The American Health Crisis in 3 Super Bowl Ads

Last month, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII. 106 professional athletes competed for the top prize in their sport. And over 123 million Americans sat on their couches and watched them do it while stuffing their faces with 1.45 billion chicken wings, 11.3 million pounds of potato chips and more. If you’re looking for a portrait of the American health crisis, you don’t need to look much farther than Super Bowl Sunday.

Of course, you can be very healthy without being active at every moment of the day and eating nothing but boiled chicken breast and steamed kale. There’s nothing wrong with taking a load off, enjoying some delicious food and watching the best athletes and entertainers in the world for four hours every year. But if their Super Bowl advertisements are any indication, the food, content and even footwear producers would like you to sit and watch more often.

On average, advertisers spent seven million dollars to air a thirty-second commercial during the Super Bowl. Some tried to sell us insurance. Some wanted us to play football. Some hoped we were looking for a new car. And others really wanted to tell us just how dire the American health crisis has become. Not overtly, of course. On the surface, these brands extolled the simple pleasures of empty calories, unlimited television content and shoes for people who prefer slippers. But the picture they paint is downright scary in a country with a 42% obesity rate.

Here are three Super Bowl commercials that perfectly illustrate the American health crisis.

3. M&M’s: Almost Champions Ring of Comfort

The M&M's ring of comfort, one of three Super Bowl ads that illustrates the American health crisis
For the winner, eternal glory. For the runner-up… candy! (M&Ms)

I won’t do a “second place is the first loser” rant here. Instead, I take issue with two aspects of this commercial. First, how is this an ad for M&M’s? Because M&M’s sponsors this fictional ring? Because peanut butter was compressed into diamonds? If anything, isn’t that a plug for peanut butter?

Logical issues aside, what is the message of this commercial? That if you ascend near the pinnacle of your field but never win it all, you should take comfort in candy instead of working to put yourself in a better position to succeed the following season or moving on with your life if you decide to retire?

M&M’s: the official candy of the lazy, unambitious and shortsighted.

Pluto TV couch potatoes, one of three Super Bowl ads that illustrates the American health crisis
Couch potatoes, as far as the eye can see. (Ad Week)

2. Pluto TV: Couch Potato Farms

In a dystopian scene reminiscent of The Matrix, hundreds of people in potato body suits sit on rows of couches in an agricultural field, watching TV. This commercial would be cutely funny if it wasn’t also so covertly grim. Kudos to the one guy doing biceps curls in front of his TV, though his exercise doesn’t seem to have made him any less potato-like.

I can’t help asking if this humans-as-crops depiction is what Pluto TV hopes to achieve. After all, wouldn’t it be great for the content makers and media companies if all we did was watch everything they could crank out?

Mr. T in Skechers, one of three Super Bowl ads that illustrates the American health crisis
“I pity the fool who performs basic human movements.” (Footwear News)

1. Skechers: Mr. T in Skechers

Another way to avoid performing a basic functional movement. “I pity the fool who have to touch his shoes to put ’em on,” Mr. T tells us. And, “I pity the fool who bends down to put on their shoes.” It’s like Kohler advertising a toilet anyone can use without the inconvenience of sitting down. Or Walmart stocking less product so that no one has to reach overhead to get something off the top shelf.

Have we become so pitiable that bending over is a chore? Don’t do yoga. Don’t lift objects off the ground. Never bend your waist, and put your shoes on without using your hands.

2 thoughts on “The American Health Crisis in 3 Super Bowl Ads”

  1. Greg,
    Thank you! As always, your analysis is spot on. I appreciate your perspective and your willingness to ask “why” questions. You have brought focus on a critical issue of motivation. With a strong enough reason, I can do anything. Without a reason, I can do nothing.

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