Of course, Super Bowl ads are typically awesome, but too often, because of how advertisers think, they have a lowest-common-denominator quality to them. Last night was no exception with the “rich people are lame” Audi commercial and the “Detroit is tough” Chrysler 200 commercial with Eminem. Toughness and unhappiness are the same thing, right?
But one company, Groupon, spoofed the lowest-common-denominator mindset of public service announcements, which was done with such grace and subtlety that the best way to explain them is to show them:
This ad says, “yeah, there might be oppression in Tibet, but there’s nothing you can do about it because China’s communist tendencies just need to run their course like a drawn-out flu. So in the mean time, let’s have fun and support this interesting culture by spending a night out on the town. Oh yeah, by the way, we’re happy.”
The only reason this ad is controversial, it seems, is because it didn’t try to make people sad, which is to say, it didn’t try to ease people’s guilt by showing them that there are worse things going on in the world.
In fact, the only way to save a culture from an oppressive regime halfway around the world would be to give the culture an outlet of freedom in which they can promote it. Hey, if worked for rap.
Here’s the second Groupon commercial of the series starring Cuba Gooding Jr, a good spokesperson for these types of ads because if he was a dog, he’d be a lab puppy named “Happy.” Before we watch, let’s pause so all the racists out there can make a black lab joke.
If whales were Tibetans and whalers were communists, this ad would be the same as the first one. And again, the solution remains just as awesome: the only way to save the whales is to turn their existence into a celebration as opposed to turning their plight into a pity party.
And finally, the third Groupon commercial:
Again, if anything is going to save the rainforest, it will be a total babe making a double entendre about deforestation.
The problem with public service announcements is not that they try to save Tibet, the whales, or the rainforest. It’s that they try to make us think that we need to sacrifice, or at least feel sad, pity, or some other negative emotion in order to save them. Groupon understands this, which makes their commercials the best of the Super Bowl commercials—which are the Super Bowl of commercials. And it’s why, if you thought Groupon crossed the line, then we cannot be friends.