Super Bowl 50: from metonymic to moronic

Normally a potato-faced jock saying he fancies a bud is not worth much thought. But the Super Bowl isn’t normal. Peyton Manning, fresh from leading the Denver Broncos to victory over Carolina, told CBS he’s going to “drink a lot of Budweiser tonight.”With one seemingly impromptu slip –followed by a less impromptu-seeming second- Anheuser-Busch, his chosen brew’s owners, clocked up over $10m in media exposure.

Some were outraged. True to form, Piers Morgan elegantly took down Manning, labelling the quarterback a greedy pillock for hijacking his team’s victory to plug a product by a company in which his people have a significant stake. Others more generously disposed saw the namecheck as a knuckle-headed blip. Anheuser-Busch were quick off the mark to express their surprise at Manning’s mention, and so they should as paying for endorsements is out of bounds for alcohol companies. So entrenched is the mighty Bud in the American psyche that it is synonymous with all brewskies. Once may be what linguists call metonymic, but twice is surly moronic.

The crux of the matter is that the Super Bowl is so saturated in advertising that to get angry at Manning for endorsing Bud is to miss the point. As the two squads of armoured beefcakes fought by what all accounts was a dreary war of attrition the real contest, as ever, was between brands. To imagine the Super Bowl as anything else would be to buy into the tear-duct wrenching sickliness of the half time shows and their Bollywood pomp. With over 114 million sitting down with their generic lagers and non-descript corn-based snacks to watch the game the Super Bowl remains the pinnacle of event TV. For this advertisers are still willing to pay exorbitant fees: 30 seconds can put you back $5m. In this context it is understandable that Manning would want to use his privileged position to grab an airtime freebie for his investment.

The subsequent chatter circulating around the rights and wrongs of Manning’s endorsement served to keep the story going long after we’d all forgotten about that glossy commercial of Sir Anthony Hopkins flogging DIY tax returns software. This is surely a victory for PR value over the advertisers. Peyton Manning is still to American football what Beckham, Ronaldo and Messi are rolled into one. However clunky his namecheck it still had more believability to it than Dame Helen tentatively supping a Bud.

In the carefully choreographed Super Bowl bonanza moments of spontaneity still have enormous value. Social media campaigns, once seen as the brave new world of customer engagement, are a declining novelty. Esurance, the most mentioned brand of the Super Bowl, invited tweeters to use #Esurancesweepstakes with the chance of winning $1m. It got 835,101 tweets, about 7% of the game’s viewing figures. While the cumulative reach is much bigger it is tricky to speak about engagement. Even if all Americans on Twitter saw the hashtag, Super Bowl viewers still out number tweeters 3 to 2. Perhaps Esurance could have used their million more wisely by buying Manning several crates of Bud.