Super Bowl advertisers tread carefully in divisive climate

The Super Bowl takes place in Houston on Sunday night. Picture: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The Super Bowl takes place in Houston on Sunday night. Picture: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

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Super Bowl advertisers are treading carefully this year to avoid alienating customers as a divisive political climate takes some of the buzz away from what is usually the biggest spectacle on US TV.

Ad critic Barbara Lippert says that while “people need an escape,” like the Super Bowl, Sunday’s clash between New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in Houston feels “so much less important than what’s going on politically.”

To get the attention back, some advertisers are turning to nostalgia, celebrities and marketing stunts.

Others are touching on social issues, without being too blunt about it. Budweiser won the pre-game buzz with a sweeping cinematic ad showcasing founder Adolphus Busch’s 1857 immigration from Germany to St Louis. Although it has been in the works since May, the ad felt topical, as it was released online just days after President Donald Trump’s travel ban against people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The ad got more than eight million views on YouTube in just four days.

Although many brands released ads online ahead of time, there will still be surprises during US network Fox’s Super Bowl broadcast on Sunday. At $5 million for a 30-second spot, and an expected US audience of more than 110 million, the pressure is on.

Audi’s advert addresses gender equality as a man muses about his daughter receiving equal pay as men one day.

Building supplies retailer 84 Lumber had to revise its original ad because a scene featuring a border wall was deemed too controversial by Fox. The new ad shows a Mexican woman and her daughter making a trip by foot across Mexico. The ad’s ending will be revealed at half-time.

And Kia attempts a humorous approach. In an ad for the Niro car, Melissa McCarthy takes on political causes like saving whales, ice caps and trees, each time to disastrous effect. The message: “It’s hard to be an eco-warrior, but it’s easy to drive like one” with a fuel-efficient Niro.

Though advertisers are being extra careful, taking on any sort of political topic might backfire, says Mark DiMassimo, CEO of ad agency DiMassimo Goldstein. Against the backdrop of an “emboldened, enraged or traumatised audience,” he says, themes that might have been innocuous in the past “seem more strident and jarring this year.”

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