Cheering for the home team

Complaining about American Forces Network commercials is a popular sport for military families overseas, one that reaches its zenith about this time each year. As Super Bowl weekend approaches, the burning gridiron question is not about coaches or quarterbacks. It’s about advertising. Why must AFN viewers be deprived of one of the hallowed traditions of American sports: Super Bowl commercials?

Every year AFN, which provides American television shows for U.S. military audiences overseas, explains why donated programming and paid advertising are mutually exclusive. Every year, some viewers insist that for TV’s most expensive advertising venue, it just can’t be true. But it is.

In 2010, AFN Europe created a challenge to answer these complaints, the “You Do It!” program, in which viewers are invited to create and submit their own commercials for the big game.

AFN Europe has renewed the challenge for a third year, with submissions due on Jan. 27 for the Feb. 2 game. Homegrown commercials then get what big name companies can only dream of — free airtime during the biggest television event of the year.

“Think of the bragging rights,” said AFN spokesman George Smith.

About a hundred submissions were received for each of the past two years, according to AFN. The program is not a contest, and all submissions that fit the criteria for length and content are used.

“Getting our audience directly involved with the highest rated TV event of the year is a win-win for the audience and AFN,” said Smith.

The homemade commercials have been fun to watch, and some are quite well done for home videos. In past years, some have been send-ups of iconic AFN commercial spots about OPSEC or the commissary. Others, created by students at various schools, promote sports, clubs or the video yearbook. Entries have included animation and stop-motion as well as live action. The military community possesses a wealth of creativity, and Smith said AFN is happy to showcase that talent.

“In years past, we’ve seen many ‘You Do Its’ by high school video production classes,” he said. “We’d like to see more by troops downrange or anyone who has ever done a YouTube video.”

All of the past “You Do It!” submissions are still available on YouTube. So are the “real” Super Bowl commercials, for that matter. In the age of web TV, almost everything is online somewhere, so it’s hard to complain about what is not on AFN.

I’ve seen plenty of real Super Bowl commercials over the years. Some are pretty entertaining, but I’m cheering for the home team on this one. On principle I’d choose even “Chicken Knows Best” over Madison Avenue’s smoothest attempts to convince me I’ll be richer, funnier, faster and smarter if I use this or buy that.

Yes, I admit it, I’m a total square, and I actually prefer annoying AFN commercials to the annoying ones in the States for used car lots, discount mattresses and personal injury attorneys. Of course, some of the AFN spots are inane and possibly an insult to my intelligence, but I can say the same thing about a lot of actual commercials.

Call me crazy, but I’d rather be badgered and irritated by people who aren’t trying to sell me anything, except the ideas that I should exercise, eat right, recycle, stop smoking, not harass fellow workers, wear a reflective belt, know the Tricare hotline number or call my chaplain if I’m gambling, drinking, stressed, depressed or just plain lonely.

As I predicted a couple of years ago, now that I'm back in the States, AFN ads are among the things I miss about life overseas. Real advertising gets old too, and I still prefer Squeakers the hamster and the OPSEC chameleon to that squawking insurance-hawking duck any day.

Oh, the irony is not lost on me, I assure you.

Join the conversation and share your voice.

Show Comments