Families watch together
Ever since Janet Jackson's 2005 "wardrobe malfunction," when Justin Timberlake ripped her shirt and exposed her nipple, the Super Bowl has come in for special scrutiny. Why? Because the Super Bowl actually represents a moment when families sit down and watch TV together. Which means 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 third yard line. It's become a national sport to rate the ads the next day -- in the office and in the schoolyard. 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.
Budweiser, Doritos, EA Games, and Focus on the Family
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. Some of the 2010 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 some junk food ads, a few movie spots that will almost certainly feature PG-13 movies (except for a Disney ad), and EA Games has purchased a commercial slot for the first time. While we'd like to think it's forMadden Football, which is age-appropriate for kids, the ad could easily feature the quite violent M-Rated Dante's Inferno, which is scheduled for release two days after the Super Bowl. That's a game you don't want your kids playing. Trust us.
But this year's big news comes from CBS' decision to break with precedent and air an ad from the advocacy group Focus on the Family. Networks haven't run "issue ads" in the past. And while Focus on the Family describes the ad -- which features Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam Tebow -- as a celebration of family and a celebration of life, many groups have expressed concern that the ad is a veiled pro-life commercial. Reuters news service reports:
"'The Tebows said they agreed to appear in the commercial because the issue of life is one they feel very strongly about,' it [Focus on the Family] said in a statement on its website. While the statement does not explicitly mention abortion, 'issue of life' is often akin to opposition to abortion rights in conservative Christian circles. Media reports have said the ad is expected to focus on Pam Tebow's decision to carry Tim to term despite a recommendation from doctors that she have an abortion."
Be prepared to talk with your kids
What you believe is up to you. But the issues of pro-life or pro-choice are complicated moral questions that aren't age-appropriate for young children who may not even know about the birds and the bees yet. The timing of when to initiate a discussion of the issues surrounding this hot-button subject should belong to individual families, not to a broadcaster. And while you may not bring the ad to your kids' attention in your living room, it's possible that they'll hear about it on the playground. The simple fact is that you'll need to be prepared to discuss your beliefs with your children if they bring it up.
Ad-proofing your kids
Ads make 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 were used by the advertiser to make them want to buy the products being promoted? Does the ad use a favorite celebrity? Does it have some feelings associated with the product -- like happiness? What isn't the ad telling them? Calorie count missing? 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?
When it comes to "issue ads," if your kids are too young to understand -- hit that mute button. But if they're 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.