The Many Faces of the American Consumer
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The Many Faces of the American Consumer

February 11, 2014

It’s a widely accepted truth that the Super Bowl is as popular for commercials as it is for the game. With companies shelling out a staggering $4 million for a 30 second spot, the Super Bowl is one of the biggest stages for advertising in America. These commercials serve as more than interim entertainment and water cooler talk: they are the thermometer of public opinion year over year. I would be willing to bet that all of the spots we saw on Super Bowl Sunday were researched, tested and retested before companies decided to pay the big bucks. Knowing this, this year is the first time I am excited about the shifts in American culture and consciousness.

It’s a widely accepted truth that the Super Bowl is as popular for commercials as it is for the game. With companies shelling out a staggering $4 million for a 30 second spot, the Super Bowl is one of the biggest stages for advertising in America. These commercials serve as more than interim entertainment and water cooler talk: they are the thermometer of public opinion year over year.

I would be willing to bet that all of the spots we saw on Super Bowl Sunday were researched, tested and retested before companies decided to pay the big bucks. Knowing this, this year is the first time I am excited about the shifts in American culture and consciousness.

There were several commercials that were dubbed “progressive” this year, and in my mind three commercials illustrate the growth of the American dialogue and the necessity of addressing more than just one demographic in advertising.

Cheerios’ Controversial Family

After a firestorm of controversy last spring, Cheerios took a stand and brought back their biracial family for a new commercial.  This commercial was otherwise predictable of Cheerios’ brand messaging. A personal moment among a family and a classic wife eye-roll was heartwarming and (worth noting) not controversial.  Unlike last spring, the Internet did not implode from the offensive nature of a happy family. The dramatic change in reaction from last May to this January is indicative of the rapid and overwhelming changes in public opinion and conversation.

GoDaddy Overhaul

Go Daddy pledged, and followed through on, a commitment to changing their strategy from their traditionally hyper sexualized and demeaning advertising in favor of a more relevant positioning of helping individuals build their businesses. GoDaddy faced intense criticism and pressure from female users after years of scantily clad women advertising domain names and GoDaddy responded in a big way. Ditching sloppy kisses from half naked supermodels for quirky and relevant real life stories of GoDaddy domain users, GoDaddy’s transformation in a year is overdue yet laudable.

However, it wasn’t all progress this year.

Coke’s America the Beautiful

This touching commercial – featuring eight languages, just as many races and cultures, and a gay couple with their daughter all singing “America the Beautiful” – was immensely polarizing. On one end, people celebrated the bold nature of the commercial and appreciated Coke’s nod to the diversity of America. Others were simply outraged. Dishearteningly familiar racist, homophobic and overall bigoted comments, posts, and Tweets flooded the Internet instantly. To me, this polarized response from the American public displayed both the progress we have made and the distance we have left to go. Coke didn’t celebrate a nostalgic view of America like Chrysler did in their “What’s more American than America” commercial and instead looked at the demographic makeup of America for what it really is today: diverse and beautiful.

In market research, we are seeing a growing need and emphasis for companies to be nationally representative – in their marketing communications, product offerings, customer support, and everything in between. These commercials are a true demonstration of the attitudinal changes driven by demographic shifts: biracial families aren’t shocking, women should not be viewed as sex objects, and America is more than just White. These changes were a long time coming and have finally started to arrive. With these companies paving the way, others should follow their lead and take a serious look at the many faces of the American consumer: White, Hispanic, African-American, male, female, gay, straight, and everything/anything in between.

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