president. My message has been clear all year. I’m about creating positive change in the communities that I come from.”

Clearly there is no depoliticisation of sport, of media coverage, of advertising, of life, of solidarity, of care, and of love. Jenkins appreciates the power of his teammate’s message and the ability of sports/media stars to raise awareness of social injustice and advertise political alternatives. As he explains; “I didn’t realise that the platform could be this big until Colin Kaepernick first took a knee,” referring to the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who helped to spark a wave of player activism. “When he did that, that was kind of an ‘aha’ moment for me. I’d already been doing work in the community . . . But when it comes to how to actually amplify your voice, when I saw what Colin Kaepernick did and the amount of coverage and conversation around it, that’s when I truly realised how much influence we have as athletes.”

Jenkins discovered he had locker-room allies in Smith, Long, and other NFL players, as well as strong support from many fans and admirers. Together their stand is a small part of the diverse responses to a variety of American disasters, and just one contribution to the wide-ranging fightback against the politics of hate. These struggles reflect a growing understanding that powerful manipulators and ideologues are pitting people against each other, dividing a class of working people whose genuine needs and desires cannot be met by capitalism. While corporate bosses tout the illusion of a united workforce ‘making America great again’ by boosting profits, genuine solidarity, care, and love are increasingly recognised as the crucial concerns of our daily struggles.

If you see an ad at the end of this post, what is it really selling? Will you buy it? When our hearts and minds are being continually targeted, who do we stand by? Who do we serve? What should we put our hearts and souls into?

Nick Southall

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