A lot of people say they watch the Super Bowl for the ads, not the game. Their declared interest is aesthetic. Which ads are funniest? Which employ the snazziest cinematography, the coolest computer graphics, the cutest animals? They — we — are meta-audiences; we say we’re interested in the pitches, not the products. We’re in it for the aesthetics, not the commodities. We’re hip to marketing’s wiles. We’ve got media literacy up the wazoo.
But how true is that, really?
After all, lawyers and judges have become accustomed to having to instruct juries not to apply the forensic science they see deployed on ‘CSI’ to the procedings in a real courtroom. Viewers of medical storylines in tv dramas —
as research by the Lear Center’s Hollywood, Health & Society program has demonstrated — believe that the health information they get from entertainment is factually accurate. If politicians, and cadets at our military academies, believe on some level what they see on ’24’ — that torture is a more effective way to get information from terrorists than the befriend-them strategy contained in military intelligence manuals — then it’s conceivable that they’ll favor television “knowledge” over textbook learning. The reason people battled so furiously over the depiction of events in ABC’s ‘Path to 9/11’ and Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ is the concern that the fictionalized, entertainment version of history is a more potent teacher than what people learn from news and history.
If entertainment is so powerful a messenger, why is it so plausible that the stories told by ads are less persuasive than the stories told by the stories? If all we get from ads were amusement, I bet advertisers wouldn’t pay $87,000 a second solely for the privilege of entertaining us.