We’ve all had nearly a week to reflect on Super Bowl XLIX. Unless you were rooting for the Seattle Seahawks or found yourself on the losing side of the betting line, you’d have to admit the game was pretty entertaining. And of course, even if you don’t care for NFL football at all, there were the commercials. Normally, I find commercial interruptions of college and professional football telecasts to be an ever increasing annoyance, but as is the case with every Super Bowl, there are always a few that stand out. The most watched TV telecast in America treated viewers to the usual cute Budweiser dog and pony show, a candy coated Brady Bunch parody, a nostalgic Katie Couric/Bryant Gumbel reunion, and a very funny Fiat commercial wrapped in a Viagra mini rom-com. However, there’s no denying that this year’s assortment of ads focused on some very heavy social issues ranging from domestic abuse, to gender equality, to fatal household accidents.
The Nissan commercial in particular stood out among the other car ads for its emotionally intense take on family and fatherhood. In contrast, the Mercedes commercial featured whimsical cuddly cartoon characters, while Dodge’s spry centenarians waxed philosophical about the trials, tribulations and joys of longevity (not known if any of them ever owned a Challenger). The Nissan ad initially appears to chronicle the tension-filled relationship of a boy with his racecar driver father. Similar to the Fiat commercial, the viewer gets pulled in trying to figure out what product is being marketed. But the blue pill- fueled Italian car rumbles on to a chuckle by the end, while Nissan’s near nightmarish scenes of race track crashes set to Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in The Cradle somber soundtrack leave us wondering what we had just watched. The ad concludes with Dad in street clothes picking up his now teenaged son at school in a regular passage car.
Is Nissan trying to sell automobiles by promoting the concept of family, and particularly paternal love’s power in the face of terrifying obstacles? Or is this some sort of coming of age story played out via an asphalt and tire, pit road version of “Field of Dreams”? A truly effective, compelling message often resonates with a wide diverse audience in subtle complex ways. But this ad seemed far more manipulative than inspiring or persuasive. As it were, Harry Chapin (whose life ironically was cut short by a car crash) has been playing in my head all week long. I need to give some of his work another listen. Let’s just hope his song Taxi doesn’t come out as a commercial soundtrack for Uber or those Google self-driving cars.