There's only one thing that can upstage Tom Brady throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass: a supermodel getting her naked body painted by Jillian Michaels. That's what Internet domain registrar GoDaddy.com will be treating audiences to in its Super Bowl ads this year. With more than 100 million viewers on game day, advertisers are willing to do just about anything to get attention. (Would you have ever heard of GoDaddy otherwise?)
The Super Bowl represents a moment when families sit down and watch TV together. We're pretty much a captive audience and can be surprised by just about anything that happens during the live game -- including the ads.
Ads impact children
America pays almost as much attention to Super Bowl ads as we do the fumble on the 3-yard line. It's become a national sport to rate the ads the next day -- in the office and in the schoolyard. This year NBC, the network hosting the Super Bowl, is planning 18 hours of Super Bowl coverage on programs including the Today Show and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. That's a lot of commercials.
As adults, we may be evaluating an ad's humor or creativity, but the impact on kids can be quite different. Remember the Budweiser frogs? So do kids. A study by the Center on Alcohol Advertising showed that 9- to 11-year-old kids had higher recall (73%) of the Budweiser frogs' slogan than the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (39%). And kids knew what the frogs were selling: 81% identified beer as the product promoted by the frogs.
Beer, junk food, and more supermodels
Although the content of Super Bowl ads tends to be a closely guarded secret, the big advertisers are announced far in advance of the game. This year, social media is a huge part of many companies' marketing efforts. GoDaddy is running racier versions of their "leaked" TV commercials online, and Doritos invites viewers to choose which ad will ultimately appear on TV.
Some of the 2012 ads will be age appropriate for young kids, but a lot of them won't. Keeping with tradition, there will be plenty of beer commercials from Anheuser-Busch. Which is fine for grown-ups. But alcohol messaging needs to be managed with kids, since the simple truth is that they're powerfully influenced by alcohol branding. There will also be plenty of junk food ads and more supermodels promoting products ranging from cars to flowers. Be on the lookout, too, for ads promoting NBC shows and new movies, which may not all be age appropriate for your kids.
Be prepared to talk with your kids
Ads have a huge impact on our kids. Of course, some ads are entertaining -- even innovative -- but viewing them with a critical eye means that kids will have more freedom of choice about which messages they choose to listen to ... and which they don't. So here are some suggestions for ad-proofing yours:
Kids under 7 may not understand that an ad's purpose is to sell them a product rather than entertain them. You can point out that the ads they see during the Super Bowl are really meant for grown-ups. Ask them what they think the ads are selling. Sometimes they won't even know. And hit the mute button for alcohol ads or spots with violent content. Neither are age-appropriate.
Share some facts. The food and beverage industry spends more than $10 billion targeting children and youths though TV ads, coupons, contests, public relations promotions, and packaging. And 80% of the TV commercials are for fast food, candy, cereal, and toys.
Give your kids some ad-proofing decoder tips: Ask them who they think created the ad and why they're sending the messages they are. Who makes money from the ads? What tricks do your kids think the advertisers used to make them want to buy the products being promoted? Does an ad use a favorite celebrity? Does it have some feelings associated with the product -- like happiness? What isn't the ad telling them? No sign of nutritional information? Alcohol illegal for people under age 21? The featured video game costs a mint?
Distinguish fantasy from reality. How many calories are in that jumbo burger and soda and those extra-large fries? How many hours of exercise would it take to burn those calories off?
If your kids are too young to understand the ad, hit that mute button. Whether it's a Viagra commercial, a political ad, or anything else that feels uncomfortable, you may have to have a conversation you weren't expecting. If your kids are old enough to talk about the issues, make sure that they're learning about your perspective and values from you, not getting secondhand opinions from the media or uninformed kids on the playground.