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The Super Bowl Ad That Deeply Disturbed Me

Feb 03, 2014 | Updated Apr 05, 2014

If you know the song "If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands", then someone taught it to you. That someone was probably either your (then) young mother while you bounced on her lap; or maybe it was when she volunteered to be leader for your Girl Scout troop.

Now that mother has grown older and you are in the advertising business going for the cheap jokes at her expense. I'll give my boilerplate paragraph about how I can enjoy a funny ad as much as anybody but why the ad Heinz Tomato Ketchup chose to produce and run for the Super Bowl disappointed miserably right after I share the gist of it.

In the ad, various groups of people hum the iconic song in a wide range of food-centered settings, from a picnic, to a wedding party to a hospital bed meal. Instead of clapping their hands, they tap the bottoms of overturned plastic bottles of Heinz to shake the ketchup out. There are young adults, children, teenagers even a couple of older men tapping their hearts away.

And then, there's the punch line. That would be the older woman, of course -- the only one who appears in the ad. Her plastic bottle, nearly empty, instead emits farting sounds when she attempts to secure the ketchup and she is mortified.

So now, here's the paragraph I promised. Don't get me wrong. I have a great sense of humor. And I believe young people have the right to make fun of body noises. However, we have to question why, yet again, it is the older woman who is selected for the demeaning joke.

I have theories. I believe a lot of professionals, particularly the young ones, in the marketing field still have mommy issues. I also believe that young marketers find making fun of older women an easy target: we don't have anti-defamation leagues and non-profit legal teams, as some racial and religious groups do, ready to call for national boycotts.

Finally, the truth is that they don't call the elderly "old farts" for nothing. Bodies as they age do all kinds of unpleasant and embarrassing things. Our society, situated at the painful intersection of ageism and sexism, does not want to deal with the inevitability of mortality. We make jokes about those things that on a subconscious level cause us discomfort. We laugh at the old woman mortified about farting sounds because we feel superior about the fact that will never happen to us: but we are, in fact, in deep, deep denial.

If this were just a matter of a silly, thoughtless (rude and ungrateful) ending to a ketchup commercial, so be it. But this deep denial of mortality goes deeper into the cultural psyche than the Super Bowl. That is the only explanation, for instance, for the proliferation of low testosterone medications designed to help men feel and perform decades younger than their chronological years but at the cost of the recently-revealed side-effect of elevating your risk of a heart attack. Women and men volunteer to put their lives at risk every day by undergoing plastic surgery to look younger because they are so terrified of being associated with the old woman left holding the ketchup bottle, so to speak.

So that's why, Heinz, I watched your ad with high hopes but in the end, I was not happy and I was not clapping my hands, and I know why.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Past Superbowl Halftime Performers