Athletes often fare well at the Super Bowl, but not always so in Super Bowl commercials.
For every champ on the gridiron, there’s a terrible mishap in the ad breaks. Take the example of the African long-distance runner who took to the Super Bowl ad races in 1999. In a commercial for shoe-retailer Just For Feet, a group of white men in a Humvee tracked him and gave him water laced with a sedative. While he was unconscious, they “shoed” him with Nike gear. The ad was viewed as being horribly racist, and the company ended up filing for bankruptcy within just a few months’ time.
Or consider the plight of 1992 Olympic hopefuls Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson. They were touted in a Super Bowl ad from Reebok that hoped to stoke a rivalry between the duo as they made their way to the Games. O’Brien failed to qualify, negating hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment. And then there’s that runner in Apple’s iconic “1984” ad from the game of the same year. We have to presume that, after disrupting the hegemony of a totalitarian world order, she was set upon by thought police in riot gear and beaten within an inch of her life.
If you’re looking for another case in which athletes are not used to their fullest potential, check out a new Super Bowl spot from Pokemon, taking to the event to celebrate its 20th anniversary with an attempt to link playing a round of the popular video game to taking part in grand competition.
In an extra-long version of an ad set to be shown a week from Sunday and now posted on YouTube, a series of youngsters take on big challenges – a football game, a massive multi-player chess match – inspiring one another in the process. “I can do that!” they all proclaim.
In the end, a young man is motivated to take on Magneton and Charizard and other characters from the Pokemon universe in a stadium. Peppered throughout the commercial are subtle references to all things Pokemon, sure to delight diehards who can use a DVR or YouTube to watch the ad again and again (and to be ignored by fans guzzling suds interested in live play).
Cut to a young kid viewing at home, with an adult by his side (not to mention little Pikachu, perhaps the game’s best known character). ‘’You can do that,” the man urges the boy. Viewers are urged to “Train on.”
One of the flaws in the commercial is that it equates actual accomplishments – running, mastering chess, playing football – with sitting on a couch and getting your game on. There’s nothing wrong with playing Pokemon, of course, and the company behind the game is preparing some new video games for debut. But to suggest winning a game of Pokemon is as rousing as, well, anything that involves using one’s body to burn calories and achieve something physically or mentally demanding is a little silly.
Gaming has become a hot new category at the Super Bowl. Last year, NBC broadcast three different ads for mobile game apps from first-time sponsors of the game. In 2014, Fox ran two. Who can cite details from any of them?
Pokemon has been around for two decades, but this is its first time advertising in the Super Bowl. And it’s doing what people expect of a Super Bowl advertiser, creating an ad chock full of spectacular, cinematic images and attempting to link its product to an idea greater than “Game Over.” In doing so, however, it forgot to tell us about any specific product that might be on sale at local stores or Amazon and omitted to give us a reason to spend any money on its wares. Next time Pokemon gears up for a Super Bowl workout, it ought to have a goal in mind.