A few nights ago I dreamt I watched a transformed Super Bowl. It wasn’t the Broncos or the Seahawks who starred in my dream but the ads. Instead of promoting soda, beer, SUVs and candy, the ads urged viewers to reject appeals to enrich big corporations by consuming products associated with premature death and preventable illnesses and injuries.
The opening ad showed two polar bears, one emaciated, one obese, wandering through a nightmare landscape where glaciers melted in the background and dark cactuses in the shape of classic Coke bottles blocked the bear’s path. “In my world,” said the scrawny bear, “we can’t find any food and we’re dying from hunger and the stress of food insecurity.” “In my world,” the plump one replied, “we’re all coming down with diabetes from drinking too much Coke. My left back paw may need to be amputated and my grandkids are so fat they can hardly move. How did we get here?”
The second ad was a TV version of a print ad run a few years ago by a group called Evangelical Environmental Network . Targeted at Christian Super Bowl viewers, the ad asked “Would Jesus drive an SUV?” The screen flashed statistics on the higher pollution levels of Ford Explorers, F-150s, Dodge Rams and other SUVs and light trucks, the rollover danger they posed to their drivers and passengers and the danger these massive vehicles posed to pedestrians, other drivers, and our carbon emissions. “Be a steward for the future. Protect your children and protect the environment. Don’t buy SUVs, “the heavenly announcer urged.
“Do you think Big Alcohol will clean up your vomit or bail you out of jail after the fourth drink?” asked the third ad, showing images of a young woman throwing up in a toilet and a guy in handcuffs with a black eye after being arrested in a drunken brawl. This ad was sponsored by Drink Truth, a new group that discourages binge drinking and promotion of alcohol to young people. Drink Truth was using the lessons from the truth campaign, designed by the Legacy Foundation with tobacco settlement dollars. Truth appealed to rebellious teens to reject the tobacco industry’s efforts to profit at the expense of their health. Scientific studies show that it contributed to more than 300,000 teens not starting to use tobacco.
This being the Super Bowl, there were another 47 minutes of ads—worth about $300 million in ad revenue to Fox — but mercifully my dream moved on to the half time show. The opener was Super Bowl favorite Beyoncé who began by apologizing to viewers and young people in general for accepting $50 million from Pepsi to promote their high sugar, salt and fat products that put her fans at risk of early death from diet-related diseases. To atone for her avarice, she pledged to contribute $5 million and kick off a new campaign, Water Me Now, that will support schools, colleges and hospitals to replace their beverage vending machines with free water fountains. Beyoncé then sang her new release Water Me Now Baby which extolled the virtues of free water for life, health and love. In the Super Bowl show, Beyoncé swam, poured and went down a water slide in a super sized version of the Water Me Now water fountain that she planned to distribute.
To reach another demographic, the next star, also a Super Bowl alumna, was Madonna. She apologized for her role in a Smirnoff ad campaign that encouraged young women to drink vodka, a campaign that public health experts believe contributed to rising rates of alcohol-related health problems among young women, a trend that threatens to bring equal opportunity for alcohol injuries and diseases to females, who had previously been at much lower risk than young men. Madonna promised to contribute her dollars and talent to Drink Truth’s ad campaign.
Third up was Justin Beiber, ready to make amends for his recent drunk driving arrest. With Beyoncé, the former Material Girl, Jay Z, LeBron James (the basketball star who has $42 million of endorsement contracts from Coca Cola, McDonald’s , Dunkin Donuts and others), Beiber announced the celebs were creating Fans United for Restoring Democracy to urge young people across the country to mobilize for the 2014 Congressional elections to elect a Congress that will overturn the Citizens United decision, support meaningful campaign finance reform, and limit special interest lobbying. “Until young people decide that politics matter,” said Beiber, “corporations are going to continue to undermine health, threaten democracy, and endanger our environment. We who have benefited so much from the young people who support us feel we need to give back to ensure that our fans and their children have a safer, healthier and more democratic future.”
I woke up Sunday morning asking, Is another world possible? Can Hollywood and Madison Avenue apply their genius to making a better, healthier world better instead of enriching those who profit from illness? By Monday morning, after watching Bob Dylan pitching polluting autos and cuddly puppies shilling Budweiser beer, I realized that as long as big corporations dominate our economy and politics, my Super Bowl dreaming is only a fantasy.