Last Sunday, in living rooms, dens, basements and bars across the country, Americans gathered to watch a major event. For some, the event was a football game. For others, the event was the orgy of marketing that has grown up around that game, manifesting itself annually in commercials that are crafted to be the most entertaining and attention-grabbing that Madison Avenue can conjure. In previous years, these commercials have ranged from amusing to bizarre, and insipid to occasionally offensive. And in too many years, the commercials have been far more entertaining than the game they rely on.
This year, through the first two quarters and half-time, all was normal. The game, commercials, and even the half-time show proceeded unexceptionally, with viewers devoting their attention subject to their own tastes. But shortly into the game’s third quarter, a commercial aired that captured everyone’s attention, halted conversations and subdued the atmosphere at many a home and bar.
The commercial, of course, was the exceptional tribute to America’s men and women in uniform who have been fighting so valiantly around the world to defend our freedom. The spot, which shows passengers in a crowded airline terminal spontaneously applauding a group of soldiers returning from abroad, is extraordinary for is simplicity and its breathtaking effectiveness.
The ad provided an appropriate reminder to all of us who were watching that while we enjoyed Super Bowl Sunday safely at home, thousands of our friends and neighbors are putting themselves at risk serving our nation. More important, the ad conveyed a sincere message of thanks directly to the tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines watching all around the world.
On that basis, it seems that we all owe one further word of gratitude. This time to the company that sponsored the ad, beer-maker Anheuser-Busch, and to the ad agency which produced it, DDG Chicago. They put up the money and the creative force to say what we don’t ― and can never ― say enough, and did it with grace.
Since the ad ran, too many cynics, notably including New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, have questioned the company’s motives. They’ve accused Anheuser-Busch of exploitation and worse. The most hardened skeptics wondered aloud on the morning after the game whether the troops in the ads were real veterans or ― gasp! ― actors. (Every single person in uniform in the ad was a current or former member of our armed forces who had served overseas.)
This cynicism is dreadfully misplaced. Sure, Anheuser-Busch will attract some positive publicity for fronting $2.4 million to express its thanks to our military in the most public way imaginable. And they deserve every column inch they get.
Krugman and his ilk just love to bash corporate America for what they consider to be its inexhaustible greed. But here we have a company, acting in the best spirit of good citizenship, spending a large amount of money on a commercial designed to deliver a sentiment.
The crime here isn’t Anheuser-Busch thanking our troops. It’s Krugman, et al., knocking their gesture.
Nevertheless, we’ve got one message for the cynics: join the chorus of thanks directed to our men and women in uniform. Then shut up. It’s not corporate America that’s messing this up. It’s you.