Friday, February 18, 2011

Hut Hut Hike!

Dear Dale,

Two weeks ago the Super Bowl happened.  I’ll spare you the details, but needless to say, Tony Siragusa enjoyed it very much.  Unfortunately for just about everyone watching, America’s Sweetheart, Ben Roethlisberger, known best for his ardent devotion to charity and his winning ways with the ladies, was outmatched by the asshole who usurped the quarterbacking throne of Wisconsin icon (and amateur photographer/cell-phone enthusiast) Brett Favre.  While football fans across the country groaned with displeasure at such an unfortunate outcome, their frustrations were meted, at least in part, by the excitement of getting to learn about their nation’s Declaration of Independence with Jerry Rice and Anthony Munoz (whom I always thought of as the Thomas Jefferson of the Cincinnati Bengals).

Anyways, Dale, I know I’m a little behind the ball in my post-game assessments, and that the collective attention of America’s sports fans has already moved onto more important things like rising health-care costs or the emergence of a democratic Egypt (I’m kidding – just hockey) but I want to take this time to share with you some of my various insights and understandings gleaned from that four-hour extravaganza of field-goal-shanking, head-concussing, Doritos-shilling fun.  So while I do apologize for the delay in posting, just know that some of us have day jobs and cannot afford to spend eighty hours a week scrawling inane over-analysis (Peter King) or self-righteous pseudo-commentary (Greg Easterbrook) or sensationalist feminist diatribes masquerading as human interest pieces (Rick Reilly).  Alright, Dale?  So take it or leave it (please take it) but here are my belated Super Bowl thoughts:

Belated Super Bowl Thought #1
Do we realize that of the last five Super Bowl champions, not one has started a running back who finished in the top ten in either regular season yards or touchdowns?  Here is the rundown:
2011: James Starks – 107th in yards, NR in TDs (because he didn’t have any)
2010: Pierre Thomas – 24th in yards, 24th in TDs
2009: Willie Parker – 26th in yards, 29th in TDs
2008: Brandon Jacobs – 15th in yards, 27th in TDs
2007: Joseph Addai – 18th in yards, 14th in TDs
In fact, the last time a top 10 running back won the Super Bowl was Corey Dillon in 2004.  What does this say about football?  I don’t know.  That we don’t need running backs?  Yeah, I’ll go with that: no more running backs!  And do we really need two safeties?  Or an outside linebacker?  Hey football, I think I just solved your salary issues.  You’re welcome.

Belated Super Bowl Thought #2:
Here’s another wild musing for you: we just had a whole Super Bowl entirely devoid of Peyton Manning?  Not on the field, not in a single commercial, not even in a clip of "in case you forgot, here's what happened in last year’s game" or a “someday Roethlisberger and Rodgers might be as good as Peyton Manning” segment or a “hey everybody, look at this picture of Peyton Manning” non-sequitur from Troy Aikman.  Nothing!  Somehow over the course of a four-hour football-related broadcast we had more camera shots of Cameron Diaz hand-feeing Alex Rodriguez what I can only assume were fistfuls of blood diamonds than we did of that over-marketed lug and his big, stupid, glistening forehead.  I, for one, could not be more pleased.  Now if we could only have done the same thing with Joe Buck…

Belated Super Bowl Thought #3
You’re telling me we couldn’t have just had an Usher/Slash halftime show?  How would that not have been 100 times better than listening to Fergie’s a-melodic warbling and the laptop computer that trained to do his singing for him?  Since we’ve apparently given up on making the Super Bowl halftime show remotely listenable (choosing instead to focus on hallucinogenically-illuminated Gumby villains), how’s this for an idea: every year we pair up two musical acts, each representing the home town of one of the contending teams.  This year we could have done the Violent Femmes (Wisconsin) and Girl Talk (Pittsburgh).  What, you’re saying it wouldn’t have been awesome to hear “Blister in the Sun” with Ja-Rule mashed up over it?  How about if we ever wind up with an Arizona-Jacksonville pairing and get to watch a sizzling duet between Stevie Nicks and Limp Bizkit?  Wait, why haven’t we been doing this already?

Belated Super Bowl Thought #4
They totally should have thrown it on second down!

Belated Super Bowl Thought #5
This wasn’t really reported on very much during the lead-up to the game, but did you know that both teams featured elite defensive players with long hair?  I know!  Crazy, right?  Seriously though, if I had heard one more analytic breakdown of Clay Matthews or Troy Polamalu’s conditioning habits, I would have taken a sledgehammer into the nearest Supercuts and started laying into every last Pantene Pro-V bottle in my sights.  Seriously, what is wrong with American sports media/fandom today?  Between a World Series in which the number one story-lines seemed to be Tim Lincecum’s mop-top and Brian Wilson’s bushy black cheek-fuzz, a solid four months of Tom Brady – Justin Bieber doo comparisons and now this, it’s clear a definitive and horrifying follicle frenzy has entirely overtaken our athletic domain.  At this point I’m seriously hoping the next three Super Bowls feature Matt Hasselbeck vs. Bruce Gradkowski matchups.  And are coached by Brad Childress and Tony Dungy.  And are all held at Gillette Stadium.  And have a halftime show performed by Michael Stype and Sinead O’Conner.  There, that’ll show ‘em.  That’ll show all of ‘em.

Belated Super Bowl Thought #6
Over a week has gone by and I’m still in utter awe of the Chrysler commercial featuring Eminem.  Yes, I know its praises have already been sung out by more voices than made up that gospel choir whose lyric-less rehearsal in an abandoned theatre was so rudely interrupted by Mr. Mathers himself (check out my employer’s pseudo-definitive take on it here).  Likewise, I’ve been privy to its well-reasoned counter attack, which has pointed to the hypocrisy in a union-busting corporate behemoth championing the enduring spirit of its workers, or a company still in debt from its federal bailout (and having recently undergone an apparently government-imposed selling of stakes to a foreign auto-maker) touting its standards of American luxury.


As far as flat out branding goes: pure genius.  If you are anything like me (and you are, Dale), Chrysler is the one of the “Big Three” American automakers with which you have long held the weakest brand associations.  Sure they own Jeep, and occasionally come out with a notable minivan or some shit, but honestly until the bailouts happened, I didn’t even realize they were one of the “Big Three” (I thought it was Ford, GM, and whoever makes the little cars that Shriners drive in parades).  As it was, following their unwanted exposure to the public consciousness (all within the context of their city’s/industry’s mass melt-down), my predominant association with Chrysler became exactly that: the failed Michigan auto manufacturer who had appropriated my tax dollars.  If you had asked me, two weeks ago, to name a model of car sold under the Chrysler make, I would have been stumped, but I could have assured you that I would never have purchased it.

Fast-forward to the Super Bowl.  I’ll admit, when the ad aired I was more engrossed in devouring Buffalo Wild Wing number two-hundred and forty-three than I was in the opening images of a black speedster and the crumbling edifices of the Motor City.  Beyond this, having been psychologically pre-conditioned to tune out any-and-all Super Bowl automobile commercials as categorically unfunny (way to go, Hyundai, you ruined the party for everyone), I saw no reason to invest my interests in what was sure to be a drab thirty seconds of low-angled, mood-lit shots and a husky voiceover informing me of my options for low-APR financing.  Instead, I took the opportunity to engage a friend in spirited debate over the merits of running a cover-three defensive scheme out of a nickel package (or possibly to grunt a request that he pass me another Miller Lite – the whole evening was kind of a blur).

That’s when I noticed the all-too familiar electric guitar pickings of an Academy Award-winning hip-hop smash and overheard one of my more-attuned ad watchers inquire, “did you see who’s driving the car?”  I’ll spare you a frame-by-frame recollection of my viewing experience, but suffice it to say, by the time the twirling figure skater and chapeaued black businessman had crossed my sights and the aforementioned choral assemblage had ceased their crescendoing chants to let Slim Shady inform us, “this is the Motor City, and this is what we do,” I had developed a whole new conception of what Chrysler meant to me as a brand.  No longer the creepy half-brother to Ford and GM, nor a tarnished symbol of corporate recklessness and crumbling American infrastructure, Chrysler suddenly represented notions of (admittedly oxymoronic) gritty luxury, and patriotic resilience.

Hence, my awe.  Now I’m no expert-level marketing strategist (though I did minor in business), nor do I mean to suggest that every person in America responded to the commercial as I did, but it seems to me, that with a mere two minutes (albeit over ten million dollars worth) of broadcast time, Chrysler was able to smash through a haze of brand ambiguity and bad press and establish (or reestablish) its image in a vivid and appealing manner.  In playing on themes of nationalism, pride, endurance, blue-collaredness, elegance (though not lavishness), and rebellion, Chrysler was able to align itself (in my mind at least) with the positive notions of domestic perseverance and achieved class, echoing the very underlying emotional tones of our entire country’s economic recovery.
What Chrysler did, in essence, was position itself as a symbol of American luxury: a luxury built on a foundation of hard work, strength and dedication (earned, not acquired – in the USA we work for our riches, damn it).  By utilizing Eminem as spokesperson, they not only connected themselves further to the city of Detroit (itself an ideal symbol of the workingman’s scrappy pursuit for prosperity), but linked themselves to an incarnate emblem of ‘rags to riches’ success: a man who continues to capitalize off of his “8-Mile,” proletariat image despite an estimated net worth over $115 million.  (In fact, what may have impressed me most about this ad was how Eminem hardly compromised his brand in being in it.  Instead of appearing as a sellout to the corporate auto industry, Em somehow managed to pull Chrysler almost entirely towards him, ironically becoming the one to lend “street cred” to a car company.  This, I would argue, has as much to do with the professional artistry of the commercial’s direction as it does our society’s outright numbness when it comes to celebrity endorsement.)

Thus Chrysler has pitched itself as a brand of achieved wealth: something for Americans to strive towards as we work our way out of this recession.  Its vehicles are items of affluence in which their owners can still take pride, as their inner workings were forged by the callused hands of true-blooded patriots, struggling to make ends meet in one of our country’s grittiest cities.  A Chrysler is a car that says, “I worked hard to get where I am today, and God bless the America that let me.”  Unlike Ford or GM, whose nationalist spirits seem to run only down canyons or country roads, Chrysler has separated itself out as champion of urban industrial attitude, allowing it to tout high-society elegance while maintaining its working-class ethos.

Look, maybe I’m over-thinking this (and indeed, I could probably go on for twenty-plus pages expounding on why this ad was such a success), but I will leave it at this: Super Bowl Sunday is a day in which the television viewer, well-acquainted with all manner of standard commercial tropes, expects something more from its advertisers.  As much as everyone seems to love the E*trade baby, few could contend that this year’s iteration did much to enhance its company’s brand image in the eyes of consumers: ditto for Bud Lite’s middling inclusions; ditto for Coca-Cola’s (atypically) benign output.  Chrysler, on the other hand, went big, and in doing so found success.  They showcased a well-conceived and well-delivered one-hundred and twenty seconds of artful marketing that broke from their industry’s advertising norm and refocused (or even reconceived) their brand image from one of ambiguity or negativity to one of positivity and potential.  If my personal experience is any indication, Chrysler got people thinking about Chrysler in exactly the way that Chrysler wanted them to.  If that isn’t one hell of an advertising job, I don’t know what is.

Welp, there you go Dale.  I hope you enjoyed.  Truth be told, it was an enjoyable game played by two teams who both deserved to be there (and neither of which has to worry about this season’s wins being vacated due to recruiting violations).  It was a fine cap to a very exciting twenty-one weeks, and I for one am already planning to “Eternal Sunshine” myself of all related memories so that during next year’s prolonged NFL lockout, I’ll be able to just re-watch this season and be none-the-wiser.  Anyways, Dale, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  Now stay tuned for an all new Glee!