Those other Super Bowl ads, and their invisible language

How many ways can you not say “Super Bowl”?

Odd as that sounds, that’s the challenge most retailers face in their advertising leading up to this weekend’s game.

The Super Bowl’s TV ads generate hype and dollars for the National Football League. Advertisers pay handsomely for those ads. Others pay to list themselves as “official sponsors” or “official products.”

Everyone else tags along without actually saying “Super Bowl.” Those who do risk the wrath of the NFL, which guards its trademark like the crown jewels.

But if you pay attention to the ads, you will notice hints to the “Super Bowl” everywhere.

Nestle alludes to the “Great Matchup,” Pringles to the “Big Game,” Walmart to “Game Time.” Unilever coupons implore you to “Score Big Savings with this Game Day Menu.” Diageo encourages you to “serve the winning spirits.” Procter & Gamble offers coupons so that women can buy “His Winning Lineup.” That lineup includes shaving products and deodorants displayed on a chalkboard with X’s and O’s. One product on that chalkboard is described as the “Winningest Mansmell” – I couldn’t make that up – with “A touchdown and a field goal of man scents.”

The Washington Post once called this “the poor man’s – or maybe the wise man’s – Super Bowl advertising.”

What’s amazing is how seamlessly these ads blend into the pregame landscape. Unless you stop and think about it, you don’t pay much attention to the allusions. They are as much a part of the Super Bowl as the game – and the TV ads – itself.

All of this speaks to the pervasiveness of the Super Bowl in American culture, and to advertising’s skillful sleight of hand. We’re so used to hints, winks, nods, prods and other allusions in advertising that we don’t stop and think about what we’re not seeing. In this case, the language of the advertising becomes invisible. We see one thing but understand something else.

Every culture brims with powerful allusions. Only by recognizing this can you start to see what’s really there.

So I ask again: How many ways can you not say “Super Bowl”?

[slideshow id=4]

A gallery of “Super Bowl” ads from this year and last.

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