This semester, Communication Studies Assistant Professor Hugh Curnutt is teaching courses on Reality TV, and Media and Society that reflect his expertise in cultural and critical media industry studies. The Pittsburgh Steelers fan shares his thoughts and insights on the cultural phenomenon of Super Bowl advertising.
Q: Why have Super Bowl ads become such a big part of the game experience?
A: The Super Bowl is one of the last remnants of the broadcast TV model, where large numbers of people get together to watch live programming. The ads themselves are as much a part of the viewing experience as the program. We all watch to see who will win the big game. But we’re also watching the ads to see who those winners will be. The Super Bowl marries the games and the ads effortlessly into a larger cultural ritual.
Q: This year, a 30-second spot costs a record-breaking $3.5 million. That’s a lot of money!
A: I like to tell my students that for the most part, television’s customers aren’t its viewers. TV sells viewers to advertisers.
For advertisers, the Super Bowl is as big as it gets; they know that they’ll reach a huge number of viewers this way. Super Bowl spots are premium real estate – that’s why they cost so much – and that’s why they are worth the huge investment for advertisers.
Q: What sets the Super Bowl ads apart?
A: Advertisers are investing millions of dollars to reach an audience eager for their ads. They know this is the place to put their best foot forward and create memorable spots. The fact is, that some of the most creative television comes in the form of ads – and some of the most creative spots are aired during the Super Bowl.
Q: What do you think makes an ad click with viewers?
A: Today, audiences have a more savvy relationship with TV – they get television advertising’s pop culture references. The best commercials acknowledge that the audience knows what’s going on.
Q: Do any ads of the past stand out for you?
A: I remember last year’s VW ad, which was a big success with its Star Wars/Darth Vader theme. I’ll be interested to see how this year’s VW ad references the old ad.
Q: What are your plans for Super Sunday?
A: Since my team didn’t make it this year, I’ll be rooting for the Giants.
Find out about campus activities planned for Super Bowl Sunday.