The Super Bowl commercials class is a popular journalism elective at the University of South Carolina. It has been exploring the history and development of Super Bowl advertisements for the last 18 years, according to Russell Gottwald, professor at the South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Gottwald said he saw teaching the course for the first time as a “professional challenge,” since he was taking over a course that has been around for so long already.
“It’s a huge deal, and, personally, I’m ambitious, so I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, let me do it,'" Gottwald said.
The main focus of the class thus far is looking at how advertisements with NFL stars have changed over time and how these advertisements have evolved into what is now seen as a “traditional” Super Bowl commercial.
The class has been discussing the future of Super Bowl advertisements and how the target audience has changed over time. What most shocked the class was how different the advertisements were when the target audience was majorly male, according to Gottwald.
“You see these ads from the '60s and '70s, and half of them, literally, just could not be made today because they’re almost hyperbolically sexist by today’s standard,” Gottwald said.
Gottwald said he has also incorporated issues unique to this Super Bowl because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the class discussed how bigger sponsors, such as Budweiser, are choosing to forgo television broadcast advertisement spots this year to promote the COVID-19 vaccine effort.
“That was actually something we talked about, in terms of sponsors pulling out," Gottwald said. "What do you do with the ad because they’re already made?”
After the Super Bowl this Sunday, the class will meet and watch the commercials together, rating them at the end and discussing what makes each commercial effective.
Hollis Brecher, third-year broadcast journalism student, first heard about the class from a friend who took it as a fourth-year, and Brecher said she knew she wanted to take it as an elective. She said she saw it as an opportunity to explore the advertising side of communications, since she couldn't minor in it.
“When you see an advertisement, you never really think about all that’s going on in it. It’s just a minute and 30 or 30 seconds on the TV,” Brecher said. “So, it’s really cool to learn about the science behind it; the money behind it; the thought process behind it.”
For third-year visual communications student Jay Overbay, the class was a chance to learn more about the history of Super Bowl advertisements and a way to gain more experience in advertising. Overbay said he wants to use the course to understand what does or doesn't work if he creates an ad with a company in the future.
Gottwald said he hopes his students can be inspired by the class to learn how fun Super Bowl advertisements can be to discuss but also how fun they can be to make.
“We had an alum, I want to say last year; maybe the year before, who was the youngest copywriter ever to get an ad in the Super Bowl. How awesome is that, be that person,” Gottwald said.