Super Bowl Commercials Look Ahead by Looking Back

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If there’s one thing everyone agreed on the morning after the Super Bowl it was that Chrysler’s commercial, featuring Clint Eastwood, was the most striking commercial of the night. In it, Eastwood likened the halftime of the Super Bowl to the current juncture in America, stating that the second half was about to begin, not only for the game, but also the country. Though the commercial’s perceived political slant alienated some viewers, there did seem to be a consensus that the commercial was at least written, shot, and edited in an impactful manner.

I agree. It was. But it wasn’t the most important commercial of the night. Big difference. That honor goes to the Honda commercial featuring Matthew Broderick in a parody of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That commercial is followed in importance by Acura and Dannon’s commercials featuring, respectively, Jerry Seinfeld and John Stamos.

Let me explain.

At first, I was taken aback by these aforementioned commercials. After all, what business do Matthew Broderick, Jerry Seinfeld, and John Stamos have starring in Super Bowl commercials in 2012? It’s been quite a while since any of them were relevant on the front end of mainstream media. You’d think that the deep-pocketed companies in question could have gotten Jonah Hill, Steve Carrell, and Robert Pattinson instead, right?

But then I started thinking. I rewatched all three commercials the next day. And I came to the conclusion that they were significant for three reasons.

The first pertains to Broderick, Seinfeld, and Stamos each playing to a certain “type” in their commercials, and that type being the particular role that made each of them famous. For Broderick, it’s the title character from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; for Seinfeld, it’s the slightly exaggerated version of himself he played on Seinfeld; and for Stamos, it’s Uncle Jesse from Full House. In each commercial, each actor is ostensibly playing “themselves,” but they’re essentially reprising their star-making roles.

The second reason is that these characters entered into the public consciousness in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I associate these characters with those decades in America as much as I do with the actors who played them. Seeing these characters in, respectively, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Seinfeld, and Full House recalls the presidencies of Reagan and Clinton—better times for most Americans.

The third, and most important, reason these commercials were significant is this: They involved characters from the ‘80s and ‘90s doing the same things in 2012 that they were doing in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Such a thought probably seems foreign to a lot of people, considering how much America has changed since then. But seeing Matthew Broderick play hooky, Jerry Seinfeld commiserate with three other individuals in a coffee shop, and John Stamos look impossibly handsome while charming a beautiful woman pays off the premise set up in the Chrysler commercial in a way that Chrysler—nor Honda, Acura, or Dannon—ever could have anticipated.

Via Clint Eastwood’s monologue, the Chrysler commercial posits that things are going to get better in America. The Honda, Acura, and Dannon commercials show what that looks like, and involve characters associable with more prosperous times in America getting back to doing what they were doing during those times.

It makes me think that if they can get back there, then maybe we can, too.

A week removed from Super Sunday and I’m still intrigued by what Clint Eastwood had to say. But what intrigues me even more is what Matthew Broderick, Jerry Seinfeld, and John Stamos had to say, without saying anything at all.