This Year's Super Bowl Message: Dad Cares

by Jennifer Li Shotz
Originally Published: 

I confess to willingly submitting to the emotional manipulation of big-game-day commercials. It’s fun to get a little teary sometimes.

But tonight’s Super Bowl ads took things to a whole new level.

The Super Bowl is like that time at Christmas when your parents—in the middle of a super fun snowball fight or really tasty dinner with lots of wine and laughs—suddenly clear their throats and tell you and your siblings they’d like to “talk about a few things.”

Cue the drooping-splat sound effect.

Here comes the festive little chat about the living will and do-not-resuscitate paperwork and keys to the safety deposit box. Because it doesn’t matter that it’s Christmas! (And you’re actually all getting along!) Nope, this is one of the few times in adult life that you’re all together, so they need to talk about this, and talk about it NOW.

My husband and I were so excited to sit down and watch the game with our 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, until we were quickly reminded that this is the only time advertisers have a third of the country all together in the same place, trying to have a good time.

Cue the ham-fisted buy-our-insurance-or-your-children-will-suffer-a-terrible-fate sound effect.

If there was a theme this year, it was parenting, or maybe family—a surefire way to move people in that sappy, indulgent way. By halftime, the effect of the commercials had begun to accumulate into a giant rolling snowball of failed fatherhood, children on the brink of annihilation, or dads who are somehow exceptional for showing that they care. Or, as a friend tweeted around halftime, “#saddad” was the theme of the night.

On the upside, some important issues were addressed in front of a vast audience. Domestic violence. Girls’ self-esteem. No one can argue with the need to share these messages.

But Nissan? Is it really in your wheelhouse to comment upon the state of American fatherhood? Nationwide, are you actually trying to sell me insurance because there’s a high likelihood my kid will die? WHAT?!

So much for the family bonding—by the end of the first quarter, we packed the kids off into the other room to watch America’s Funniest Videos on the iPad.

It’s never a bad idea to provoke a conversation about things that are difficult to talk about—things that are deeply culturally embedded and need to change. Things that our kids really do need to learn about.

But when a car company tries to conflate merchandise with progress, well, that just makes me want to return to my previously scheduled snowball fight.

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