Super Bowl Advertisers Struck Political and Social Undertones
Brands engaged viewers with displays of corporate conscience, even at the risk of offending some customer groups.
Super Bowl commercials generally are characterized by humor and wit. But in the wake of a politically charged season that has millions discussing questions related to race, immigration and equality, many of this year’s advertisers were more interested in addressing social issues.
Making a political statement in a commercial of any kind -- especially an expensive Super Bowl spot -- is pretty risky. More than 60 million voters supported each of last year's two, major-party presidential candidates. It can be a gamble for a large brand to send a strong message (and potentially alienate some customers).
Marketing analysts and other industry watchers might take a more cautious approach, using descriptors such as "subtle" and "social undertones." The fact is, many top brands faced polarizing issues head-on with their treatment of Super Bowl Sunday ads. Here's a look at some of the most poignant of the bunch.
Audi's 60-second spot, "Daughter," made one of the evening's clearest social statements, taking on the gender gap in the fight for equal pay. The commercial was simple and highly emotional -- a combination Loren Angelo, vice president of marketing for Audi of America, clearly sought.
“You can either introduce humor, with charmingly provocative wit, or you can speak to America emotionally,” Angelo explained. “This is a culturally engaging topic that we as a company are very focused on, and we think that to have a profound presence in the Super Bowl, and for the investment we’re making, we want to relate to what America's talking about. And this is certainly something that is true to Audi and to something that’s happening in our society.”
Audi’s commercial closes with strong message that the brand is “committed to equal pay for equal work.” The ad makes a play for women customers while simultaneously touching a growing demographic among men who also believe in the concept of equal pay. Count this ad as a success for Audi.
Airbnb was one of a few brands taking direct aim at President Donald Trump’s recent decision to temporarily ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The company's "#weaccept" ad needed only 30 seconds to make a profound impact. It shows an eclectic mix of changing faces set to soft background music. The images are overlaid with text: "We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”
Airbnb’s trio of founders weren’t shy about driving home the commercial’s purpose. On Sunday, they posted a statement on the group's website. Their writing touched on the political and racial turmoil facing the country and rededicated Airbnb as a supporter of diversity and acceptance. The ad wasn’t groundbreaking or intensely polarizing, but it was effective considering the majority of the company's millennial target market opposes the ban.
Budweiser often dominates Super Bowl commercial headlines, and this year was no different. The brewer created a compelling advertisement that sparked conversation and controversy in the days leading up to the event as well as in the hours after the game.
“Born the Hard Way” tells the emotional tale of a 19th century German immigrant who experiences hardship both reaching and living in America. He finds acceptance in St. Louis, where he ultimately becomes a brewer. The audience figures out the man's identity -- Adolphus Busch, cofounder of Anheuser-Busch. The final frame displays the company logo and these words: “When nothing stops your dream. This is the beer we drink.”
The spot appears to be a counterstatement to Trump's stance on immigration and nationalism. Yet Budweiser has tried to dispel accusations that the commercial beats any sort of political drum. The ad was released days ahead of the Super Bowl. Company Vice President Ricardo Marques told AdWeek, “There’s really no correlation with anything else that’s happening in this country. We believe this is a universal story that is very relevant today because probably more than any other period in history today the world pulls you in different directions, and it’s never been harder to stick to your guns.”
So, to recap: Budweiser clearly touched on a hot political topic, yet tried to denounce any sort of correlation. As a result, a commercial that could've been highly effective now seems to have no target audience. Those who want to see it as a political statement are being told not to view it that way. Others, who interpret it as a political statement nonetheless, launched a #BoycottBudweiser hashtag on social media.
Great idea. Fantastic execution. Poor public relations.
Everything old is new again. For this year's championship, Coca-Cola revived its 2014 Super Bowl commercial. The ad featured people of all races singing a multilingual version of “America the Beautiful.” The meaning was both relevant and timely to many viewers, given the recent national conversation around the hot-button issues of race and identity.
Consider Coca-Cola a winner here. To start, the company essentially incurred no additional creative expenses. And the commercial touches nearly everyone. Some with extreme viewpoints could perceive it as a political jab, but it seemed to strike a chord with the average American, regardless of political affiliation.
Many brands try to avoid saying too much about the the meaning and purpose behind their Super Bowl spots. Still, it's clear to millions of viewers that companies used this spotlight in front of a staggering at-home audience to make both subtle and blatant social statements.
Risky? Sure. But as they say, any press is good press.