Late stage capitalism is a scourge that commodifies everything, including the self.
Most major companies range from questionably amoral to downright evil (we're looking at you, Walmart). Commercials are designed to manipulate us into connecting human emotions, humor, and our favorite stars with non-human entities that just want our money. As such, on the Super Bowl—the biggest day for advertising of the year—there is no shortage of blatantly emotionally manipulative and hypocritical ad spots. From the NFL creating an ad that protests police brutality (despite refusing to support Colin Kaepernick for doing that very thing) to Google making us cry despite historically using loop holes to pay taxes that could help millions of people, here is the ranking of the most manipulative, hypocritical ads from Super Bowl 2020.
5. New York Life Insurance—Love Takes Action
New York Life, an insurance company specializing in life insurance, sponsored an ad that explored four different Greek words for love: Philia, Storge, Eros, and Agape. It describes the latter as "love as an action," and then, over moving shots of families in various moments of struggle, happiness, and companionship, equates this kind of love to a life insurance policy. Emotionally manipulative, sure, but it's not a baseless claim to say that leaving behind a life insurance policy for your loved ones is an act of love.
Unfortunately, once you begin to read reviews of New York Life, it becomes clear why the company worked so hard to create an ad that presented them as caring stewards of money. Customer complaints on the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs alike outline a company that is intentionally opaque about their policies, offer little customer service, and avoid actually paying out policies by almost any means necessary. While it's impossible to know for sure to what degree these claims are true, it's certainly not a great sign that they worked so hard to create an ad spot that uses such strong pathos to erase a reputation of immorality and money grubbing.
4. Microsoft—Be The One/Katie Sowers
It's a fantastic (if overdue) step towards equality that Super Bowl 2020 included the first female and LGBTQ coach to ever appear at the Super Bowl. Katie Sowers is undoubtedly a talented and hard working individual, and it's excellent that her story is getting more exposure. But considering that Microsoft has a history of suppressing claims of sexual harassment and discrimination from female employees, the ad comes off as a disingenuous face-saving measure. Real change does not come from ads that do lip service to equality; it comes from actively working to solve issues of inequality, something Microsoft has repeatedly failed to do.
3. NFL—Inspire Change
This one came off as so deeply hypocritical that many living rooms across America let out a collective groan when it became clear the NFL sponsored the ad. The spot is a decidedly moving look at the murder of Corey Jones, cousin of NFL player Anquan Boldin, by a plain clothes police officer. It features Corey's parents lamenting his death and a voice over from Boldin explaining the foundation he set up in Corey's honor.
All of this is moving and poignant, except for the fact that in 2018 the NFL did just about everything in its power to suppress the efforts of former player Colin Kaepernick, who famously kneeled during the National Anthem before a game to protest police brutality against black and brown bodies. As the Washington Post puts it, "The league can always be trusted to pounce on a sincere effort to raise awareness of an issue, then fine-tune and focus-group it until the corporate-friendly result barely resembles its original form."
This is an admittedly heart wrenching commercial. It features a voice over of an elderly man asking his Google Home to remind him of things about his wife who has apparently passed. As old pictures and footage of the couple plays across the screen, the Google Home reminds the man of moving details like, "Loretta had beautiful handwriting." It intentionally plays on our heart strings and seeks to humanize the massive company; it's an ad that positions Google as a force that wants to help people.
In reality, Google has proven over and over again how little they care for people, including their own employees. They lied to employees about the amount they would make from a contract with the Pentagon that would help create technology designed to kill enemies in war; they placed an individual with "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant" views on their AI advisory council; they secretly created a heavily censored search engine for use in China that would block all access to things the government deemed "unfavorable"; and they pushed Andy Rubin (a high level executive) out of the company in 2014 due to a inappropriate romantic relationship, but not before giving him $90 million. If that's not enough, Google has also been under heavy investigation for violations of antitrust laws, constantly use tax loopholes to get out of paying into the communities in which they operate, and have even been repeatedly accused of manipulating search results to spread inaccurate and biased information.
1. Walmart—United Towns
This Walmart ad is such blatant propaganda that it's frankly insulting to any well-informed American. The commercial paints Walmart as a kind of missionary initiative, saying they "see America from the ground" and implying that the presence of Walmarts in small towns across America is some kind of unifying force for good. But Walmart is anything but a force for good in small town America; it has been firmly proven that Walmart's business model is to go into small towns, offer such low prices that they ultimately run all of the small, independent businesses in the town out of business, and then to jack up prices once people have no alternative but to shop at Walmart. In fact, Iowa State University professor Dr. Kenneth E. Stone found that some small towns lose up to 47% of their retail trade after ten years of living with a Walmart store nearby. If that's not enough, Walmart might choose to relocate its store to another location, but the impact of its initial arrival continues to last well afterward, leaving the citizens of a small town with almost no options for groceries, pharmacies, and other necessities.