This year's awful Super Bowl ads show America's corporations are freaking out

The nation is divided, and advertisers don't know who they're targeting anymore

Super Bowl LII fans at the Bank Stadium
(Image credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

We are at such a rudderless point in this country's history that the only symbols companies feel safe deploying are dead. The Super Bowl — that annual American celebration of ads and competitive violence — packaged a fascinating game between the Eagles and the Patriots into a commercial framework so baffled by the divided audiences it was trying to serve that it ended up grabbing at ghosts.

I mean that literally. The controversy surrounding Justin Timberlake's plans to perform with a hologram of Prince — who died in 2016, and who famously and fervently hated stunts of that sort — predicted a larger trend in the proceedings: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kurt Cobain were also exhumed to serve a message they wouldn't approve of in order to court a divided public. Companies tried to use the dead to unify a public that no longer really shares any living heroes. The problem seems to be that there's no longer any straightforward "American" demographic for ad agencies to safely target.

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