Super Bowl Commercials Contain Political Undertones

By: Elizabeth Klein

The Super Bowl has always been home to the greatest commercials on public television.  These advertisements tend to be humorous, artistic, and even heartfelt.  However, last Sunday, advertisers used their commercials to convey messages with political undertones.

On January 27, Donald Trump signed an executive order that bans refugees and people from a number of primarily Islamic nations in the middle east.  Many have taken to calling this action the “Muslim Ban.”  In fact, renowned companies are among the list of opposers to the ban, including Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.  Many of these companies used the Super Bowl as their medium to display their opposition to the act and stand in solidarity with refugees, immigrants, and Islamic people.  Additionally, other commercials simply promoted the idea of having a melting pot country that includes all different types of people.

Airbnb has been among the strongest opposers of the Muslim ban.  On Sunday night, they aired a commercial featuring individuals of different religions, ethnicities, sexualities, races, and genders with the words, “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.”  The end featured the company’s logo with the hashtag, #WeAccept.

84 Lumber attempted to air a commercial taking an obvious stand against the potential policies of the new administration.  FOX Network, the channel that broadcasted the Super Bowl, deemed the ad too controversial to air on television.  Instead, the lumber company opted to broadcast a shortened version of their advertisement, and posted the full version on their website.  It portrayed a Hispanic mother and daughter leaving their home and travelling all over the country.  When they finally reach their destination, they encounter a wall.  However, they find a wooden door in the partition, and pass through to the other side.  The end of the video features a pickup truck full of lumber that reads, “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”  Many viewers claim that the ad is a reference to Donald Trump’s proposed wall separating Mexico and the United States.  It appears to convey the theme that people of different ethnicities and races will always be welcome in our country.

Coca-Cola replayed an ad from 2014 that presented a version of “America the Beautiful” sang in a multitude of different languages.  The video features a group of extremely diverse individuals drinking Coca-Cola and celebrating the United States.  Audi aired a commercial that tackled sexism in the workplace.  The ad was about a young, female kart racer, and was narrated by the girl’s father.  He questions how he will tell his daughter about the unequal pay between women and men; then, after she wins the race, wonders if he will have to at all.  The closing caption reads, “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work.”  Budweiser broadcasted a commercial that encapsulated the American dream; in the video, a German immigrant faces hardship and criticism as he makes his way to America to help found the Budweiser company.

Advertisers weren’t the only ones preaching acceptance and diversity.  Phillipa Soo, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Renée Elise Goldsberry–the performers who play the Schuyler Sisters in the famed Broadway musical Hamilton–sang “America the Beautiful” this year at the big game.  Except they shook things up a bit by adding the words, “and sisterhood” after the original “And crown thy good with brotherhood…” line.  Lady Gaga also used her platform to broadcast a message; while her performance was not explicitly political, it promoted togetherness in subtle ways.  She chose only to sing certain parts of her songs, and made sure that those portions reflected her opinions on social tolerance.  For instance, she sang “This Land is Your Land” and “Born This Way,” making sure to include the lines about accepting people of different sexualities, races, and ethnicities.

Despite the abundance of political ads during last Sunday’s Super Bowl, not everyone was happy that advertisers got involved with diplomacy.  Fox writer Todd Starnes describes 84 Lumber’s commercial as a video of “an illegal alien and her daughter–trying to sneak across the border–only to be stymied by a giant beautiful wall. When all appeared hopeless, the illegals discovered a door built by a guy using 84 Lumber materials.  In the final scene, the woman and her daughter open the door and violate American sovereignty.”  Additionally, many angry viewers took to Twitter to post under hashtags like #BoycottBudweiser and #BoycottCoke.

However, many others believe the ads represented the emotions Americans currently feel toward the policies of the new administration.  Senator Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted, “Great Super Bowl ads this yr.  Shows the country is moving in the right direction: pro-women, pro-environment, pro-immigrant, pro-diversity.”  Former Senior Advisor to President Obama David Axelrod tweeted, “Interesting how many Super Bowl ads appealed to both unity and diversity, and how well they tested.  Americans are hungry for community!”

Regardless of opinions about whether it was right for marketers to go down the political route this year, the ads more than accomplished raising brand awareness.  84 Lumber’s website crashed shortly after they aired their advertisement.  Budweiser trended on Twitter Sunday night.  Airbnb’s #WeAccept was mentioned 66,000 times on Twitter, according to Forbes.  Any press is good press, and while the companies advertising during the Super Bowl took a large risk in doing so, it certainly paid off in publicity.