Historical Persuasion at Super Bowl 2012

Like many Americans, I enjoy watching the Super Bowl not just for the excitement of the big game, but also to see what our highest-paid advertisers cook up to sway this now-rare mass audience. This year, I was struck by the prevalence of commercials that used the grand sweep of history to evoke a sense of continuity and pride. The pride part was particularly fascinating because the commercials' focus was not on American prosperity but on the nation's ability to weather the Great Depression. Deep within the Great Recession, I suppose that advertisers are hoping that reminding Americans that they've gotten through even worse times in the past will boost their confidence and make them want to buy (cars and beer mostly).

Budweiser's two epics topped the list for evoking continuity and for bringing to mind the end of prohibition (a moment of greatness, apparently, within the midst of the Great Depression)

But Chrysler's "Halftime in America" ad seemed to draw the most from the notion of America's historical ability to overcome bad times without explicitly evoking the past (except Detroit's recent past). I wouldn't be surprised if they also intended to draw parallel's with Reagan's "Morning in America" ad, yet another subtle continuity.

These commercials emphasize persuasive strength of drawing historical parallels, whether or not they are factually accurate. Resonance is a powerful tool.


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