Super Bowl LI Ads And Political Undertones: An Overview

Super Bowl advertisements are often designed to get people talking. This year, in the wake of a contentious election, was certainly no different.

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Super Bowl ads often range from humorous and lighthearted to sweet and sentimental, but many of this year’s ads touched on current social and political issues. In fact, even the halftime show’s star, Lady Gaga, made comments about the current political climate throughout her performance.

This isn’t the first year that Super Bowl ads have carried a political message. Just last year, Bud Light’s ad with Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen parodied the 2016 presidential candidates. But it’s safe to say that this year political commentary was the most prominent it’s been in years.

Predictably, some of these ads received backlash. For the most part, though, companies were advocating themes that many Americans have already been voicing for some time, such as inclusiveness, diversity, and equal rights.

It’s worth noting that Fox actually has guidelines for any ads they show, one of them being as follows: “Advertisers may not use their commercial time for addressing viewpoints or issues.” But thanks to subtle (and not-so-subtle) creativity, these companies managed to make their statements while staying within  the guideline.

So, below are eight of the Super Bowl LI ads that we cannot confirm nor deny have any political connotation whatsoever.

Budweiser

This is not the first time Budweiser has gone political in a campaign. In fact, just last year their summer campaign was titled, “America Is In Your Hands,” and it ran from May through the presidential election in November. This year, they created “Born The Hard Way,” which tells the story of Adolphus Busch, the immigrant co-founder of Anheuser-Busch, journeying from Germany to America to make a better life for himself and his family.

While the nation is abuzz with the current immigration controversy, this story reflects the lives of so many other immigrants and refugees making their way to America. However, according to Fortune, even though this ad is “super relevant today …. [it’s not meant to be taken as commentary on the current political climate in the United States.” That said, Budweiser also claimed originally that the campaign wasn’t political, but then admitted that is “…resonating with consumers because the timing is right.”

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola’s taglines have ranged from the comically straightforward (“Drink Coca-Cola”) to the overtly patriotic (“Red, White, & You”), and many others in between. Many of these of these returned to a common theme of loving one’s country and everyone in it. Their most recent rebranding continues this by uniting all their global products under one campaign: “Taste the Feeling.” Their Chief Marketing Officer, Marcos de Quinto, described the campaign as an attempt to, “reinforc[e] that Coca-Cola is for everybody … ‘Taste the Feeling’ will bring to life the idea that drinking a Coca-Cola – any Coca-Cola – is a simple pleasure that makes everyday moments more special.”

This new campaign was launched at the perfect time, reflecting the current controversies over America’s multicultural, all-inclusive identity. Coca-Cola chose to use their “Love Story” spot, showcasing both the diversity of Coca-Cola’s products and their demographic. However, they also chose to reuse their 2014 ad (see above) that features people singing “America, the Beautiful” in various languages – which blends seamlessly with their new “Taste the Feeling” campaign, reminding the world that Coke is for everybody.

Airbnb

Airbnb has built its brand on creating connections between people of different backgrounds. When travelling, choosing to stay in an Airbnb over a hotel is more than a matter of price point; it’s a way to adopt the lifestyle of an actual native of the place you’re visiting. To support that idea, they’ve developed ad campaigns in the past with the slogan, “Live there.”

This branding concept fits in perfectly with the subtle but effective political statement made by this Super Bowl spot, featuring human faces of many different backgrounds and races juxtaposed and combined while a message of inclusion and diversity streams across the center of the screen. The commercial finishes with the hashtag #WeAccept to cement their stance as one of multiculturalism.

84 Lumber

The campaign for 84 Lumber is definitely the most blatantly political ad out of the bunch. The story is of a Mexican woman and her daughter making their way to America, only to end up blocked by a huge wall. As the mother begins to cry, the daughter pulls out an American flag from her bag that she made out of plastic bags and garbage she picked up along their journey. Then, a door appears (presumably made by 84 Lumber), with the phrase “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”

Unfortunately, if you only watched this ad via TV during the Super Bowl, you only saw part of the journey with “See the conclusion at journey84.com” appearing at the end. The company had to limit their ad because Fox actually rejected it for being overly political – which is understandable seeing as their comment on immigration was far from subtle. Thankfully, 84 Lumber didn’t let Fox stop their entire campaign and the full video can be seen above or over at journey84.com.

Audi

Political statements weren’t limited to immigration on Sunday. Audi used their spot to advocate for equal pay amongst women and men in the workforce. The gender-based wage gap has been a hot button political issue for some time. It’s a little surprising that Audi was the only brand to touch on this issue, being that the Women’s March is fresh on everyone’s mind lately.

In the ad, a proud father watches his daughter compete and succeed in a soapbox race against a field of mostly male competitors. At the end, he wonders how he’ll be able to tell her that someday, she’ll be forced to compete in a workforce on an uneven playing field, on which her work may be unfairly undervalued because of her gender.

The commercial is inspirational and drives home a point that should be common sense, but unfortunately still needs to be made.

It’s A 10

This brand may not be as widely known as Coca-Cola or Audi, but It’s a 10 has become one of the go-to hair care lines for professional salons worldwide. Next to 84 Lumber and Audi, this is one of the more overtly political ads seen during the big game. Although this ad doesn’t touch on a specific issue, it talks about the “next four years of bad hair,” in a (very) thinly veiled nod to the next four years of Trump’s presidency.

Lifewtr

Amidst all the discussion on the political messages in Super Bowl ads, no one has mentioned the Lifewtr ad, “Inspiration Drops.” While it doesn’t discuss such topics like immigration or the wall, it does express the idea that, “Art makes life #MoreInspired.” This is an imperative message to spread in light of possible funding cuts for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The ad uses a stunning visual aesthetic to draw the viewer in; two-time Oscar winner Robert Stromberg directs a romanticized inversion of the Skittles, “Taste the rainbow” commercials. In this, more earnest version, couples, families, and friend groups are interrupted on their commutes by strikingly colorful raindrops. The rain pools into artwork on sidewalks, cars, and buildings. This ties in with Lifewtr’s ambitious, packaging-as-canvas business model. Their water bottles are meant to showcase artwork by new artists on a rotating basis, with a fresh batch every three months. The commercial is an effective reminder of the importance of art and beauty in all of our lives.

NFL

At first glance, it may seem an odd choice for the NFL to purchase expensive advertising time during the broadcast of its own flagship product. After all, anyone who sees the ad will have already been consuming its product, isn’t this preaching to the choir?

Well, the NFL knows that many people watching the Super Bowl are inconsistent fans of its game at best. So, it’s a good opportunity to strengthen that brand in the eyes of people who aren’t regularly engaged with it. Also, under the tenure of current commissioner Roger Goodell, the league has suffered through a growing list of public relations nightmares, including but not limited to domestic violence scandals, lengthy rules hearings, and overwhelming evidence of lifelong brain damage among former players.

So, in order to inject some positivity into an embattled brand, the NFL used their ad like many brands did – to spread an uplifting and subtly political message. “Inside These Lines” features intense imagery of connections the game can facilitate: across different backgrounds, ages, and races. Interspersed with this imagery is a solitary scene of a stadium employee painting the white lines on the field. Eventually, the camera pans out far enough to see that he has been painting an outline of the United States. One spoken line, in particular, drives home the message of diversity and connection:

“Inside these lines, we don’t have to come from the same place to help each other reach the same destination.”

Recap

Brands spent an estimated $5 million on 30-second Super Bowl advertisements this year, up from $4.8 million last year. Whether you’re a multinational Super Bowl regular or a young upstart hoping to make a splash, there needs to be significant return in order for that kind of cash to be worth it.

A good way to do that is to make an ad that isn’t just well-executed and appealing, but also a conversation starter. And since there’s no better way to drum up some buzz than politics, commercials like the ones above are inevitable.

This year felt different, though. After an extremely contentious election cycle, it felt as though brands weren’t merely stirring up the muck, they were trying to give people something hopeful, patriotic, and inclusive to hold on to. Some pulled it off better than others, but for the most part, the political messages in this year’s commercials served the brands who created them well; intense conversation pieces that combined bold statements about America’s identity crisis with a delicate appreciation for her history.

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About The Author:Kathryn Wheeler
Kathryn Wheeler is a graphic designer at Mainstreethost, a Buffalo, NY based digital marketing agency. She also enjoys reading and writing about design, advertising, typography, and basically anything about art.
About The Author:Mike Whitney
Mike is an Inbound Marketing Specialist at Mainstreethost, a digital marketing agency in Buffalo, NY. Besides writing about marketing, he enjoys old movies, live music, and the Buffalo Bills.