Culture At Large

What Super Bowl commercials really reveal

Stephen P. Hale

Super Bowl commercials are the highlight of the game for me. Advertisers bring their A game, and every year there are a few commercials that will be talked about for days. This year was no different.

Advertisements reflect their audience. Advertisers spend tremendous effort working to understand their audience and they are usually quite successful. Because of this work, commercials reflect our common desires. We can look to them and see ourselves, maybe even parts of ourselves we don’t like or parts we previously didn’t recognize. What do this year’s Super Bowl commercials say about us?

The NFL has a fantasy football game and the prize is $1 million. One of this game’s commercials is one of the more telling ads of the evening. The slogan is “…like a millionaire.” In one scene, the character gets out of a private jet with a dozen fashion models and the announcer says, “fly like a millionaire.”

The implication is that we enjoy the idea of living like this. Not that we would actually live like this given a million dollars, but we like something in the idea of living this way. Something about the lifestyles in this video appeals to us. Most of the scenes are opulent displays of personal wealth. For example, one scene depicts a man bathing in gold coins. What resonates here is the idea of having enough money to act like this. This level of wealth is so far past paying for the important things that we can waste money on dolphins in our swimming pools. I think this is actually about economic security, not about the obnoxious wastes of wealth depicted. People that have tacky gold statues don’t worry about health insurance or rent payments.   

I think it is more helpful for Christians to see these commercials as reminders of the aching inside of our neighbors and ourselves.

We like naked women and underwear models. continued its tradition of advertising with overt promises of nudity on their website, and Adriana Lima, the famous Victoria’s Secret model, appeared in commercials from two different companies. Numerous other advertisements used somewhat more subtle forms of the same idea: we like being titillated.

This desire for sex resonates with us for two reasons. First, we’re reminded of it and teased with it consistently. More importantly: sex feels like love. In the modern world love and connections have become mostly something we select. This contributes to a general anxiety about being loved. The awareness that we choose who we will love through life makes us aware of the possibility that we may never be loved deeply. While some would argue women have sex for love and men have sex for pleasure, I think that, underneath, most of us have sex for love. We want sex for the human closeness, the intimacy that it represents. Every time we see Adriana Lima, we are reminded of that.

Some might argue Christians should not be afraid of where their shelter comes from, where their food comes from. After all, “consider the lilies of the field.” It could be argued that Christians should not worry about whether or not they will be loved. One often hears condemnations (which I agree with, in principle) from Christians about the selling of sex in advertisements.

I think it is more helpful for Christians to see these commercials as reminders of the aching inside of our neighbors and ourselves. We are a people afraid for our futures. A verse more relevant than Matthew 6:25 might be Luke 5:31: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do.” These commercials serve as reminders that we all need doctors to heal our broken hearts. We, as servants about our Father’s business, need to work on healing our neighbors. Instead of complaining about the brokenness in the world around us, let’s work as God’s servants to heal it.

For Discussion

  • What Super Bowl commercials stood out to you and what messages did they deliver?
  • What did this year's commercials say about American wants, desires and worries?
  • How does the Gospel message counter what many of these advertisements communicated?


Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Entertainment, Sports, News & Politics, Media