Loaded Logos: Brands in History’s Shadow

Native American Logos

She almost died a quiet death, and certainly the Minnesota-based farmer cooperative known as Land O’Lakes would have preferred it that way. But when the Minnesota Reformer ran a story about the Land O’Lakes company retiring the Indian maiden who has appeared on its packaging for nearly a century, the story blew up on social media and elsewhere. Soon the retirement reached The New York Times and Fox News, leading U.S. congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) to denounce politically correct “millennials” supposedly taking over the co-op.

Now on the surface, the maiden mascot re-designed in the 1950’s by an Ojibwe Indian artist, Patrick DesJariat, may not seem anything other than benign. What’s objectionable about a young Native American woman kneeling by the side of a blue lake, holding a 4-stick box of butter? Her smile is pleasant enough – but that’s where the problem starts. That’s because the image of a happy Indian maiden evokes tales of U.S. cavalry troops stationed at reservation forts engaging in what they euphemistically called “squaw-chasing” and what we should acknowledge was coerced “seduction” or worse. Being portrayed as sexually available and subject to conquering isn’t desirable. Now, the smile alone might not get us to such a sinister reading of the Land O’Lakes logo. But add in the maiden’s kneeling, compliant posture, and the fact that for years people on social media have practiced the “boob trick” of revising the logo’s image so that the maiden’s knees are chest-high instead, and you can begin to see why the co-op finally, wisely, decently enough decided that the time had come to stop trafficking in Indian stereotypes.

The truth is that lots of logos exist that should be retired. Perhaps the worst prominent use of Native American imagery is in baseball: the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo. His eyebrows are raised and his eyes are wide open, fully alert. His smile is intense, too, and fierce. Taken together, the Chief’s beady eyes and all those teeth showing suggest how, when the mouth pulls wide and taut, the emotion being revealed is vivid anger, like a dog growling because its bone has been taken away.

Some offensive imagery has been retired; until 1991 a Mexican armed robber, the Frito Bandito, was used to sell that snack. Other vile brand logos remain. There’s a long history of African-Americans being made into caricatures, resembling the grateful, obsequious house servants in Gone with the Wind. I’m thinking of Quaker Oats’ Aunt Jemima and Mars’ chef, Uncle Ben, for instance. The recent modified versions of those logos are certainly more upscale, sleek and less servile-looking, but frankly my dear I don’t give a damn: get rid of them.

How to Spot Talent?

Brayant Duncan Garnett 3 New NBA HOF Members

These three NBA legends headline the newest class of superstars now in the league’s Hall of Fame. In terms of their accomplishments, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett need no introductions. But what are their signature expressions, which can provide a deeper sense of who they were as players? Bryant nicknamed himself the Black Mamba, the code name for the deadly assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 movie “Kill Bill.” And true to form, if I had to choose an expression that best defines Bryant as a player, it’s when his eyebrows would lower (and his eyes narrow) in anger as he focused on his next jump shot, ball-steal, or bullet pass.  In Duncan’s case, his eyes would go wide and eyebrows lift as he took in information, sizing up the court and an opponent, often with a wry, half-smile. That look best defines a player so consistently stoical and coachable. As to Garnett, this photo is at best a half-truth. Yes, Garnett could burst into one of the biggest smiles on the planet, with the muscle around the eyes simultaneously tightening to create eyes that gleamed with elation. But mostly, the guy was a fierce competitor. The opposite of Duncan, with Garnett the emoting was all-out: mostly happiness or anger – along with at times a look of huge, feigned surprise (mouth agape) for being called for a foul.

All NBA head coaches would have loved to have any of these three players on their team. But what if you’re a manager or small-business owner hiring a new employee after we dig out of the current crisis? What should you be looking for emotionally in somebody you might add to your team? First, understand that for most people happiness (to hug) and anger (to hit) constitute about 70% of their emoting. An employee’s delight in winning and determination to succeed are worthy signposts. A smile can indicate openness to collaborating, just as compressed facial muscles can indicate the constructive drive required to push through barriers – so long as the anger is properly proportioned and wisely targeted.

Years ago (as a small business owner myself), I received in the mail one day a HR workshop flier that showcased 11 types of employees you would rather not have on staff. They were office worker caricatures of who would go into the opposite of a Hall of Fame. One was angry: the rude Antagonist type. One was sad: the Whiner type. One was contemptuous: the Insubordinate Subordinate. But of the other eight types, actually the single greatest shortcoming evident, emotionally speaking, was basic indifference. These are the disengaged workers, those who don’t emote much and aren’t motivated. The flier had the Tortoise, the Thumb-Twiddler, the Early Retiree, and the Clock-Watcher all on display. Now, none of this is to excuse the need for bosses to pitch in and be emotionally literate themselves as well as good detectives when it comes to observing human nature. Remember: that as is true of Bryant, Duncan, and Garnett, the way a person emotes is a good clue as to how they’re wired or if there’s a fatal disconnect lurking somewhere.

Serena Williams Falls at the Australian Open

To hear Chris Evert diagnose the situation, “Emotionally and mentally, she’s still a great champion.” So said Evert about Serena Williams after the 23-time female, grand-slam singles champion lost to China’s Wang Qiang in a third-round match in Melbourne. I beg to differ. Maybe Williams can push her physical conditioning some more, as Evert suggests. But at age 38, there might not be a whole lot more that Williams can do in that category. What I noticed instead was how an aura of anguish and, ultimately, self-pity seemed to envelope Williams as the match progressed, kind of like one of those particle rings that encircle the planet Saturn.

Occasionally, a professional athlete can elevate her or his game despite the influence of sadness. The NBA player Chris Bosh comes to mind, as sadness-filled a person as anybody I can think of since the Native American leader Chief Rain-in-the-Face. In Williams’ prime, disgust and anger were this tennis great’s signature emotions on-court during a match. No longer, for sadness now shares top billing. As a rule of thumb, sadness can slow you down both mentally and physically. (Williams had 56 unforced errors versus 20 for her Chinese opponent). To succumb to sadness increases the odds against winning, I believe. If sadness helped Bosh, it was due to the ability of sadness to also make us more empathetic – a benefit to Bosh as he settled for being a NBA all-star who became the third option on a Miami Heat team that likewise featured LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

012720-01 Serena Anguish in Loss

In this case, there was Williams all alone with her grief on-court. Her empathy was for herself and the tremendous stress she feels trying to tie—and ultimately surpass—Margaret Court and her record of 24 grand slams (many in an era when key players would skip the long flight down to play in Court’s native Australia). “It’s all on my shoulders,” Williams said after her loss. Well, she played like it, too. More joy felt or at least more disgust and anger, combined with less sadness: that’s the only way back for Williams at this point in her career. Forget what Evert said. That earlier American star relied on low-grade anger to keep her focused. Williams is fiercer. For Williams, disgust means never settling for mediocrity, including the mediocrity that self-pity can induce.

Amazing Runs: American Female Athletes Light up Wimbledon & the World Cup

This was Cori “Coco” Gauff’s reaction on defeating an idol of hers, Venus Williams, in the first round of Wimbledon on July 1st. This was the moment in time when Gauff became the youngest woman to win at Wimbledon since 1991, and the youngest ever to qualify for that storied tennis tournament. And yet, and yet . . . what’s her emotional response to victory? Utter sadness: her inner eyebrows are raised; her eyes dim and the skin around them baggy; and the corners of mouth drawn down. A sense of rejection, hopelessness, pain, disappointment, isolation? None of the usual triggers for sadness make any sense. Welcome to “tears of joy,” minus for the moment any sign of joy. The crowd was roaring its approval, and would be all the way until the end –which came yesterday, when Gauff’s Cinderella run finally ended in the tournament’s 4th round with a loss to former world #1 player Simona Halep. Meanwhile, in France the American women’s soccer team was busy proving yet again its dynastic excellence. During play, there were plenty of riveting moments. But it was the celebrations of goal-scoring that drew attention, too. Here is striker Alex Morgan after scoring the winning goal against England in the semi-finals. Her “tea-sipping” moment went viral. At first, Morgan said: “My celebration was actually more about ‘that’s the tea,’ which is telling a story, you know, spreading news.” But after criticism that the tea-sipping was a mocking gesture, Morgan responded by citing a double standard in soccer given that men celebrate by “grabbing their sacks.” So . . . what was Morgan’s expression telling us? Was she showing contempt? Are charges of mockery fair? Well, there’s no smirk evident in this photo—but plenty of anger. The eyes are narrowed and the lips firmly pressed together (no tea is going to pass those lips!). And where might the anger come from? Try out the pending arbitration seeking equal pay for a U.S. women’s soccer team that shouldn’t be paid as much as the men’s far less successful squad. No, indeed—because if a “performance bonus” would be considered fair play, then these women should earn many multiples of greater compensation than their male counterparts in this case!

The Intricacies of Smiling

When it comes to political and emotional opposites, you can’t do much better than the Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi sideshow as they sat behind Donald Trump during the recent State of the Union speech. Pence has long ago mastered a look of supposed discernment as he takes in the wonders of Trump’s rhetoric. There are head-nods, yes, and smiles. But most of all there’s how a vertical crease forms between the Vice President’s eyebrows as he lowers and pinches them together as if trying to scoop up every pearl of wisdom. In contrast, the Speaker of the House looked like she was sucking on a lemon anytime she wasn’t instead rifling through the pages of the speech. Here, she’s giving the President a mock burst of applause.

Did Pelosi do her level best to distract TV viewers from Trump’s words by handling the speech’s text as she did? Maybe she was just bored (the speech and Trump’s Mussolini-like thrusts of his defiant chin went on seemingly forever).  Trump’s almost never happy. At least he made some of the female Democrats in attendance pleased by mentioning the new jobs he’s created, namely, like theirs!

As you can tell from the President’s displeased smiles, he wasn’t so happy to be upstaged. Happiness no longer seems to be what it once was. You can’t seemingly count on anything anymore.

Or maybe things were always like that. The two newly unearthed instances of Virginia politicians having gone the route of blackface should remind us that happiness isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Here is Al Jolson in the move Mammy (1930), inhabiting a fabled land where black folks are supposedly too dumb to be anything but happy all the time.

021219-03 Blackface.jpg

While Jeff Bezos was busy pushing back against an apparent blackmail attempt by The National Inquirer, what else went on this past week? Well, for one thing we had Amy Klobuchar managing to do a great job imitating somebody happy to be declaring her candidacy for president amid a snow storm.

Meanwhile, off in Europe her fellow Minnesotan, Lindsey Vonn, was managing to win the bronze medal in the world championship downhill in her final race ever. How remarkable was her success after a fabled career? Five days earlier she had fallen in another race, ending up with a bruised rib and a black eye. And three months earlier she had torn a ligament in her left knee, the one operated on something like a gazillion times.

At least every now and again, a smile is still really a smile: the embracing of life!

On a Mission or Simply Under Duress

Let’s start with the good news, especially for those who live in New England or have become admirers of the Belichick-Brady dynasty. Akin to getting a smile out of Chuck Norris in a movie role, it’s downright odd—almost creepy—to see a smile from Belichick. There were some afterwards, but much more in character is Belichick here gripping the victory trophy, eyebrow cocked in wary appraisal of the world around him while his eyes and mouth are tightly gripped in a look of determination. Maybe when Brady turns 50, Belichick will tire of winning. Meanwhile, . . . the victories and trophies accumulate.

Who also won this soporific Super Bowl? Many think it was the Bud Light / Game of Throne mash-up. What’s the Bud Light Knight’s facial expression? In his everyman role, beer-drinker as knight saving himself from sobriety, Budweiser doesn’t want us to know. We should be projecting ourselves into the role. Is he happily soused and sporting a smile, or brandishing the equivalent of Belichick’s scowl? The great mystery lingers.

If there are winners, there must be losers, too, and there were this past Sunday. One was the Rams’ coach, Sean McVay, who admitted to having been “outcoached” by Belichick.  Both coaches have their chins pulled up in a sign of anger, disgust and sadness. The difference between them: notice also how the corners of McVay’s mouth are turned downwards, tilting the emotions displayed more in the direction of sadness for the moment. (Don’t worry, Rams’ fans: there’s determination being expressed as well, a determination to win again and often.) Besides the Rams, I think Burger King lost the Super Bowl. I’m sure some clever ad agency guy thought pulling out the old footage of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger showed his artiness, but mostly it revealed a lack of emotional intelligence. Time and again while eating the burger, Andy smirks—a sign of disrespect (for the product). It’s hard for the company’s offer to be the hero when it’s actually the goat (and I don’t mean GOAT as in Roger Federer being the Greatest Of All Time).

Meanwhile, everyone’s running for president, inspired by Donald Trump’s example. If blatant incompetency and dishonesty can get you to the White House, why not give it a shot? Cory Booker has joined the Democratic field (looking delighted but not at ease), and maybe Howard Schultz is going to run an independent campaign. Fiscally conservative, socially liberal is Schultz’s promise. Whether a tepid smile and a lip turned down in disgust, as shown here, is an emotional formula for winning I doubt it.

Who’s definitely going to lose? That’s easier to say. Playing a losing hand is an apt description of the ultimate fate of both Virginia governor Ralph Northam (looking mighty uneasy given the raised inner eyebrow, a sign of sadness and fear) and Venezuela’s leader Nicholas Maduro (trying his best to imitate Belichick, but the eyebrows pinched together give away Maduro’s existential fear of being shot by rebels within his own military). In Northam’s case, he held the most insane of press conferences last Saturday. Among the highlights, denying he was one of the men dressed up as a Klansman or in blackface in a medical school yearbook picture (after admitting the night before that, in fact, yes, that was him in the photo). A safe prediction: he won’t join the others running for the Democratic presidential nomination. In Maduro’s case, inflation is running at something like 10 million percent and there’s no food left . . . except at his residence. When people are literally starving to death en masse, rubber bullets won’t matter. Next stop, Moscow, Mr. Maduro, if only you’re so lucky.

From Incompetent Officials to Something’s Great (But It’s Not Trump)

Welcome to a very different version of “Faces of the Week.” Focusing on a single story per posting is, frankly, too limiting. There’s always so much of interest going on. So while the occasional posting may focus on a single specific story, by and large I’m going to move to a potpourri of stories, going with whatever catches my eye (and engages my heart).

Let’s start with incompetency and Brexit.

Pity the British prime minister, Teresa May, as she struggles with plans B-Z now that Plan A was sounded defeated in Parliament. All the while, where, oh where is Boris Johnson, the man who helped lead the charge in favor of leaving the E.U. because the world would be coming up roses if England went its own way? As usual, he’s lost somewhere in his own mix of bluster and bafflement as to what it was he actually was thinking. “I said what?” seems to be the caption to many a moment of lip curling, mouth ajar Johnson caught on camera.

As pointed out in Pankaj Mishra’s article for The New York Times, however, a mediocre “chumocracy” has often ruled England. Case in point is Lord Mountbatten, whose hurried declaration of independence for India led to an estimated one million deaths as the country unraveled. The article came complete with this photo:

From left seated at the table, Jawaharlal Nehru, vice president of India’s interim government; Earl Mountbatten, viceroy of India; and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, president of the Muslim League, discuss Britain’s plan for India, June 2, 1947. 

As a facial coder, what struck me immediately was the anger on Jinnah’s face. Could anybody have imagined independence was going to be a cake-walk? More specifically, did Mountbatten even really notice the emotions roiling around him? He himself admitted the transfer of power he chose was a “ludicrously early date.” Then he gave the task of drawing the new boundaries to a British lawyer who had never visited India. Like Brexit, a mess was certain and that’s putting it mildly.

Speaking of incompetent officials, the stakes were a wee bit lower when the NFL official failed to call pass interference on this play late in the NFC championship game. Would you say that New Orleans Saints’ coach Sean Peyton was stunned by the no-call?

Seeking to move from U.S. Senator (D-CA) to the White House, Kamela Harris joined the ranks of contenders for the Democratic nomination this past week. With Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) already declared, how can Harris distinguish herself? For starters, she has the best smile of the three women. But a wide-eyed, on alert look is her other signature expression. Warmth and concern: it’s a great combination. My hunch is that of the three, she might prove the most effective on the campaign trail (time and the voters and the money raised will tell; remember what a 20th century Republican party boss said: Only two things matter in politics . . . money and I can’t remember the other thing.” Well, actually emotion is the other currency!)

What was great in the past few days was this man, the rising Greek tennis star Stefanos Tsitsipas, managing to beat his idol, Roger Federer, in a thrilling match at the Australian Open. “I’m the happiest man on earth” Tsitsipas said afterwards and it wasn’t hard to believe him. Just look at the elation on his face.

Maybe the question of the week, however, was what was on the face (and in the heart) of the student from Covington Catholic High School in Washington, D.C. to join an anti-abortion protest. Nick Sandmann said he stood this close to a Native American activist trying to step in between two opposing groups. No disrespect was intended, Sandmann said. But in wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) red hat, linked to Donald Trump and his disparaging reference to senator Warren as “Pocahontas” (among many other racist or all but racist remarks, over time), one is left wondering.

The Native American shown here to the right, Nathan Phillips, sure felt uneasy about Sandmann being so in his face. There’s a slight smirk to the right on Sandmann’s face, and an upper lip curled in disgust. Despite the accompanying smile, it’s hard to reconcile Sandmann’s expression with the notion that no disrespect was intended.

What’s easier to judge for sure than Sandmann’s expression? That would be the look on the face of the Confederate soldier emblazoned on the digital sign outside his school back in Kentucky. Note the eyes tight with anger, and for that matter the street on which the school sits. I rest my case, even if Sandmann is still protesting his innocence.

Pyeongchang Olympics Quagmire: The Crushing Success of Nearly Winning

One of the peculiarities of the Olympics is how the podium is structured, with the silver and bronze medalists typically standing at equal heights below the winning, gold medalist. Is that design meant to simulate a spirit of harmonious equality? Or is it actually a nod to the reality that silver medalists often feel more like they’re “second banana” than “second best” given high hopes of winning it all?

The reaction of members of the women’s hockey team when Canada “won” the silver medal after a long history of Olympic success on the ice rink speaks to a common emotional reality. Note the downturned corners of the mouth of these players and their teary, unfocused eyes. Even more obvious was Jocelyne Larocque’s reaction: almost immediately removing the silver medal she received, only to later issue an apology for “letting my emotions get the better of me.” See The Washington Post’s coverage.

It’s not easy almost winning, as several studies have shown. Should you need evidence of that conclusion, check out:

Then again, coming in 3rd isn’t necessarily a picnic, either, as Slovenia’s Zan Kosir’s face confirms.

Unexpected victories are among the sweetest, of course. The victory by the U.S. in men’s curling was astonishing, as the team’s jaw-dropping surprise looks confirm.

To others, however, nothing has been more surprising than how much the U.S. athletes have struggled to reach the podium at this year’s winter Olympics in South Korea.  Theories of why America has been buried by Norway in the medal count range from “we always struggle” in events with names like Nordic Combined to having athletes this time around who are either too old to hold up physically or too young to handle the stress. What could be the way forward, at least emotionally speaking when buckling under stress is apparently a major issue? Based on my own studies of great athletes in my upcoming book, Famous Faces Decoded, as well as a previous blog on tennis stars, let me suggest a novel solution. Groom winners by having the U.S. Olympic trainers focus on developing athletes prone to disgust. A curling upper lip and a wrinkled nose are the classic signs of disgust, an emotion about rejecting what doesn’t taste or smell good: like not being a winner. My conclusion is that disgust, not anger, can propel athletes forward to victories as much as any other emotion around.

In that spirit, I noticed the reaction of Finland’s Livo Niskaen on winning gold in the 50-kilometer mass start event.  Note the raised upper lip that accompanies the whoop of joy.

Michelle and Barack Obama’s Official Portraits: Emotive Pseudo-Realism

The two smiles that stick in my memory and soul are not only Mona Lisa’s inscrutable smile but also Barack Obama’s tender, joyful smile. From where Da Vinci’s masterpiece sits in its place of honor at the Louvre in Paris to a rented ballroom in Des Moines, Iowa, is quite a stretch. But in that ballroom in Des Moines the night that Barack won the Iowa caucuses contest in 2008, launching him toward the presidency, I watched and wondered at how he smiled as he greeted well-wishers. The smile on display that evening crinkled his eyes, vibrantly yet softly, with a conveyed sense of gratitude, wonder, and authenticity; absent was stern gravitas or over-the-top, hackneyed, thumbs-up waves to the crowd. Alongside him, Michelle Obama came across as even more subdued as well as humble and grateful.

So joining the nation in seeing the official presidential likenesses unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery on Monday was something of a shock. I applaud both the former first man and first lady choosing distinguished African-American portrait artists to depict them, breaking the former monopoly of white artists depicting white presidents in mostly a vanilla style. In Barack’s case, Kehinde Wiley has gone with his penchant for painting other African-American subjects prior to Barack in fairly regal poses.  At the National Portrait Gallery installation ceremony, Barack admitted that Wiley had tried putting him atop a horse and a throne, before settling for a formal chair nestled amid greenery.

As to Barack’s smile, the one I saw in Des Moines that January evening has long ago been eaten alive by Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who sought to obstruct Barack’s progress in office. The smile evident in Wiley’s portrait is slight and overwhelmed by seriousness. The eyebrows pinched and pulled down, the lower eyelids raised and taut, the lips pressing together firmly enough that a bulge is vaguely evident beneath the middle of the lower lip all contribute to a sense of a thoughtful, frustrated, even brooding man. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. But where that comparison Barack invited himself by launching his campaign in Springfield, Illinois a decade ago breaks down is that instead of Lincoln’s sadness, here we have disgust hinted at by a slightly raised upper lip but mostly evident from how the cheeks pouch on either side of Barack’s nose.

Why the anger shown on Barack’s face? That isn’t his most signature emotion. A joyful, eyes- twinkling smile might qualify instead, or even more so than disgust the contemptuous smirk that crept into Barack’s facial expressions repertoire the longer he stayed in the White House. Is it that anger signals being in control, as indicated by the former president learning forward in his chair rather than drifting above and away from the partisan fray, as was to a fault Barack’s natural tendency?

As for Michelle’s portrait by Amy Sherald, it’s if anything even more unexpected.  The striking white patterned gown is arguably as much the focal point as the woman wearing it. But for me, it’s Michelle’s facial expression that intrigues most. The pressed lips, the narrowed eye, the cheek pouched on the opposite side of her face: in those ways Michelle’s feelings are shown mirroring those of her husband. But that I think is only, in part, who Michelle is emotionally. Outer eyebrows raised higher would more faithfully reflect her tendency to be surprised, even a little fearful, which she fights through with a big hearty smile that isn’t as effervescent as Barack’s smile at its best: more like beer with a good head of foam in Michelle’s case, as opposed to Barack’s champagne smile.

That said, there’s this final oddity about Michelle’s portrait: she’s in repose. Her legs seem to be crossed beneath the gown, and her head is resting on the upside-down palm of her hand in a way that to me suggests some measure of slightly dainty passivity. In short, the two portraits are a relief from the usual, vanilla-flavored portraits of past first couples. But if this pair of portraits doesn’t quite come home for me, emotionally, it’s because whereas Barack is portrayed as too tense and assertive, Michelle is portrayed as not as wide-eyed, innocent, and frisky as I believe she’s remained.

Most Super Bowl Spots Didn’t Score a Touchdown This Year

The 52nd Super Bowl sizzled instead of fizzled, with a record amount of offensive yardage and drama down to literally the last play. Some years the ads that run during the Super Bowl are better than the game itself, but not this year. “A pretty lame year,” said one advertising agency president; “a little quiet” was the quote from another ad agency executive regarding the game’s first quarter, when often the best ads appear. Plenty of commentary will analyze why, but only here will you learn the biggest reason why so many TV spots, Super Bowl vintage or not, are losers year after year.

“I’m ready for my close-up” says the faded movie star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950), one of Hollywood’s most famous lines and yet one the agencies—and their paying clients—seem to forget all the time. With the average 30-second spot costing the sponsors over $5 million to air (over and above the production costs), Norma’s request isn’t just worth heeding; it’s essential.

For two decades, I’ve been a market researcher using the tools of eye tracking and facial coding to learn people’s intuitive, natural, see-and-feel response to TV spots— and the results are crystal clear. As much as 70% of people’s gaze activity centers on the actors’ faces, and a similar percentage of all the emotional response to a TV spot will be linked to viewers taking in the emotions shown on the actors’ faces—especially during close-ups—because emotions are, frankly, so contagious. What the actor shows (if authentically rendered), the viewers feel because in life we’re looking for personalities that interest and matter to us. In business, never forget that the words “emotion” and “motivation” come from the same root word in Latin: movere, to move, to make something happen (whether a purchase or inspiring an employee to be more engaged).

A few spots this year heeded Norma’s request better than others. The Sprint ad full of robots with more animated faces than their stern human colleague was as close to a commercial with striking production values as any ad aired in the game’s opening moments. A Ram pick-up truck ad brimming over with Viking warriors offered us plenty of angry-faced close-ups of men who were as intense as they were lost. A T-Mobile ad used the strategy of resorting to babies or puppies by giving us a diverse rainbow of surprised, open-eyed infants.

But against those minor successes, the commercials shown during Super Bowl LII featured the usual reliance on lots of action—too much—with often too little reason to care. A Kraft spot showed us far too many faces, and too quickly, for any of them to light an emotional spark. (When will agencies stop being so enamored by machine-gun-paced editing?) And while Intuit’s “The Thing Under the Bed” ad wasn’t so bad, its “Noise in the Attic” ad failed to leverage the power of facial expressions by showing us a cloaked ghost, then a CPA’s tiny face on a laptop computer, and finally the equally distant face of a spooked homeowner opening his attic’s trap door to see what was going on. Emotionally speaking, the answer for viewers in their homes: almost surely nothing.

In that way, “Noise in the Attic” joined many of its fellow Super Bowl spots this year in being the commercially still-born equivalent of how Sunset Boulevard opens—with a man floating face down in a swim pool, utterly, irretrievably dead.