How Mass Media Influences Social Norms

Mass media is defined as any communication channel reaching a large number of people simultaneously. It includes Television, newspapers, radio, billboards, films, books, internet, smart media and many others (Dominick &Wimmer, 2013, p.2). In order to understand mass media, a researcher should be able to investigate the following;

  1. The format used by the media.
  2. The content the media displays.
  3. The hosts of the media who the viewers would like to listen to.
  4. The viewers rating on the media used.
  5. What the viewers, listeners, or readers like most about the program on the media for instance, TV or radio.
  6. The effectiveness of advertising using the medium of choice i.e TV, Radio billboards etc.

On the other hand, social norms are rules and standards which guide a certain group of people. The moral and social behavior of the people is guided using social sanctions as opposed to forced laws (Burger, Harkins & Williams, 2017, p. 147).

As the media sells goods to us, it also serves as an entertainment tool, a norm passing medium, and values to the next generation. All forms of mass media teach us on how to think, desire, behave and react to events.  There has been a debate on the effects of mass media on social trends, rituals and social norms. Social relationships are a major focus on the contemporary American culture. Decisions on clothing, hairstyles, the car to drive etc.  greatly influence the content of an advertisement. For instance, advertising of alcoholic beverages is part of the American culture. In the adverts, couples which drink together are depicted to have the most successful relations (Popular Culture, 2003). These kind of adverts change the way viewers think about the product being advertised and end up buying in order to have successful relationships. Advertising connects norms of a good and responsible behavior and tries to show the morals of the American culture in a positive way. These include stable families, rewards of working hard, and accepting the contribution of the people toward social diversity.

Super Bowl transformed from a mere sporting experience into a popular culture for Americans in the 1970s. its first most popular advertisement was aired in 1973. In the advert, Farrah Fawcett lathered Noxzema shaving cream in a seductive manner all over the face of Joe Namath. As much as the advert didn’t follow the production values of advertising, it was a prove that Super Bowl has a potential of launching memorable branding campaigns(Shmoop Editorial Team, 2018). The advert promoted indecency through seduction since the Super Bowl as watched by all age groups. However, it gained mileage as it advertised what most people will want to see.

In 1979, Coca Cola came up with an iconic advertisement whereby a telegenic kid intimidated Joe Greene. In the advert, the exhausted Greene staggered up the tunnel following a rough game only to be offered a bottle of Coke by the kid. The ‘mean’ Greene smiled on drinking the guzzling Coke. The ad ended with a happy Greene tossing the kid using the jersey he had worn during the game as the screen displayed the Coca Cola slogan, “Have a drink and smile.” Later the advert became so popular that it produced a TV movie in 1981 called “The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid”(Shmoop Editorial Team, 2018). This advert clearly showed that no matter how unhappy or mean you are, a Coke drink will rejuvenate the happy moments and make one smile. On the other hand, it showed that even the mighty and most popular persons can appreciate small things done to them by young people. The kid was depicted as a hero who could help in terms of need.

Super Bowl’s growing stature through advertisements led to increase in TV ratings where the game was featured. In late 1970s, it was the most watched game in the country. In 1882 during an unbearable weather conditions, most people had to stay indoors. This marked its peak ratings as millions of people estimated to be 49.1 percent of the Americans watched the game. In the same year, singer Diana Ross performed the national anthem just before the kickoff of the game. Her appearance led to a new era of celebrity involvement during the game(Shmoop Editorial Team, 2018). The bad weather really promoted the game as most people were forced to watch it and make a decision of continuing to watch it or not. It was a big milestone for the organisers and advertising companies.

In 2004, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson performed the most famous Super Bowl halftime show of all times. During their performance in which a series of their songs was involved, Justin reached to Janet’s body. Part of Janet’s costume was ripped off leaving her right breast exposed on live national television. The performance was immediately cut off but within the short period of exposure, 90 million people watching the game had already seen Janet’s breast which has a nipple ring(Shmoop Editorial Team, 2018). This was embarrassing especially for parents who were watching the game with young ones. It might have swayed other people’s thinking on what the game really promotes since complaints were launched.

Super Bowl viewers later launched their complaints against Justin, Janet, CBS and MTV. They felt that the performance did not adhere to the norms of decency since the broadcast was supposed to be family-friendly. During this time, the Federal Communications Commission received over 200,000 complaints from viewers who felt that the performance was inappropriate. The owner of CBS and MTV (Viacom) was fined $550,000 for violating standards of decency. The performance was then referred to ‘wardrobe malfunction’ since the two singers tried to argue that it was a wardrobe malfunction(Shmoop Editorial Team, 2018).

The ‘Wardrobe Malfunction’ incident triggered the congress to pass the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005. This act was to increase fines for nudity incidents in future. However, most Americans felt that the incident was blown out of proportion despite the moralizing effort by the Congress and FCC. From the survey done in 2005, two-thirds of those who participated felt like the FCC over-reacted to the incident (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2018).

Over the years, Super Bowl has been rated as one of the biggest football game of the year. This is due to increased marketing on social media during the Super Bowl period. According to the survey carried out by Neely (2017), nearly 78 percent of the Super Bowl viewers simultaneously watch the game as they engage on social media. The social media channels used include; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat with Facebook being the most used whereas Snapchat is the least used. The social engagement then provides a platform for advertising, brand placements and content.

Weeks before the game day are considered important since there is increased traffic on the social media sites. These provide a platform for brands of different parties to do online marketing as the consumer demand increase. From the survey, it was identified that 95 percent of the respondents were women, 92 percent has children and all were above 21 years (Neely, 2017).

According to Chamberlain (2018), over 100 million viewers watch Super Bowl. The huge traffic gives a better reason as to why companies continue to make lots of money during the period. The controversial, provocative and noteworthy ads dominate the TVs as well as social media during and after the game. However, after the Congress act, the Super Bowl is now being used to promote better citizenship and relations among the American citizens.

As indicated by Wright and Weidt (2017), when social norms begin to shift in the direction of dangerous speech, it is the responsibility of leaders to come out and protect the citizens. However, the U.S government officials have failed to denounce xenophobia. They have promoted it by making foreigners look like threats. Fortunately, companies such as Budweiser, 84 Lumber, Coca-Cola, and Airbnb during their Super Bowl advertisements used some minutes to create awareness to the Americans that they are a nation of immigrants. This proved to be of great importance as it protects the country against the shift toward Dangerous Speech.

Research shows that these ads are very effective when it comes to changing social norms as opposed to public service announcements. This is because the public service announcements tend to lecture people on how to think or behave and this makes the viewers to lose interest on the said topic. On the other hand, the ads by the four companies did not tell people to like minority groups or immigrants. instead, they offered a counter narrative (Wright &Weidt, 2017).

Scheybani (2015) illustrates that marketing and advertising has become a major agent of social change. This is because the ads influence the viewers’ way of thinking, acting and understanding. There are over 5000 ads in the advertising hour daily. These ads paint a societal picture thus shaping ones thinking and inspiration. Through painting the picture, the influence on the viewers depends on how they understand the advert. Some are impacted negatively whereas others are impacted positively.

Sometimes, advertising paints a negative picture which promotes unhealthy behavior. For instance, there is a connection between tobacco advertisement and underage smoking as well as alcohol with underage alcohol consumption. Additionally, advertising has power to change our aspirations. For instance, advertising women who have been photoshoped to have the perfect look. These unrealistic advertisements have led to low self-esteem as well as depression for women who think they are not perfect enough as depicted in the advert. These depict advertisements as negative influence. However, viewers should be made aware that these ads are not always portraying unrealistic standards (Scheybani, 2015). It should be understood by the viewer that the adverts are not always realistic. In order to deal with the purported ‘madness’ during Super Bowl, the management decided to come up with Super Bowl’s social media command center. Analysts, strategists and technicians would monitor the fan conversation via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. From this. It is clear that Super Bowl will in future be a major influencer in social norms of Americans. Each year its audience is increasing and there is no prediction that the audience will ever reduce. It is a sport which needs to be well managed and the use of media mass influence looked into detail in order to have a better nation.

However, the advertisements should always be reviewed for decency before being allowed to be aired. This will help have a positive impact towards society and will make the country grow beyond the ethnic and racial culture. The adverts should always be consistent with non-partisan content which will not spark enmity amongst citizens. During the Super Bowl period, the companies whose adverts are run should also be held responsible if something sparks some negative social norm in the society.

In conclusion, Super Bowl is a game which should be taken advantage of by all citizens in order to have better social norms. Both advertisers and viewers should have a common ground for negotiation. The viewers should also be made aware on posting indecent posts during the period. This will make people to be at peace with each other. This is another sign of digital evolution’s effect on mass media, alongside the switch to streaming sports online instead of watching it on TV.


Harkins, Stephen G, Kipling D. Williams, and Jerry M. Burger. The Oxford Handbook of Social Influence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Print.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Culture in NFL History.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 27 Feb. 2018.

Wright, Lucas , and Alexandra Weidt. “Super Bowl commercials reinforce social norms against Dangerous Speech.” Dangerous Speech Project, 10 Feb. 2017,

Neely, Alexander. “Majority of Super Bowl Audience Engages with Social Media.” DMN, 2 Feb. 2017,

Wimmer, Roger D, and Joseph R. Dominick. Mass Media Research: An Introduction. Boston, Mass: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.

Scheybani, Omid. “How advertising has become an agent of social change.” Medium, Medium, 11 Feb. 2015,

“Popular Culture.” Ad Age, 15 Sept. 2003,