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Fatherhood, Authority and Drama: An Analysis of Sprint Super Bowl Ad “Car”  

2017-02-13 11:28:58|  分类: +广告创意与陷阱 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Fatherhood, Authority and Drama:

An Analysis of Sprint Super Bowl Ad “Car”

Yiran Zhang

Yale University


       The spot opens with a dad of two pushing a car down the edge of a cliff, with a dummy version of himself seated in the car. “Well, kids, daddy’s dead.” He says with a self-congratulatory smirk. Then, a stranger with a set of hiking sticks arrives on the scene, revealing the purpose of this traumatizing act: “Let me guess, faking your own death to get out of your Verizon contract?” The children, in shock, interrogate their father in disbelief (“Is that why you destroyed the car?” “Isn’t that illegal?”), putting him on the defensive: “What are you, a cop, now?” Fortunately, the stranger offers a comforting solution to this debacle: “You could have just switched to Sprint. Their network reliability is within 1% of Verizon’s. And they save you 50% on most current Verizon rates.” His argument is made only more appealing by the timely explosion of the car at the bottom of the cliff. “Shoot,” the dad says. The spot concludes with the tagline: “Don’t let a 1% difference cost you twice as much. Switch to Sprint.”

In telling a story about an extreme act caused by Sprint’s opponent, Verizon, this attack ad intends to persuade Verizon users to switch to Sprint. However, the ad accomplishes its purpose by employing a much subtler sub-narrative that dramatizes the demise of fatherly authority, an effective appeal in the backdrop of the masculine- and family-oriented nature of the Super Bowl.

       This dramatization serves to mask the numerous logical fallacies embedded in the ad. First of all, the ad presents a false dilemma: it suggests that you either use Sprint or inevitably have to destroy expensive property and emotionally scar your children. In reality, one does not need to commit such a tremendous sacrifice to switch phone plans. Droga5 NY, the creator of the ad, has implicitly attached irrelevant repercussions to a Verizon subscription, yet creating the illusion that they are relevant. Secondly, the tagline “Don’t let a 1% difference cost you twice as much” is misleading in that Verizon’s more expensive cost doesn’t merely include a 1% difference. This figure covers network reliability only, but there are other metrics to evaluate the quality of a mobile carrier, such as signal availability. Apart from the network reliability factor, Verizon’s higher cost also reflects a better product that goes beyond the 1% figure. In a report by BGR, Verizon wins availability by 86% of the time whereas Sprint’s is only 69% of the time. The “1% difference” obfuscates the true difference between the two products, suppressing other pieces of evidence that Sprint does not want its customers to know. Thus this ad is misleading in that it has failed to capture the other ways in which Sprint lags behind its fierce competitor.

However, the above logical gaps are easily overshadowed by the flashier elements of the ad, namely the dramatic events: the dad sending his car down a cliff, the accusations of his children, and the final explosion of the car. In “Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and the How”, Edward L. Bernays emphasizes the importance of drama in advertising: “…attitudes were often created by a circumstance or circumstances of a dramatic moment” (Bernays 961). These constructed plot points have more persuasive power, which is based in neuroscience. Such dramatization is particularly effective because it “downshifts” the brain, rendering viewers susceptible to fallacious appeals: by “activat[ing] the emotional midbrain and the instinctive reactive centers, downshifting makes it virtually impossible for critical thinking and effective reasoning to occur while watching an ad” (Schor 111), at least for the untrained eye. By translating the frustration of Verizon users into a dramatic event usually found in blockbuster films, Droga5 NY has successfully downshifted its viewers’ brains to perceive the shortcomings of Verizon as more severe than they actually are.

But more importantly, the dramatization has successfully tapped into the emotions associated with the setting in which the ad is to debut: the Super Bowl. The brand of Sprint is being co-created by “interactions of multiple parties, institutions, publics, and social forces” (O’Guinn and Muniz, 133). Long associated with hypermasculine narratives, football is an arena in which the male collective conscious kicks into effect, glorifying violence and aggression as signs of male dominance and superiority. The Super Bowl is also known for being a family occasion: Super Bowl Sunday is “a party devoted to family” (Roberts). Fatherhood sits at this nexus of masculine power and familial authority. Droga5 NY has implicitly made use of these pre-existing social traditions and institutions to aid its case. Fathers thus make a potent target for a Super Bowl ad.

The “Car” campaign engages fathers among its audiences by undermining the authority of fatherhood, portraying a rash, deceitful and irresponsible father figure who is a toxic role model for his children. The dummy of the father, the first image that appears in the ad, symbolizes the father’s falseness. The first line of the ad “well, kids, daddy’s dead”, mourns the loss of what everything that fatherhood is supposed to represent: protection, trustworthiness, and respect for the law. The children’s distraught reactions further serve to erode the father’s authority, as he has failed to demonstrate moral values and lost his children’s respect. The father, his ego wounded, accuses his son of being a cop, a legitimate authority that speaks to his illegitimate one.

In this context, the innocuous bystander’s proposed solution to switch to Sprint does not merely bring about an economic benefit as it states. The selling point of the ad lies in the acquisition of social and familial capital by switching to Sprint: becoming a better citizen and father to your children. It brings the arc of the ad back into balance, serving as the father’s answer to compensate for his bruised ego and compromised credibility. The theme is so universally relatable that it turns the ad into a social ritual for the millions of Super Bowl viewers, because it did its job of “contain[ing] the drift of meanings” associated with consumer products (Douglas and Isherwood 43). In The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption, Douglas and Isherwood claim that the “main problem of social life is to pin down meanings so that they stay still for a little time” (Douglas and Isherwood 43). The ritual of the Sprint Super Bowl ad serves this exact purpose, stabilizing the association of its brand with the values of fatherhood and family and setting up a “visible public definition” (Douglas and Isherwood 43) of the brand through dramatization.

       In conclusion, the Sprint ad “Car” seeks to attract more users by branding itself as the answer to restoring lost fatherly authority. It makes good use of the masculine- and family-oriented context of the Super Bowl to aid its meaning-making endeavor. It is a testament to the idea that brands are not merely co-created by the marketer and the consumer; they are also authored by cultural traditions such as family and social norms such as gender roles.

 

Works Cited


Bernays, Edward L. “Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How”. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 33, No. 6 (May. 1928), pp. 958-971.

 

Douglas, Mary and Baron Isherwood. 1979. The World of Goods. New York: Basic.


Mills, Chris. 2016. “ The Only bad cell company is Sprint”.

http://bgr.com/2016/08/04/sprint-vs-verizon-t-mobile-att-coverage-reliability-speed/

 

O’Guinn, Thomas C. and Albert M. Muniz. 2010. “Towards a Sociological Model of Brands.” Pp. 133-155 in Brands and Brand Management: Contemporary Research Perspectives. New York: Routlege.


Richards, Katie. 2017. “Sprint’s Comically Grim Super Bowl Ad Might Have the Best Line of the Night”Adweek.

http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/sprints-comically-grim-super-bowl-ad-might-have-the-best-line-of-the-night/

 

Roberts, Randi. “12 Things You Might Not Know About the Super Bowl”. The Daily Meal.

http://www.thedailymeal.com/entertain/12-things-you-might-not-know-about-super-bowl

 

Schor, Juliet B. 2004. Born to Buy: the Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. New York: Scribner.

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