Burgers and Trucks (Super Bowl XLVII Redux)

Super Bowl XLVII marks the first time I’ve actually sat down to watch a Super Bowl. Growing up, I never understood the appeal of organized sports, but now that I have small children, I think I understand the appeal. You mean I’m allowed to sit down, stare at the TV, and ignore my children, and it’s culturally acceptable? No wonder so many men like sports; we’re allowed, if not encouraged, to be deadbeats for a few minutes. After an hour, though, it was time to get back to reality. I found my son in a pile of popcorn laughing maniacally while stuffing down buttery goodness by the handful. Like most years, I ended up watching the commercials online the next day.

There are two ads that stuck out to me by their contrast. The first was Dodge’s already critically acclaimed “God Made a Farmer,” and the second was Carl’s Jr.’s “Girls in Bikinis Can Eat Burgers Too.” Of course, I’m making that title up; Carl Jr.’s commercial is actually called “Sun Tan,” because the burgers are char-broiled just like beautiful girls are charred by the sun, or at least I think that’s the association they’re going for.

It’s unfair to compare these ads but I’m going to do it anyway. For reasons that should become obvious, I’m not going to embed the Carl’s Jr. commercial. If you’d like to watch it you’ll have to search YouTube yourself.

Dodge borrowed the voice and words of the unassailable Paul Harvey to plug directly into the American psyche. Dodge’s ad appeals to our sense of greatness, our sense of duty, our heritage, and our core values. My parents were baby boomers so I remember listening to Paul Harvey growing up. On long road trips we’d listen to that inspiring voice tell about American greatness in all of the small everyday ways that mattered.

“I feel silly saying it now, but I actually felt tears rolling down my face.”

When that Dodge ad started playing, I was suddenly a kid again sitting in the back seat of our Astro Van watching the western plains roll by. The sound of the scratchy recording, the echo of the large room Harvey was speaking in, and of course the biblical tie-in rooted my brain in the religious sermons I grew up with. I feel silly saying it now, but I actually felt tears rolling down my face.

I know it’s just an ad, and I know the objective is just to sell Dodge trucks, but it doesn’t matter. Harvey’s words and the wonderful backdrop of the commercial didn’t just make me want to be a farmer and drive Dodge trucks, it made me want to go to church, run for office, join the army, be a good father, and apparently write a blog post. It’s not just a plug for trucks, it’s a plug for the greatness of duty.

“If Harvey appealed to greatness, then Carl appealed to carnality.”

And now the contrast. I’m not sure of the exact order of ads but I seem to remember this Carl’s Jr. ad coming on a few minutes later. This ad did not feature inspiring words or tap into core values. Instead, it showed women in bikinis on the beach undressing while eating a burger. If Harvey appealed to greatness, then Carl appealed to carnality. Dodge reminded us that we all have greatness in us, that we are capable of doing and being more. In light of his inspiration the only feeling I had watching Carl Jr.’s ad was shame. Shame that we make such base appeals and even more shame that sometimes it works.