Advertising at the Super Bowl

8th Feb.
Tessa Evans

The political turbulence of today’s world is impossible to ignore. For many it has come as no surprise that brands are using advertising to reference this historical moment. Adverts that aired during the Super Bowl went further than many anticipated. Championing diversity, equality and immigration, they were a blatant condemnation of President Trump's recent actions. But is it right for companies to involve themselves in political debates through advertising? Are these messages genuine? Or is this a naked attempt to profiteer from political upheaval?

2 Mins (584 Words)

The Super Bowl is seen as the most important slot in advertising. With over 111 million people tuning in live, the price of a 30-second slot is now an estimated $5 million. It is the highlight of the advertising calendar in the US, with adverts often garnering more attention than the football itself.

With the game looking (misleadingly) like a sure victory for the Atlanta Falcons at half-time, attention on the advertising break was at an all time high. It began with Coca-Cola emphasising a message of acceptance with a multilingual rendition of “America The Beautiful”. Airbnb embraced the political with its #weaccept campaign. It marked their commitment to providing short-term housing for 100,000 people in need over the next five years. This is on top of their vow to provide free housing to those affected by the immigration ban. These brands are sending a clear message to consumers around the globe; that they are unafraid of losing out on Trump voters.

The most explicit message came from Pittsburgh-based building supply company, 84 Lumber. Their advert depicted the journey of a mother and daughter to the US from Mexico, crossing a not-so-subtle wall. Owner and president, Maggie Hardy Magerko, who was behind the ad’s political theme, told the New York Times that the ad was meant to attract workers “who really believe in American dreams.” Brewery Anheuser-Busch also emphasised the importance of immigration, portraying the journey of Adolphus Busch to the US from Germany, where he would go on to help create Budweiser beer with fellow immigrant Eberhard Anheuser.

These brands seem to be sending a message to consumers around the globe

These decisions were met with resistance in some quarters. The original version of the 84 Lumber advert, was deemed by Fox to be “too controversial”, forcing the company to air an edited version without the wall. Anheuser-Busch also attracted criticism for their pro-immigration stance. A #BoycottBudweiser hashtag was started immediately, with many suggesting the advert was too political.

At a time when culture has become so polarised, brands are facing unchartered territory and potential reputational risks. But political realities cannot be avoided. Uber’s delayed reaction to the immigration ban, combined with a tweet which appeared to promote its services during the yellow taxi strike at JFK airport, was a PR disaster. This was followed by a #DeleteUber campaign, with disappointed customers removing the app in droves and turning to alternatives like Lyft.

For many brands a political statement is about more than capturing the moment. The immigration issue is one that impacts heavily upon businesses around the world. Tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia have vowed to take the Muslim ban to court, on the grounds that the executive order halting immigration is unconstitutional. Ebay founder, Pierre Omidyar, slammed Trump’s order as “simple bigotry”, while Starbucks and Google have pledged to hire thousands of refugees around the world.

A political statement is about more than capturing the moment

While businesses might be unwise to capitalise on public anger through advertising slogans alone, statements such as these make the brand feel genuine for the consumer. They are indicative of a company committed to its stated values. Perhaps it is a symptom of the times in which we live, that a brand’s promotion of tolerance, equality or equal pay should be considered an act of protest at all. In these divided times, staying out of the debate is often a statement in itself. The pursuit of political neutrality for businesses could become an obsolete concept altogether.

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