The Super Bowl is today, which means two things:
- We’re in the second half of winter.
- We’re going to be seeing some very expensive TV commercials.
I am still haunted by memories of people saying, in reference to the Super Bowl, “I only watch it for the ads.” As weird as that motive is, it’s a real one, as demonstrated by the frequent January airing of TV specials that consist entirely of Super Bowl ads from the past periodically interrupted by non–Super Bowl ads from the present.
In lieu of analyzing or criticizing the multimillion-dollar TV spots that are going to air today, I would like to acknowledge a handful of ads out there now that I think were done well. This is basically my way of justifying all the time I spent watching TV in January.
I haven’t been married but I can understand the feeling conveyed in this ad. I’ve been in a relationship, gotten comfortable, fallen into routines, and let those routines lead me to believe that I completely understood the person across from me. Love follows a seemingly inevitable march: the exhilarating chaos of the beginning gives way to an order that history arranges. The uncertainty and mystery and constant flow of discoveries—the precious ephemera that mark early courtship—peter out over time. But travel is an antidote because (A) it makes routine impossible and (B) it exposes you to unfamiliar situations and new ideas. I think Princess makes the case for travel beautifully in this ad.
I’ve watched Chicago P.D., so I can say, with authority, that the police officer character who appears on the ad is a gruff guy, one who the writers would have likely injected with a Tony Soprano–like vocabulary were they not bound to network-TV rules. So this ad actually makes sense. I like it because it has an edge (I’m not sure I need to spell this out, but **** stands for “fuck”) that isn’t arbitrary (the Chicago flag is decorated with four horizontal stars, which I will now read as an expletive every time I pass one).
Bank of America
I’d say this ad is the weakest of the three in its ability to convert customers. But it’s the most interesting in its structure and cinematography.
In the shot when the guy says hi to the flower vendor, the light flashes into the frame in a way that powerfully evokes a particular time of day: that hour or so between the end of the work day and the beginning of a night. The time is reiterated in the long shadow in front of him as he walks west toward the cab. This is mainly important because this, early evening, is notorious for its air of possibility (unless you are a married man, in which case “there is nothing to do but go home and drink your nine drinks and forget about it”).
In the back of the cab, the guy stares at the bouquet and, as if thinking to himself that it might be excessive, pulls out a single daisy. He slides his credit card through the reader and gets out with the daisy, leaving the rest of the bouquet in the back of the cab. In doing so, he leaves a puzzle for the next fare.
The guy goes into an apartment building and hurries up the stairs. When the apartment door opens, all we’re shown is the look on the his face, a brief, tentative smile that’s no less enigmatic than the Mona Lisa‘s. I’m not saying this just to transgressively champion something so calculated as a bank commercial over a great work of art (though that is part of my motivation). Mainly, I don’t think people should dismiss this ad’s artistic merits just because it’s an ad. It’s a pleasure to watch, and doesn’t hit you over the head with stupid and desperate narration. The only voice-over is “We know we’re not the center of your life. But we’ll do our best to help you connect to what is.” I like that. This is a bank that knows its limits.