You know the phrase: "I don't watch the Super Bowl for the game, I just watch it for the commercials." Marketers and television executives know it too, which is why advertisers will spend approximately $5 million this year for a single thirty-second slots during one of the last televised events where viewership remains strong. The Super Bowl is like the Academy Awards for commercials, intended to represent only the best of the best. This means that Super Bowl commercials are some of the most potent you'll see. Many are so entertaining that you might not even realize you're being marketed to.
At The LAMP, the nonprofit media education organization where I have been the Director of Communications since 2008, our programs teach people -- particularly young people, from elementary through high school -- how to understand and critique media messages. We look forward to the Super Bowl, and our Break the Super Bowl event. Break the Super Bowl has a lot in common with any Super Bowl party: wings, pizza and the game! But, you'll also find students working in teams on laptops to remix (or break) an actual Super Bowl commercial. They're use our free online video editor, MediaBreaker, to insert critical statements and call out stereotypes, bias and assumptions. They also point out when a commercial does its job responsibly. (Click here to see some videos created last year.)
A lot of families watch the big game together. It's fun. It's also an opportunity to engage your kids and get their minds moving. Here are a few tips for watching the game, and the commercials, with kids.
All media is made by people, for a specific audience, with a specific purpose. Maybe they want you to laugh so you'll associate their product with humor and fun. Perhaps they want you to feel inspired and understood -- think Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign, or Always' 2015 Super Bowl ad, 'Like a Girl.' Identifying the producer, audience and purpose of a commercial is a great way to start breaking down its essential elements.
Ask open-ended questions. If I were to ask one of my nieces who they thought was the target audience for the commercial we just saw, we wouldn't get too far. An open-ended question will get the conversation flowing, like "What did you think of that commercial?" or "What's your favorite commercial you've seen so far?" From there, you can go deeper into why your child thinks what she thinks.
You can be critical of something and still enjoy it. Inviting young people to question a commercial they find entertaining can seem like a bit of a buzzkill, but -- trust me -- you'll have fun deconstructing the ads. And, your kids will have a deeper understanding of what's being communicated, and put some rational distance between themselves and the message. Imagine if your son or daughter watched a typical toy commercial and understood that it was enforcing an outdated and arbitrary set of gender behaviors and expectations.
Try making a game of it. We start every "Break" event with a round of bingo. We pass out bingo cards with various persuasive techniques or elements, and have students work in pairs to identify those elements in the ads. Celebrity endorsement? Check. Cute animals? Check. And so on, until a row or the card is filled, and kids have to be able to explain their thought process. You can download one of our Super Bowl bingo cards here, or use it as inspiration for your own.